9:23pm PT by Chris Gardner
Richard Weitz's Pandemic Parties Surpass $600K for Charity as Efforts are Expanded to New York
Richard Weitz’s pandemic parties continue to reach new milestones, but what happened last Saturday may prove hard to top.
It was around 2 p.m. and Rufus Wainwright had just brought Richard, daughter Demi and many more of the 500-plus Zoom viewers to tears with a rendition of "Hallelujah." This came after a dishy Clive Davis introduction of longtime friend Barry Gibb who, accompanied by son Steve, performed a set of Bee Gees hits as Henry Winkler, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and TikTok superstar Addison Rae looked on. A few moments later, Demi jumped on to reveal that they had just passed the $500,000 mark in funds raised for charity. And, there's more.
Showrunner Yvette Bowser then announced — thanks to WME partner Nancy Josephson texting Richard to give the greenlight to share the good news — she was plunking down another $100,000 for the day’s cause, the United Way, as it continues vital efforts across the city, including the distribution of wellness kits to people experiencing homelessness. Wells Fargo's Gregg Sherkin also dropped $50,000 on behalf of the bank. "I can't thank you enough," Richard said, to cheers and gasps from the 575 people who were watching. Bowser replied, "I can’t thank you enough for bringing together this community of people, performers and letting us all feel connected in these troubling times, and particularly helping those at the hospital [Cedars-Sinai] and those who are in dire need of shelter right now."
She barely got the words out before the tears came as Bowser delivered yet another had-to-be-there moment. Before anyone could even catch their breath, Roberts promised Bowser, her son (a top baseball recruit heading to Stanford) and the United Way that he would make a personal donation and the Dodgers would also join the efforts and give back in some way. After that, there was still well more than an hour left in the show and more jaw-dropping moments to come.
Richard, a partner at WME, and 17-year-old daughter Demi have hosted more than half a dozen invite-only Zoom concerts featuring top musical talents over the past month in a series that started in late March as a fun way to celebrate Demi's birthday as COVID-19-era isolation orders shut down everyday life. After testing the format and inviting a broad swath of Hollywood insiders, the Weitz family (with help from matriarch Candie and son Aidan) opted to use the events — aka "pandemic parties" — for good.
The concept is this: Invite famous musicians to play a song or three in front of power players and industry insiders while raising money for a cause of their choice during an unprecedented pandemic that has kept people isolated in their homes across the world. They first raised more than $120,000 by April 9 for the Saban Community Clinic, where Richard has served as president of the board. The following week, they shifted focus to the nursing and hospital staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as a way to aid COVID-19 relief efforts there. As of this week, more than $248,000 has been raised for the top L.A. facility.
All this had been done in front of and with the help of a maximum of 500 viewers at a time who were catching performances over 14-plus days by John Mayer, Liam Payne, Marcus Mumford, James Bay, Charlie Puth, Hozier, Josh Groban, Billy Ray Cyrus, Rick Astley, Boy George, Bangles star Susanna Hoffs, John Hiatt, The War and Treaty, Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line, Cyndi Lauper, Madison Love, Rick Springfield, Lauren Daigle, Randy Newman, Alan Menken, Weird Al Yankovic, Jeffrey Osborne and many others. Not quite as fun as listening to the music but still a decent way to spend time during the shows (that often stretch past three hours) is scrolling past Zoom participants to see who's also dialed in, and it's always busier than a board meeting of top Hollywood brokers.
Spotted so far have been studio chiefs (Bob Iger, Jeff Shell, Dana Walden), mayors (Eric Garcetti), streamer bosses (Jennifer Salke, Dawn Ostroff), TV moguls (Greg Berlanti), a Quibi co-founder (Jeffrey Katzenberg, who knows plenty about philanthropy), music industry legends (Clive Davis, Diane Warren, Rodney Jerkins, Jimmy Jam, David Foster) and tons of talent (Amy Adams, Tina Fey, LL Cool J, Courteney Cox, Rev Run, Rob Lowe, Daveed Diggs, Fred Savage, Shawn Levy, David Spade, Josh Gad, Seth Grahame-Smith and the list goes on). Weitz and company hit that new stride last weekend with an event Friday night and another Saturday, and the total fundraising haul thus far now exceeds $650,000.
"This is the most unbelievable thing that has ever happened to us," Richard tells The Hollywood Reporter of how his family has been changed by the renewed focus on giving back, especially during a time of crisis. "Three weeks ago, many of the artists or managers I'd never met or spoken to, but after they perform, it feels like they've all become friends and will become like family. They're all doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and that means so much."
It's meant a lot to Demi, too, as she's found her footing in philanthropy and as a co-host alongside her dad while having a front-row seat to catch favorite performers like Australian breakout Ruel or having a chance to speak with TikTok star Addison Rae, who committed to donating merch or recording videos to help support the cause. Styx legend Dennis DeYoung, who performed portions of the rock band's songbook, was even so impressed by Demi that he recorded a version of "Lady" changing the lyric to "Demi" in her honor.
While music is the connective tissue of the virtual hangs, Weitz and company have found joy in unexpected moments in between songs, like when Jewel retraced her steps as a homeless teen trying to stay creative while living out of her car and performing for prostitutes; Jack Antonoff talked about his favorite moments from his impressive discography working with artists like Lorde and Lana Del Rey; Ruel and John Mayer traded songwriting tips while Mayer gushed about Ruel's looks and hair; and Ziggy Marley and wife Orly discussed Jamaica's COVID-19 relief efforts.
Another special moment came when Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos invited viewers inside his parents' Buffalo, New York, home where he was isolating for a candid conversation about battling his bipolar disorder, something he has been open about in the past. But Friday night, he got specific about only recently coming out of the fog to get back to creating and performing new music for the first time in months. He credited his agent, WME partner Kirk Sommer, for not only helping save his life but elevating his music, an interaction that seemingly could only happen in these virtual times.
A special point of pride for Richard is using the concerts not only to raise money but to also spotlight iconic artists alongside breaking talent by giving them a chance to show off their skills for industry tastemakers. That's exactly what he gave to newcomer Teddy Swims, who performed "One Song Glory" to cheers and chills from the crowd, only to surprise him with original Rent castmember Adam Pascal.
Richard says that while their efforts have far exceeded anything they thought possible, they're not yet ready to call it a job well done. There's a new goal — $1 million — and an expanded philanthropic focus as they set their sights on raising money for New York's struggling public hospitals. He got the idea after reading an article in The New York Times and he's spent recent days booking talent for Saturday's show, which promises to be a who's who of Broadway stars. He's still in awe of Keala Settle's night-ending performance of "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman, which she dedicated to her friend Nick Cordero as he battles a devastating COVID-19 illness that has led to a leg amputation.
The anthem has special meaning to Richard and Demi, not only because they love the Oscar-nominated track, but because they're finding new layers to themselves through the crisis. As TV producer Zack Estrin put it in the Zoom chat, "I've never seen Richard happier than on these calls,” while Demi said shortly thereafter when announcing more donations, "I can't wipe the smile off my face."
$250,000 raised over the weekend for our Pandemic Relief Fund is the BEST way we can imagine to start the week!
A huge shoutout to Richard and Demi Weitz for helping kick off this incredible fundraising effort with their Quarantunes series, and to everyone who donated.
— United Way of L.A. (@LAUnitedWay) April 21, 2020