Helms Pow Wows With Celebrity Set Over Africa's AIDS Epidemic

As if the camaraderie between Jesse Helms and rock star Bono weren't enough to raise eyebrows, the senator has established a new friendship with another celebrity.

Actor Chris Tucker of Rush Hour movie fame was in the senator's Capitol Hill office Wednesday to get some insights into political machinations in anticipation of his role as the first black president of the United States.

Helms, Bono and Tucker joined Republican Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania for an hour-long pow wow on how to end the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Tucker's character will eradicate AIDS in Africa in the film, which will start production in Virginia shortly.

"Oh, I loved it," Tucker said of the strategy session as he gave a thumbs up while departing from the meeting.

Helms, 80, has made fighting AIDS in Africa -- where more than 28 million people are infected with the disease -- a top priority in his remaining time in office. He is retiring in January at the end of his fifth term in the Senate.

At a meeting last month of Samaritan's Purse, a Christian charity group founded by Franklin Graham, the famed Rev. Billy Graham's son, Helms said he was sorry that he had not dedicated more attention to the problem before it got out of hand.

"You can't avoid the seriousness of HIV/AIDS. Whether it be in Africa or in the United States, the treachery is the same. And the treachery is in ignoring it."

Helms later said his comments didn't apply to his view of homosexuals or the overspending on AIDS research done in U.S. labs.

Bono is credited with helping Helms see the light on the retched conditions facing people in underdeveloped nations, and the two have become very close. Helms and his grandchildren recently attended a concert of Bono's band U2.

Bono, who also appeared with Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Tuesday, remained in Washington Thursday to attend President Bush's speech on global development at the Inter-American Development Bank.

After the stars and other senators left Wednesday, Helms leaned on his four-pronged cane and looked around the office, telling chief of staff, Jimmy Broughton, "We really got started, Jimmy. Bono knows what he's doing."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.