Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Jon Hamm Raise Money for Cancer Research at Emotional (and Funny) Event

Associated Press
Gwyneth Paltrow

"Without the research that's being done, I wouldn't be alive right now," Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said of Stand Up to Cancer's efforts

Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry and a slew of other A-listers turned out Friday night at Hollywood & Highland's Dolby Theatre to raise money for cancer research in a moving — and at times funny — live telecast.

The fourth biennial Stand Up to Cancer fundraiser, which aired live on the Big Four networks and several cable networks in the U.S. as well as in other countries around the world and online, raised funds "to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now." Many of the stars who participated in Friday night's event have been affected by cancer.

"I'm standing up for my husband Jay and my sister Emily," Katie Couric, the event's "digital lounge" host, told reporters on the red carpet before the live broadcast.Couric's first husband, Jay Monahan, died in 1998 and her oldest sister, Virginia State Sen. Emily Couric, in 2001 — both of cancer. (In a sad turn of events, Couric's mother, Elinor, died Thursday, the day before the event, at age 91.)

Presenter Jon Hamm's mother died of colon cancer when the future Mad Men star was only 10 years old. She was 35.

"I'm here for all of the other kids and the moms and the dads and the grandpas who hopefully will never have to go through that," he told reporters before the show. "Hopefully, people will know there's a lot of survivors here. … It is survivable, and hopefully it will be curable in my lifetime."

Also in attendance was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer.

"Without the research that's being done, I wouldn't be alive right now," the basketball legend told The Hollywood Reporter. "My diagnosis would have been a death sentence 15 years ago, so cancer research has enabled people like to me live and have a complete life span. I'm very fortunate that way and very thankful, and I want to give back by encouraging people to support efforts like this."

He added: "Cancer affects everyone. No one is immune."

Inside the Dolby Theatre, many people in the audience teared up during emotional segments spotlighting people who have survived cancer, including a 9-year-old girl, or others who are still battling the disease.

Paltrow, who executive produced the event with Joel Gallen of Tenth Planet Productions, made mention of her dad, the late director Bruce Paltrow, who died in 2002 after battling oral cancer for several years. She also spoke about a friend of hers whose mom died of leukemia last week.

And Pierce Brosnan paid tribute to his first wife and daughter, both of whom died of ovarian cancer, which he called a "wretched" disease.

But the telecast wasn't a total downer. Keeping things on the lighter side was presenter Mike Myers, who noted that Ben Stiller was supposed to appear via satellite to address the audience but had been hampered by the storms in Toronto, where Stiller was attending the film festival. Myers then joked that "I am doomed never to have a live telecast without controversy; I think it's Hurricane Kanye that hit Toronto," in a reference to the Hurricane Katrina telethon nine year ago in which his co-presenter Kanye West declared that "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Danny McBridealso got laughs during a taped piece where he complained that he wasn't given as many lines as Witherspoon or some of the other stars. Also appearing on TV were Anna Kendrick; Rob Lowe; Kerry Washington; Dave Grohl; Robert Downey Jr.; Will Ferrell, who appeared as his Anchorman alter ego Ron Burgundy; Steve Carell; Melissa McCarthy; Jesse Tyler Ferguson; Mira Sorvino; Jordana Brewster; and several others.

Meanwhile, Dave Matthew Band, Ariana Grande and The Who (from London) performed during the event. Closing out the live broadcast were Lupe Fiasco, Jennifer Hudson and Common, who performed their new single "Remission."

Before the event, Fiasco — whose grandmother died of cancer — told THR the song wasn't written for the event but that when Couric and SU2C co-founder Lisa Paulson heard it, they reached out to ask him to perform. He added that all proceeds from the single will benefit Stand Up to Cancer.

"It's an amazing opportunity to not only perform, which I love to do, but also raise money," he told THR, adding: "It's the best of both worlds, to get out there and talk about something that's close to me, near and dear, but also use that as something to raise money."

Survivor: Africa winner Ethan Zohn, who has battled a rare form of Hodgkin's disease but is now cancer-free, praised the work of SU2C, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation that established in 2008 by several film and media leaders.

"It's hard for me to put into words, because for all these major stars and musicians and athletes and celebrities to come together and donate their time to raise money for cancer research is one of the most incredible things in the world," he told THR. "Personally, in the time I was first diagnosed in 2009 and the second time I was diagnosed in 2011, a new drug emerged on the market for a select group of people in my exact situation. We're talking less than 200 people, and it saved my life. So without events like this and Stand Up to Cancer, I can literally and honestly say I would not be standing here today."

The Game star Brittany Daniel, also a cancer survivor, walked the red carpet with twin sister Cynthia. The latter said it was "surreal" to be there with Daniel, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2011 but is now cancer-free.

"This is the first year I've ever been [to the Stand Up to Cancer event], and this is the first time I've spoken out about it," Daniel told THR. "So to be able to come and say I'm a cancer survivor and to be here, it's such an uplifting experience."