Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx turns 38 on Dec. 13, and there is only one birthday present he wants from California Gov. (and fellow actor) Arnold Schwarzenegger: clemency for Stan "Tookie" Williams.
Williams is an acclaimed author who has been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He's also a convicted murderer who is set to be executed on Foxx's birthday after 24 years on death row.
"We can't let it happen," Foxx told me last night at the premiere of his new film, "Jarhead." "We've got to do everything we can to get the word out. Do you know they've collected nearly 30,000 signatures so far?"
Williams was sentenced to death in 1981 for the 1979 murder of a Los Angeles area 7-Eleven manager, and, shortly thereafter, three other people at a motel. He was already infamous at the time for founding the Los Angeles street gang the Crips, who were responsible for hundreds of deaths.
No one is suggesting that Williams be let out of jail, but in 1992, after two Nobel Peace Prize nominations and one for literature, a judge recommended clemency rather than execution.
Williams, who's 52 and has lived more than half his life in prison, was the subject of 2004's masterful made-for-TV film called "Redemption."
Vondie Curtis-Hall directed a pre-"Ray" Foxx as Williams and Lynn Whitfield as Barbara Bectel, the journalist who became his lifeline to the outside world.
Did you miss this movie the first time around? I know I did. It was made for F/X on cable, but it should have been in theaters.
Williams has been on death row since 1981. He's written — with Bectel — nine children's books preaching peace. And he's had a steady stream of celebrity support (Winnie Mandela even visited him in jail — CCH Pounder plays her in the movie).
Among Williams' awards: President George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Call to Service Award this year for his volunteer efforts to help youth (many observers think Bush wasn't informed about Williams' past was when he bestowed the award).
Foxx is determined to do something to keep Williams from the death chamber; we will probably hear more from him as the date draws near.
And yes, Foxx is correct: a Web site has already produced nearly 28,000 signatures that have been sent to Schwarzenegger.
I don't want to jinx him, but Carlos Santana should be one of the happiest men in the world. I don't know anything about his personal life or health (I hope they're all good), but his professional life seems like a dream come true.
At an age when most popular music artists are relegated to hoping their albums will even be heard, Santana is more popular than ever. His new CD, "All That I Am," is so good, and so much better than even his last one, "Shaman," that he should be smiling from ear to ear.
I guess I'm just surprised that Clive Davis let "All That I Am" miss the Grammy deadline. I'm sure he knows what he's doing, so we'll have a good year and a half to settle in with this album.
Davis is the co-executive producer on "All That I Am," and like on "Supernatural" — the album that brought Santana back — there are lots of guest stars. Rob Thomas (who co-wrote and sang "Smooth") doesn't sing here, but he donated both the album title and a song, "My Man," performed by Mary J. Blige and Big Boi from Outkast.
But the real revelation on the new CD is Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who sings his heart out on "Just Feel Better" and scores what I think could be a huge, huge hit.
Good for him: Tyler has one of those voices we take for granted. But his earthy vocal turns out to be the perfect complement to Santana's blistering guitar. That boy can sing!
But don't forget about Anthony Hamilton, the most underrated soul singer around, who bends Santana from salsa to real old school R&B on "Twisted."
Someone involved with this CD really had a vision when they incorporated these different ideas. Hamilton should be a superstar already, and with this collaboration he certainly makes a case for stardom.
The other duets work really well, too, including a grouping of Sean Paul and Joss Stone on one track, and Michelle Branch reprising her success from "The Game of Love" on another.
Ironically, my favorite track is an instrumental called "Trinity," in which Santana is supplemented by Kirk Hammett and Robert Randolph.
My old friend, Michael Zilkha (who founded ZE Records back in the early 1980s) had a theory I like to quote about hit records: "They have the sound of triumph," he said.
The Santana album is mixed like that, amped-up on sugar and caffeine like the best pop music. Even Santana's bluesier moments sound like a confectioner's delight. If "All That I Am" isn't a gigantic hit, I give up.
The big question remains, though: how is it that Davis, a man over 70 years old, seems to be the only one who knows how to do this? He's like the last man standing in a business that is nearly dead.
Lots of people contributed to making Santana a success again, but in the end it's Clive who sealed the deal. Is he the only executive in the business that still cares about music and the artist? It sure seems like it.
I don't know who's on the committee in charge of whittling down the Best Song nominees for 2005, but here are the best songs as far as I can tell.
It will be interesting to see what the committee comes up with. Last year, voters went for John Mayer's soft-boiled "Daughters" rather than Alicia Keys' stunning "If I Ain't Got You."
But of course, Christopher Cross' "Sailing" once won, and beat "New York, New York" by Kander and Ebb. So whaddaya gonna do?
My humble choices: "When God Made Me," Neil Young; "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Green Day; "Original of the Species," U2; "Shelter in the Rain," Stevie Wonder; "Ordinary People," John Legend.
Bette Midler hosts her 10th annual Hulaween Ball at the Waldorf Astoria tonight. Proceeds go to the New York Restoration Project, which privately funds New York City parks, gardens and highways that have fallen on hard times. She's honoring two cool people who deserve it — Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Sumner, aka Sting and Trudie Styler. Elton John is the featured performer. You are not hallucinating. What a night!
Meanwhile, even scarier than the October holiday: two fine young actors who are "together," Peter Saarsgard and Maggie Gyllenhaal, are having their first ever dinner tonight with all four parents and other loved ones. The parents met last night at the premiere of "Jarhead." I am sworn to secrecy on the location, but can tell you that from the looks of things at the premiere, this should be smooth sailing.
At the premiere, not only were there Gyllenhaal's and Saarsgaard's, but the Gyllenhaals' 90-year-old aunt who came to see Jake's star turn in the movie.