Hollywood celebrities including Robert Duvall, Ryan O’Neal, Bai Ling, Richard Grieco, Catherine Bach, Drew Seeley, Nicole Richie, Gloria Allred, and Kris and Bruce Jenner were among more than 700 people Saturday evening at the annual Summer Spectacular, which raised more than $500,000 for The Brent Shapiro Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Awareness.
Founded in 2006 by Los Angeles attorney Robert Shapiro, who was one of O.J. Simpson’s lawyers, and his family, the foundation honors the memory of his son Brent, a USC student who died suddenly in 2005 after drinking alcohol and taking ecstasy. The organization creates awareness about addictive diseases including chemical dependence and finds ways to help halt its spread.
“I know one thing,” Shapiro told the glittering crowd gathered on the grounds of Jeff Greene’s five acre palatial estate high atop Beverly Hills, “It takes a life to save a life. We hope we’re saving thousands of lives with what we are doing.”
The foundation’s newest initiatives include outreach to children as young as 12 through an innovative pilot program at the Variety’s Boys & Girls Club in Boyle Heights. Kids will be encouraged to attend Brent’s Club after school, where they will play while learning about the dangers of alcohol, illegal drugs and other things that lead to addiction, or as the group calls it “brain diseases.”
Teens who stay clean and sober will attend events where top DJs will play music and they will receive tutoring to help prepare them for school and to encourage them to go on to higher education. Each week they will be given a simple saliva test (conducted with a cotton swab of the tongue) and if they are clean, they will get a grab bag of gifts, Shapiro explained.
If they stay sober for a full school year, they will be given a cell phone to use the following year. If they graduate, they will qualify for college scholarships provided by the foundation.
Two students were singled out for scholarships, both from Phoenix House, a Los Angeles non-profit that supports individuals, families, and communities affected by substance abuse and dependency. A young woman named Audrey told her own story of using drugs, getting pregnant, having an abortion, and having her life spiral out of control until she received help. Her goal now is to attend community college and then UCLA on the Shapiro Foundation Scholarship.
“Bob and his family have turned a huge horrible situation into something positive,” said Pat O’Brien, the sports and entertainment show host who has fought his own battles with addiction in a very public way.
O’Brien acted as emcee for the evening, which included performances by America’s Got Talent winner Landau and X Factor finalist Chris Rene, who said he too was a recovering addict. “Sixteen months ago I was doing drugs,” Rene told the audience. “I’m doing well now and love being clean and sober.”
Shapiro appeared on stage with his son Grant and his wife Linell, who in her remarks called the problems of addiction an “epidemic,” and announced the foundation’s latest book aimed at children about 8 years old to help them learn about the dangers of getting involved with drugs and alcohol and to show them that they can “learn to say no.”
“We all must pay it forward,” said Linell Shapiro, “and maybe people will start to understand addiction is a disease.”
After the dinner by Wolfgang Puck, Shapiro served as auctioneer selling things like jewelry, ringside seats to a boxing match, floor seats to the opening Lakers game and even an African safari. The evening ended with a runway fashion show featuring gowns and more from Baracci of Beverly Hills.
Robert Shapiro said they were also celebrating the passage by the state of California of the ‘911 Good Samaritan Overdose Response Act’ (AB 472), to provide protection against arrest for minor drug law violations for anyone who summons emergency medical assistance to prevent a fatal overdose. Shapiro said Gov. Brown had just signed the bill into law.
Some of the most poignant remarks came from Christopher Kennedy Lawford, the son of the late actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy, whose brothers included President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy. He was awarded the Spirit of Recovery Award, which was previously given to Kelly Osborne and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Lawford said he has been sober for 26 years, and now is a fulltime advocate for issues of substance abuse and the need for awareness. He said he came from a family of addicts. “Legend has it that right after my birth my parents went straight from St. Joseph’s hospital to the Beachcomber bar in Malibu,” said Lawford. “That was the start of my alcoholism.”
Lawford said he now has three children and they have never seen him take a drink. O’Brien said he sees Lawford almost every week when both attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I accept this award not for me,” said Lawford, “because I don’t want awards, but for families, for my family and for those who help.
“There’s an overdose epidemic today in the country,” Lawford told The Hollywood Reporter, echoing his remarks in his acceptance. “Overdoses have just overtaken traffic fatalities in terms of deaths, especially among our young people, so people need to get aware.”
Lawford, who works with the United Nations and White House on related policy issues, had high praise for the Brent Shapiro Foundation’s efforts. He said they are raising “amazing awareness and visibility in Hollywood. People pay attention because Bob, through his notoriety, is able to get a lot of people of note here to come and talk about this.”
Lawford is author of the books Symptoms of Withdrawal and Moments of Clarity, and early in 2013 will publish his latest book, Recover To Live. “Basically there’s no real difference between gambling, sex addiction, alcoholism and drug abuse,” said Lawford. “It’s a brain disease.”
“Look at it this way,” added Lawford, “this disease costs this country three times what cancer costs us. Every year the American Cancer Society raises over $1 billion. You know how much we raise for addiction? $20 million. The reason is that people are unaware. There is a stigma. People don’t want to deal with it. They don’t know there are solutions and one of the major solutions is awareness that this is an illness. Then people won’t look at addicts like there’s something wrong with them.”