So who are the top ten entertainment-celebrity charity fundraisers of all time? With dollars raised adjusted for inflation? And counting only money raised from the private sector, not factoring in money raised by influencing government legislation? And not counting business celebrities such as Bill and Melinda Gates?
This is not an easy question to answer. Many donations are anonymous. Forbes Magazine wanted to make a list but thought better of it. Instead they tried to measure how the coattails of a celebrity endorsement benefited their chosen charity. This gave them a metric on how much of a celebrity’s fame was “given” to the named cause.
This subjective list below comes from 45 years of experience working with six presidents and first ladies and hundreds of charities around the world.
1.) Pat Boone: His years of fundraising for the national Easter Seals telethon, which involved a massive nationwide ground game, brought in millions of dollars. The ground game is the key here. Easter Seals involved multiple charities and causes, not just Muscular Dystrophy as in the case of Jerry Lewis. Thus multiple NGO’s, corporations and donors were involved at the grassroots. Boone also had a prominent role in co-founding Mercy Corps which alone has distributed $2 billion in food and medicine around the world. And he has helped found countless other charities. By any money measurement, Pat Boone is at the top of my list as the number one celebrity charity fundraiser of all time.
2.) Jerry Lewis: His national Labor Day telethons were watched by millions and raised $2.6 billion for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. At one time, the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon dominated every television channel available to American viewers.
3.) Oprah Winfrey: She is just getting started and is likely to some day top this list. She has probably given more personally to charity than anyone else mentioned here. By 2010 she had donated $400 million to educational charities, including 400 scholarships to Morehouse College in Atlanta. Meanwhile, at last count, Oprah’s Angel Network has raised $80 million in private funds.
4.) Danny Thomas: As a poor actor he promised himself that if he ever made it big he would remember the less fortunate. He made it big and he founded the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
5.) Bob Hope: He may have put in more miles in behalf of charity than any other celebrity, including those listed above who out-raised him. Between 1941 and 1991 Bob Hope made 57 USO tours for American armed forces. Hope tried several times to launch his own televised charity effort, and had some success with the project “Fight For Sight” in 1960. Bob Hope never met a charity he didn’t like and never missed the Annual Charity Awards.
6.) Bill Clinton: This former president, as a private citizen, raised more money for charity than all other American presidents combined. And we are not counting government money here.
7.) Lady Diana, Princess of Wales: Yes, former president Bill Clinton actually raised more private money for charity than Lady Diana. But if her life had not been cut short, who knows what would have happened? At one point, Lady Diana was making more than 300 appearances a year, most of them for charity.
8.) Bono: He has raised millions in private and corporate money and funneled it into the neediest projects. Bono is listed by TIME magazine as one of the most influential persons in the world.
9.) Paul Newman: Along with writer A. E. Hotchner, he co-founded Newman’s Own, a food-beverage company. Newman dedicated all after tax proceeds from the business to charity. As of this writing it has topped $400 million.
10.) Angelina Jolie: She is still young enough to eventually out raise them all. Her world travel and selfless appearances for UNHCR have inspired many.
This list above is quite inadequate and establishing a “top ten” is not really very fair. There is a long list of many others who have changed the world.
Elizabeth Taylor worked for AIDS research. Phyllis Diller worked for many charities in a long public career. The actor, Michael J. Fox has been the visible figure of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Cheryl Ladd and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. were fixtures for ChildHelp USA.
Sean Penn has mixed art, charity and politics in a career that has helped raise thousands of dollars for needy victims. Christopher Reeve, who portrayed Superman onscreen, teamed up with his wife Dana to create The Christopher Reeve Foundation and later co-found The Reeve-Irving Research Center. William Shatner, Justin Beiber, Ben Affleck, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney and Don Imus are just a few of the many others who have given much and have been quick to champion a good cause.
Their songs have soothed our fears and their onscreen dramatics have provoked us and entertained us. But it is their off screen work for people in need that makes them true celebrities to me.