El­ton John AIDS Foun­da­tion Hosts Gala

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The well-at­tended an­nual event hon­ored Pa­tri­cia Hearst, Joe McMil­lan and Dar­ren Walker, with a per­for­mance by Sheryl Crow dur­ing din­ner. BY KRISTEN TAUER PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY STEPHEN LOVEKIN

Twenty-five years and count­ing. The El­ton John AIDS Foun­da­tion has out­lasted the ca­reers of many pop stars, thanks to the un­wa­ver­ing ded­i­ca­tion of its founder, El­ton John and his hus­band, EJAF chair­man David Fur­nish.

"When you visit peo­ple who have had the ben­e­fit of the money raised that we've given them, and see the grat­i­tude they have, no mat­ter how worn out you might feel, it just fills you up with en­ergy," John said dur­ing the EJAF's an­nual An En­dur­ing Vi­sion gala ben­e­fit at Cipri­ani 42nd Street on Mon­day night, a few nights be­fore his Farewell Tour per­for­mances at Madi­son Square Gar­den. "They're so grate­ful that peo­ple care who don't live in their coun­try but from abroad and peo­ple give them money to have a de­cent life, de­cent medicine and hope. And when they're very happy, they make me very happy. So you come back and start the process all over again."

As for the foun­da­tion's plans for the next 25 years, Fur­nish of­fered a di­rect goal: "Just to end AIDS by 2030. That's the mile­stone that we have, and we think we're on our way to do­ing it," he said.

The well-at­tended event hon­ored Pa­tri­cia Hearst, Joe McMil­lan and Dar­ren Walker, with a per­for­mance by Sheryl Crow dur­ing din­ner.

"I've been a long­time sup­porter, and when they asked me I said yes, mostly be­cause this is the only one I would say yes to I think," Hearst said of the honor. "Be­cause it's HIV and AIDS, and it's El­ton and David, and they just do so much world­wide. I think it's a won­der­ful foun­da­tion; the work that he does is so self­less and re­ally im­por­tant."

The event was packed with celebri­ties and busi­ness heavy weights alike — in­clud­ing Robert Kraft, who host Gayle King gave a shout-out dur­ing din­ner. ("We should say con­grat­u­la­tions to Robert Kraft be­cause the Pa­tri­ots won yes­ter­day," she said, as the cam­era cut to the sports team owner's beam­ing face on large screens set up in­side the event hall.)

One woman in a beaded red gown waited for a man with long hair to fin­ish an in­ter­view with a re­porter be­fore swoop­ing in for a selfie. "Who was that guy?" she whis­pered, as he walked away with his date.

That guy hap­pened to be Tom Payne of "The Walk­ing Dead" fame. The ac­tor was in town for the event one day af­ter at­tend­ing a Comic Con in Rhode Is­land.

"I feel very for­tu­nate to be in a po­si­tion with my job to play a mem­ber of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, and with that be wel­comed into the com­mu­nity," he said. "We got in­vited to El­ton's party at the Os­cars at the be­gin­ning of this year, and that was an amaz­ing honor — and that was one thing, but this [party] is to come out and cel­e­brate what amaz­ing work this foun­da­tion does."

Also in at­ten­dance were Iman, Tony Ben­nett, Leonard A. Lauder, Bil­lie Jean King, Ma­rina Abramovic, who walked in hold­ing the hand of Todd Eck­ert, and Ju­dith Light.

Light has been a long­time sup­porter; she's been in­volved since the very be­gin­ning of the ini­tia­tive in the early Eight­ies.

"When we be­gan to find out our friends were dy­ing," said the ac­tress, clad in a fully se­quined Chris­tian Siri­ano gown, "El­ton took up this man­tle and started re­ally be­ing out there and sup­port­ing peo­ple and mak­ing sure peo­ple re­mem­ber that AIDS is still with us. That it's not over, and mak­ing sure that peo­ple were taken care of and knew they were loved and that they were sup­ported if they found out they were HIV pos­i­tive. For me, to make sure that peo­ple are taken care of and that they're not dis­crim­i­nated against is just about the most im­por­tant thing that we can all do for each other. Par­tic­u­larly at this time. It's a very big day to­mor­row."

Elec­tion talk was heavy on peo­ple's minds — and in their con­ver­sa­tions — through­out the night. The event opened with a pow­er­ful 20-minute speech rooted in the po­lit­i­cal given by Bryan Steven­son, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive and the New Na­tional Memo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice in Mont­gomery, Alabama. Af­ter­ward, John paid trib­ute to an­other long­time

EJAF sup­porter; last year, the late Aretha Franklin per­formed dur­ing the ben­e­fit.

"We wit­nessed what turned out to be the fi­nal per­for­mance of the queen of soul," John told the crowd. "We were sob­bing, you don't see great­ness like that very often, we will never see it again. And we saw it at our event," he added. "She raised the roof and she sang and she played and we made us all weep — and she gave us the per­for­mance of a life­time."

Tony Ben­nett and Susan Crow

Sir El­ton John andDavid Fur­nish


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