Robert Shapiro Raises $500,000 at Event for Alcohol and Drug Awareness
The sixth annual Summer Spectacular put on by The Brent Shapiro Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Awareness raised about $500,000 on Saturday night without selling a single ticket to a dinner that drew around 500 guests from the worlds of entertainment, politics, business and sports to a spectacular mansion in Beverly Hills.
The foundation is named after the late son of Robert Shapiro, the attorney known for successfully defending O.J. Simpson in the mid-1990s and handling many other celebrity clients. His son struggled with alcohol and drugs and was clean for a time before taking a drink and using the drug ecstasy one night in 2005, which led to his death at the age of 24.
Shapiro explained that all the guests are there by invitation and the money raised comes from donations and pledges during an auction, with Shapiro as auctioneer, that included the sale of everything from jewelry to trips to Las Vegas and South Africa. The event was held on the grounds of a 40,000 square foot mansion off Coldwater Canyon owned by Jeffrey Greene.
Shapiro, his wife Linell and son Grant started the foundation to raise awareness of alcohol and drug dependency problems, with an emphasis on education and outreach to young people at risk. On Saturday two teens from the Phoenix House Academy, a residential high school for recovering addicts, were presented with the first annual scholarship to the college of their choice.
Another highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Brent Shapiro Spirit of Sobriety Award by Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. to retired boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who made millions in the ring while winning titles in five weight classes but also suffered from addiction to alcohol and drugs beginning when his career and marriage both wound down.
Leonard said he had been an alcohol abuser and a cocaine user until five years ago when he was inspired by a television interview with actor Todd Bridges, who as a child portrayed Willis on the sitcom Different Strokes. In his 20s, Bridges suffered from an addiction to crack cocaine, which led to other legal problems. He told his story last year in a memoir, Killing Willis: From Diff’rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted.
Leonard also told his story in a book published last year, The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring, which described his personal battle with depression, rage and addiction.
His drug and alcohol abuse, Leonard told the audience Saturday, “was because I had demons I never faced.”
Those included being sexually abused as a young man by a coach who was preparing him for the Olympics, as well as what he said was “violence in my home” life.
“Five years ago I beat the toughest guy in the world – I beat myself,” said Leonard. “I am not afraid to say I am Ray, and I am an alcoholic – because that is what I am.”
Ray was followed to the stage by Pat O’Brien, the former host of Access Hollywood and many sporting event who was master of ceremonies for the evening. O’Brien talked about how he had dealt with his own addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Commenting on Leonard, O’Brien said: “It’s hard to do this as I can tell you. It’s not fun to turn on a television or read in the National Enquirer about yourself. Ray is very courageous.”
Among the guests was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, attorney Gloria Allred, actor Alan Thicke and reality TV star Adrienne Maloof.
Speaking from his heart to the crowd, most of whom he knew on a first name basis, Robert Shapiro said that research has shown that teenagers who experiment with drugs and alcohol are 400% more likely to have addiction problems later in life; so much of the work of the foundation has been to reach pre-teens and those in their early teen years to raise their awareness of the issues. One way they have done that is through a comic book aimed at 10 and 11 year olds. Shapiro said a new edition is on the way.
One of the foundations programs works with kids of that age. If they stay sober for a semester and stay in school, they get a cell phone. If they stay sober all the way through high school, they get college scholarships.
Shapiro’s son Grant spoke about how his family’s efforts have inspired him: “I saw my family was giving back about something a lot of people don’t understand.”