Elton John Praises Pope Francis, Honors Andrew Cuomo at AIDS Foundation Benefit

Elton John Aids Foundation Gala H 2014
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Elton John Aids Foundation Gala H 2014

"'Who am I to judge?" What are we waiting for? Make him a saint now. He did more with those five words than the last five popes"

For Sir Elton John, his An Enduring Vision benefit in New York City on Tuesday night was an opportunity to not only raise money for his AIDS Foundation, but also to celebrate marriage equality.

Wearing a sequined black blazer and sitting down often since he was recovering from knee surgery, John noted the growing acceptance of gay marriage throughout the U.S., and applauded Pope Francis for embracing tolerance and compassion, as shown when he asked about gay marriage. "'Who am I to judge?' What are we waiting for? Make him a saint now. He did more with those five words than the last five popes," he said on the Cipriani Wall Street stage. "He is my hero."

Still, he called for an end to the AIDS epidemic. "The main obstacle is not a virus, the main obstacle is people, people who continue to discriminate and marginalize people with HIV. ... What I've learned from fighting AIDS for the past 22 years is the people who need the most compassion are the ones who receive the least."

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The evening was hosted by Anderson Cooper, who initially flirted to get attendees seated, "It's always the cute gay guys who are the last ones standing up!" He was honored to emcee the event for a crowd of "the greatest broadcaster" Matt Lauer and Neil Patrick Harris, "the greatest host of every event" including the upcoming Oscars: "I will finally be able to watch it all the way through!"

John and David Furnish gave Enduring Vision Awards to friends and longtime foundation supporters: real estate developer and restaurateur Charles Hendon, White Cube art gallery founder Jay Jopling, Nathalie and Pablo Salame of Goldman Sachs, and New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo kicked off his acceptance speech by welcoming out-of-towners and bragged about the state to "fulfill the stereotype of an arrogant New Yorker for you," particularly how it's been the site of multiple historical reform movements. Most recently, he plugged the state's post-Sandy Hook action of passing "the toughest gun control law in the nation" and its early legalization of marriage equality "because it's about the second word, equality," and vowed to rid the state of AIDS by 2020: "Don't worry we'll find another worthy cause [for this organization] because this is just too great of a party to miss."

After guests — including Alec and Hilaria Baldwin, Al Roker and Deborah Roberts, Harris and David Burtka, Jewel, Brooke Shields, Sandra Lee, Padma Lakshmi, John Demsey and Bethenny Frankel, among others — enjoyed a menu of tagliolini, strip loin steak, sea bass and chocolate parfait with champagne and Ciroc cocktails at candlelit tables with tulip-filled centerpieces, the auction commenced, with lots including pieces by Robert Mapplethorpe and Damien Hirst, as well as VIP tickets to John's New Year's Eve show, and a meal with Lauer and Cooper. "I'll give a little extra for dessert, if you know what I mean," teased Cooper of his lunch with Lauer, up for grabs. "Matt, you in? He's in! It will be a long saucy lunch."

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The auction was interrupted by a spontaneously added lot from Mike Myers, who offered a dinner and to "teach you how to do a hockey wrist shot, anything else you'd like, I will be your man slave. I will stop short of making sweet love to you but whatever Anderson does in terms of sauciness, watch out!" Altogether, the evening raised $3.7 million for the foundation.

To close the evening, Harris introduced John's performance, which lasted over half an hour, as the performer added generous piano solos to hits like "Tiny Dancer," "Your Song," "Rocket Man," "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" and "Philadelphia Freedom," among others.

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
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