So, what's a presidential pardon among friends? By all accounts, any stigma that might have been attached to Denise Rich after she had to appear before Congress two-and-a-half years ago is now gone. Last night, Rich resumed her annual Angel Ball for her G&P Charitable Foundation for Cancer Research. And the stars came. And sang. And danced the night away.
This was at the Marriott Marquis hotel in the grand ballroom where, last time there was an Angel Ball in November 2000, Bill and Hillary Clinton as well as Michael Jackson, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and a host of Hollywood stars ponied up for Rich's worthy cause: a massive, star-studded effort to raise millions for cancer research, which had claimed her daughter, sister and mother.
Since then: oh, yes, that nasty business of possibly bribing the White House or the Democratic party so that Denise's ex-husband, Marc, an international white collar fugitive, could walk the earth unencumbered by Interpol reports.
But could Denise be pardoned for this indiscretion? Or would she be finito in New York, where she was a well-known hostess and songwriter?
You know, Fitzgerald was wrong. American lives have second and third acts.
Indeed, the American dream is so limitless that Denise walked up a red carpet last night in green chiffon and a drop-dead emerald necklace and greeted lots of stars to the Angel Ball. Pardongate is over. And the lesson to be learned is that if Richard Nixon could have had a party with Patti LaBelle as the entertainment, Watergate would have faded fast too.
I want to be fair to Denise. She asked me not to be nasty or to look for bad things to report at the Angel Ball. Our deal was to start anew since, let's face it, the Marc Rich investigation fizzled faster than a firecracker in the rain. And let me tell you: Denise is a nice person. She wants to come off as ditzy, but she ain't. What she is is savvy, and smart and full of emotion about the losses in her family. Last night she raised about $2 million for cancer research. And she raised awareness, especially about leukemia.
This is how Denise's party went: Stevie Wonder was one of the guests. He actually recognized Lorraine Bracco's husky, sexy voice before he was told who she was. He told her, "I want to be an actor. I want to be in the blind Mafia."
Lorraine laughed and hugged him. Stevie was also happy to meet up with old friends, like Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, and LaBelle. He was serenaded during a dinner by a house band that played his hits like "I Wish" and "Superstition." He gave Wyclef Jean a standing ovation. He kibitzed with Natalie Cole.
Later, Stevie had the misfortune of tangling with one of Denise's jazzier society pals, whose overly beaded bodice hooked his dreadlocked braids to her gown when she bent over to say hello. Luckily his assistant moved quickly to detach them.
It was a night of surreal moments. Bonnie Fuller, now the editor of The Star and one of Denise's honorees, was introduced by Helen Gurley Brown, the woman whom she sort of politely elbowed out of the editorship of Cosmopolitan just a couple of years ago.
Fuller had asked Brown to do her this honor, and Brown rose to the occasion as only she could, with dignity and humor. It was kind of a gloriously kooky and gracious moment, like something out of "The Best of Everything." Then Fuller -- better known for her unnatural obsession with Ben and J-Lo -- talked about her young daughter's 19 month fight with leukemia.
It was inspirational.
Oscar winning "Chicago" producer Marty Richards -- another honoree -- talked about his cancer. At the end of his speech -- for which he was introduced by "Chicago" director Rob Marshall -- Marty told the audience to kiss each other. He recalled how fellow honoree Clive Davis had released the first cast album of "Chicago" years ago. Davis was celebrating having the number one and two albums on the charts, with Rod Stewart and "American Idol" star Clay Aiken. It's the second time Davis has pulled that trick off in the last six months.
Marc Anthony salsa'd, Heather Headley belted, the very glamorous Joan Collins brought LaBelle together with her old partner, Sarah Dash, so they could do "Lady Marmalade." She let the phrase "Voulez-vous couchez avec moi" roll off her tongue like a purring cat. MTV reality star Jessica Simpson, aided by a pair of huge round uh, eyes, and a bright white smile, ably performed one of Denise's songs, "I Have Loved You." No one asked her about chicken or tuna.
Dame Shirley Bassey, 72-years-young and flown in from London just for the night, raised goosebumps with "Goldfinger." When she was done, she tossed her gold lame cape, which she had extended as if in flight, to the floor and disappeared with a poof. Gabriel Byrne made a speech. Donald and Ivana Trump sat at separate tables with their respective dates. Glamour magazine editor Erin Zammett, a stunning young redhead, made jaws drop when she spoke about beating leukemia. International South African hotelier Sol Kerzner picked up an award just for being a good guy.
I saw Famke Janssen somewhere in there, "Producers" star Cady Huffman, actor Tony LoBianco, Sylvia Miles, "Sex and the City" writer Michael Patrick King and producer Amy Harris, "Sopranos" producer Ilene Landress, actress Carol Alt, plus Star Jones and Puffy's mom, Janice Combs, as well as Colin Cowie, Andrew Cuomo, Allen and Debbie Grubman, Caroline Hirsch (of Caroline's Comedy Club), producer Beverly Camhe, BMI's Charlie Feldman and Gotham Magazine publisher Jason Binn.
"Hairspray" star Marissa Jaret Winokur helped the live auctioneer raise $130,000 during bidding that was simultaneously spirited and apathetic. I know I've missed people; I'm sorry. They came in waves.
Some did not. There was no Goldie or Clintons or Queen Noor this time. It was kind of a relief, actually. There was some weirdness, like: What the heck was Barbara Walters doing introducing Rich, singing her praises as if she had never interviewed her for ABC during Pardongate? It seemed inappropriate, but Walters sprinted out of the room when she was done, and skipped the balance of the evening before anyone could ask her about this.
At the after-party one floor down, guests drank from huge tanks of Ketel One. Stevie came back and let various women flatter him. "He's the best there is!" exclaimed one of the many who tried whispering in his ear. Natalie Cole posed for pictures.
In a far corner, Wyclef -- in his subtle cream-colored suit -- led a dozen or so friends and onlookers in a spur of the moment dance class that sort of mixed hip-hop with the Alley Cat. The mood was mellow and fun. Denise was laughing with some friends. She is back in business, and deservedly so.
A lot of big name stars are unwittingly about to start raising money for Scientology, thanks to Michael Jackson.
At 3 p.m. today Pacific Time, Jackson is launching a worldwide internet download of his charity single, "What More Can I Give?" for $2 a shot, Jackson fans will be able to hear this record, made exactly two years ago but never released. The record features Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, members of *NSync, The Backstreet Boys, and others.
But what fans -- and the two dozen participating artists -- probably don't know is that proceeds from the single download are going, in part, to Scientology.
Jackson has designated Scientology's HELP Organization, which bills itself as a literacy program, as one of the beneficiaries of his largesse.
The other charities Jackson will send "part" of these proceeds to include Oneness, Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, and something called the International Child Art Foundation. Information about Jackson's plans can be found at www.whatmorecanigive.com.
The Oneness Foundation is run by one of Jackson's record producers, who also produced the Spanish language version of the single. Ironically, Oneness -- a boutique operation -- was supposed to benefit from the sales of tickets to Neverland last month, as was the Make a Wish Foundation. Neither of those groups has yet to see any money from the Neverland open house event.
Scientology's HELP -- as well as Oneness, Mr. Hollands, and ICAF -- were not the designees when Jackson convinced people like Usher, Luther Vandross, Tom Petty, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Beyoncé Knowles, and other superstars to participate in this recording two years ago. At the time, the stars thought they were participating in a fund raising event for families of the September 11 tragedy. Now, however, "What More Can I Give?" will be collecting money for causes many of the stars may object to.
HELP, which stands for Hollywood Literacy and Education Program, is a subsidiary of the Church of Scientology, itself considered by many to be a religious cult. The copyright on the HELP website, which Jackson's website is now linked to, states: "The Hollywood Education and Literacy Project is licensed by Applied Scholastics International to use the Study Technology of L. Ron Hubbard. Applied Scholastics is a trademark and service mark owned by the Association of Better Living and Education International and is used with its permission."
The Association for Better Living is yet another Scientology offshoot, which, according to their website, adheres to the teachings of founder Hubbard, the late science fiction writer. Referred to as ABLE, the Association is an umbrella name for Scientology's different 12 step and learning programs, all designed to indoctrinate students to their philosophies.
Jackson was briefly married to a Scientologist, Lisa Marie Presley, in the late 1990s.
Calls to Jackson's company, MJJ Productions, proved useless. An answering service operator said they were on vacation.