Hillary Clinton Accepts First Founder's Award at Elton John AIDS Benefit

Hillary Clinton
Carlo Allegri/Invision/AP

Hillary Clinton received the foundation's first-ever Founder's Award for her work combating the disease. Clinton, who didn't walk the red carpet, also drew cheers after fellow honoree Ron Perelman referred to her as "the next president of the United States."

The former secretary of state, fellow honorees and guests said there's still a lot of work to be done to eradicate the disease.

Hillary Clinton accepted the Elton John AIDS Foundation's first-ever Founder's Award at the organization's annual benefit in New York on Tuesday night.

Although she was honored by the accolade, Clinton echoed a theme expressed by many of the stars in attendance: that there's much more work to be done to combat the disease.

PHOTOS: Hillary Clinton, Ron Perelman Honored at 2013 Elton John AIDS Foundation Benefit

"We still have so far to go," the former secretary of state said in her acceptance speech. "There are so many challenges that confront us. If we are to continue to build on the progress -- and yes, there has been progress -- then we have to continue to advocate and demand for governments, international organizations, foundations, all of us, to be persistent … and ensure that we don't falter."

"If we're going to beat AIDS, we have to reach out to everyone," she added.

Elton John also received an award at Tuesday's gala, from the Harvard AIDS Initiative.

"I really hope that all of you will join me in being equally stubborn when it comes to ending AIDS because that is what will be required to end this epidemic," he told the well-heeled crowd at Cipriani Wall Street in lower Manhattan. "We're going to have to stubbornly insist on full funding for all proven methods of preventing HIV infection. … Treatment for everyone. Treatment for all. …We're going to have to keep yelling and screaming about the way our country treats racial and sexual minorities and, of course, the poor. We're going to have to be downright stubborn, not just this year, not next year, not the next, but for many years to come."

Indeed, John vowed to be stubborn about AIDS for the next 20 years if necessary, but he said he doesn't think it will take that long to achieve an AIDS-free generation and world.

Nevertheless, John added, "We have so much more work to do and we'll be there until the bitter end."

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Other honorees at the event, which raised $3.45 million, included Food Network star Sandra Lee, John's longtime agent Howard Rose and mogul Ron Perelman, who prompted cheers from the crowd when he referred to Clinton as "the next president of the United States." Clinton looked nonchalant when the camera cut to her, but after Perelman continued to sing her praises and said the highly rumored candidate has his vote, Clinton could be seen mouthing "Oh my God," as if she couldn't believe all of the attention.

Matt Lauer was a last-minute substitute host at the event after Anderson Cooper had to go to Washington to cover the debt-ceiling crisis, which Lauer joked "sounded like a lame-ass excuse."

Earlier, The Hollywood Reporter asked Lauer what the entertainment industry could do to continue to raise awareness of AIDS and combat the disease.

"Talk, talk, talk, spread the word, get out there, come to events like this and raise money," Lauer said. "I mean, when you stop and think about what Elton has done in 20 years … a lot of it is something you can't put a price tag on. It's just a discussion and getting out there and putting his reputation on the line and spreading the word that way."

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Tony-winning actress Judith Light echoed Lauer's call for a continued dialogue on the issue.

"We did and we do so much in terms of the awareness, and I don't think it's just the entertainment industry that has to do something, I think it's about those of us who are committed to this issue and have been committed to this issue for a long time, talking to other people and finding ways, just like Elton has, to make it a prominent issue again, to say to people, 'This is not over,' " she said.

The former Who's the Boss star, who's performed on Broadway for the past few years, told us that she recently starred in a pilot for Amazon, making her just the latest actor to join the Internet revolution.

Meanwhile, fellow Broadway alum Jeremy Jordan, who left his starring role in Newsies after he joined the second-season cast of NBC's now-canceled Smash, said he misses the stage and hopes to "come back as soon as possible." In fact, he's doing a weeklong Stephen Sondheim show in November called A Bed and a Chair.

"It's only a week, and it's not Broadway, but it will be nice to come back to New York for a hot sec," he said.

Other celebs in attendance included Billy Joel, Alec Baldwin, Allison Williams, Courtney Love, Lisa Marie Presley and rock band Heart, who performed at the end of the night.