At El­ton’s bash, news struck ‘like a heart at­tack’

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE | 89TH ACADEMY AWARDS - Carita Rizzo Spe­cial for USA TO­DAY

El­ton John and hus­band David Fur­nish on Sun­day cel­e­brated the 25th an­niver­sary of their an­nual Academy Awards view­ing party, which this year raised $7 mil­lion for the El­ton John AIDS Foun­da­tion.

But it was the night’s Os­car flub — when the wrong bestpic­ture win­ner was an­nounced at the cer­e­mony — that re­ally had guests talk­ing.

The room ini­tially fell si­lent when the confusion over which film had won best pic­ture un­folded on screen, then erupted in baf­fled chatter.

“Wow. Thank (ex­ple­tive) we didn’t have War­ren Beatty do the auc­tion,” John quipped as he took the stage to in­tro­duce the liveauc­tion por­tion of the party.

Auc­tion items in­cluded a 13carat di­a­mond Bul­gari neck­lace and five days at Steven Tyler’s Hawai­ian re­treat.

Mu­si­cian John and Robert Kraft, owner of the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, got into a bid­ding war over a Nor­man Se­eff black and white print of Carly Si­mon, which John won for $70,000. Other pledges for con­tri­bu­tions came through­out the night from such guests as Peter Fonda, Ciara and Russell Wil­son and Adam Lam­bert.

As usual, a sec­ond wave of guests ar­rived around 10 p.m. PT, just in time for a mu­si­cal per­for- mance by Alabama soul band St. Paul & The Bro­ken Bones. But for those who had just fin­ished watch­ing the live show, the night’s big snafu still lin­gered.

“It was like ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a heart at­tack,” Hid­den Fig­ures’ Aldis Hodge said. He watched the bestpic­ture mix-up un­fold from the au­di­ence of the Dolby Theatre. “We didn’t know un­til some of the stage man­agers started run­ning out. We were like, what was go­ing on? Could there be se­cu­rity risk or some­thing?

“It’s re­ally un­for­tu­nate,” con­tin­ued the ac­tor. “I’m proud of

Moon­light. I’m happy they won. At the same time though, I don’t think that any­body on the La La

Land team de­serves to feel that mo­ment of loss. They han­dled it with such class and grace. I’m very proud to see that.”

Ear­lier in the night, John re­flected on the legacy of his Oscars view­ing party.

“I never thought we’d get to 25 years,” John said, look­ing dap­per in a blue Burberry tuxedo. The fundraiser, which started out with a din­ner for 140 peo­ple at Maple Drive restau­rant, has to date raised more than $56 mil­lion for the cause.

“It’s grown from a lit­tle seed into a big tree,” John said.

The cause is as rel­e­vant as it was two decades ago. “HIV/AIDS con­tin­ues to be a global is­sue,” said Fur­nish, dressed in Yves Saint Lau­rent. “We’re mak­ing some fan­tas­tic strides, but it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple are not marginal­ized in so­ci­ety and that ev­ery­body is treated equally and fairly. In our case, it’s ac­cess to test­ing and treat­ment and that’s more im­por­tant than any­thing.”

In a po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that has left many un­nerved, the ben­e­fit ap­peared more im­por­tant to its long­time sup­port­ers than ever.

“I feel like it’s a good re­minder to never be com­pla­cent, and that the fight is never fully over,” said An­drew Ran­nells, a mem­ber of the host com­mit­tee. “Achieve­ments can be wiped away very quickly th­ese days, it seems like. So this is a great re­minder that we al­ways have to be dili­gent.”

While the cause was close to the heart of many at­ten­dees, guests were equally ready to take a break from a po­lit­i­cally charged award sea­son and in­stead spend an evening cel­e­brat­ing the arts over a five-course din­ner pre­pared by chef Gor­don Ram­say.

Said Andie MacDow­ell as she en­tered the party: “I’m so tired of pol­i­tics. I just want to have some fun.”

TIBRINA HOB­SON, AFP/GETTY IMAGES

David Fur­nish and El­ton John ar­rive Sun­day to host their 25th an­nual Academy Awards view­ing party, which raises money for the El­ton John AIDS Foun­da­tion. Quincy Jones and model Pe­tra Nemkova, in­set, were among the A-list guests.

DIMITRIOS KAMBOURIS, GETTY IMAGES, FOR EJAF

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