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George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and David Letterman were among the stars who paid tribute to Paul Newman Monday night at an event honoring the late actor and philanthropist. The gala at New York City’s Lincoln Center also benefited the SeriousFun Children’s Network of camps for kids with serious illnesses, which Newman founded in 1988.
Onstage, Streep talked about Newman’s childlike nature and how, weeks after what would have been his 90th birthday, the event was celebrating not how old he would have been but how young he “will stay, always.”
“The respect he had for the integrity of childhood is captured on the faces and in the hearts of kids around the world at SeriousFun camps,” Streep added.
Clooney, meanwhile, said of Newman: “He is the best version of us. And I don’t mean actors or celebrities. I mean humans.”
Addressing Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, Clooney added, “There is a debt that is too great to be repaid, so we hope the words ‘thank you’ are enough because anything else would fall short.”
Letterman, meanwhile, aired clips of Newman’s appearances on The Late Show, joked about Clooney not being as handsome in real life and told a story about his son. He also said a few words about his late friend.
“I was lucky enough to know Paul Newman for quite a few years, and he was so generous and he would visit us on the show,” Letterman recalled. “He would never turn us down, regardless of the schedule, his schedule or whatever, and he would always come and be on the show. And his presence made everyone feel better, made everyone feel like you have to do a real show … When I think of Paul, I think of a man who understood life and got it right. And that’s all I ever think about Paul: He got it right.”
The Late Show host was also joined by his CBS bandleader Paul Shaffer, who performed a musical Top 10 list of songs inspired by Newman’s movies.
Shaffer’s humorous tunes, though, weren’t the only musical performances.
Natalie Cole sang “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” and “Orange Colored Sky.” Carole King performed “Beautiful” and “Child of Mine” before returning to the stage to sing “You’ve Got a Friend” with Aloe Blacc, who also performed solo earlier in the show.
Danny DeVito, Gayle King and opera singer Renee Fleming were also on hand for the event, and prior to the performance at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, SeriousFun CEO Mary Beth Powers told The Hollywood Reporter that she thinks the evening’s star-studded lineup was partly due to the inspiring example Newman set.
“I think a lot of people really look up to the legacy that Paul Newman put out in terms of how he made a difference and how he didn’t care as much about his Hollywood life as he did about making a difference in the world,” Powers said. “Newman’s Own foundation, the money that they’ve raised to go to many charities, including ours, as well as the other great work that Paul Newman [did], inspired many other celebrities to get involved and make a difference.”
Blacc added that he considers Newman to be not only a “style icon” but someone whose example should be followed when it comes to charity work.
“I consider him an icon when it comes to activism because when you create a charity that is benefiting folks that have misfortunes in life, you’ve met one of the most important callings we all have in life, which is service, to give back to humanity,” Blacc told THR. “My goal, in my career, is to give as much as I can for as long as I can.”
At the end of the show, Blacc led the SeriousFun campers, Clooney, Hanks, King, DeVito and the audience in a rousing rendition of “Wake Me Up.”
The night also showcased the talents of the campers themselves, who performed Katy Perry‘s “Roar” at the top of the show before individual performers impressed the crowd with their musical and singing abilities. One camper, Graham, whom Streep introduced by noting that he’d had surgery that would make it difficult for him to control his breathing in a way that would be necessary for him to be a successful performer, delivered a powerful rendition of Josh Groban‘s “You Raise Me Up,” which earned a standing ovation from the audience.
Prior to the performance, Hanks shared memories of his own summer camp experiences with reporters.
“Oh, the nighttimes,” Hanks said. “We never broke the rules, but as soon as it got dark, camp became magical, and if it’s fireflies or if it’s the big bonfire that goes on or it’s the walk [with the] flashlights through the trails back to the camp …”
The evening raised more than $1.5 million for SeriousFun Children’s Network of 30 camps and programs around the world.
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