Fundraising with Oscar Flair


Melding philanthropy with film since its first academy awards party at Maple Drive Restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1993, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised more than $225 million to fund HIV prevention programs, help eliminate the stigma of the disease and directly care for those who need it. Like everything the legendary singer does, the fete -- now an annual must-attend post-Oscar event -- is pulled off by Sir Elton with unmistakable style, but how does the host judge each party's success? "The number of dollars raised for our cause, firstly," John tells THR. "And second, the people who attend the event -- not just the number but the contacts that are made, the relationships that are established and reinforced, the conversations that are started, the projects that are conceived and the messages that are sent and received."

1994: "His presence helped make the movie Philadelphia much more accessible to the general public," recalls John of Tom Hanks' Oscar-winning performance from that awards season. "We were given a very real insight into one man's struggle for justice in the face of AIDS-related discrimination." At the table that night (clockwise from front left): Kate Capshaw, John, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Rita Wilson's sister Lily, Hanks, Wilson and Steven Spielberg.

2001: While the party's purpose is undoubtedly serious, guests often find themselves having a little too much fun. Case in point: this end-of-the-night shot of LeAnn Rimes (left), Jenna Elfman and Andrew Keegan. "We work hard to create a comfortable environment," says John, "and clearly we're successful in doing so because people return again and again and always have a wonderful time."

2002: "Halle Berry's performance was astonishing," says John of her Oscar-winning role in Monster's Ball. Denzel Washington also won that year for Training Day, but his performance in Philadelphia nearly a decade earlier would leave an indelible mark on John, who says, "Through Denzel, we got to see how hearts and minds can be changed and how we as a nation can grow together by reaching out across issues that divide us."

2005: "Elizabeth Taylor took tremendous personal and professional risk by associating herself with HIV/AIDS and speaking out so publicly," says John, seen here with Christina Aguilera and Taylor. "She could have jeopardized the extraordinary legacy she had built in film, but her personal philosophy was that celebrity is not something that comes without responsibility. Her courageous example has inspired many other celebrities to become involved in the fight against AIDS. Being with her was always energizing and inspiring."

2007: It has become a tradition of the EJAF Oscar party that the host and his partner, David Furnish, stop at every table to greet guests. Why? "To thank them personally for their generosity and support," says John, pictured with Simon Cowell. "So many of our donors are cherished friends."

2011: "I hope the younger set will learn from the more seasoned Hollywood philanthropists," says John of guests like Vanessa Hudgens (left), Josh Hutcherson and Ashley Tisdale. "But I don't think we need to teach them to be generous. These young Hollywood stars are already actively involved in charity and bring new ideas and energy to the table."