It was serious and sensational at a dinner party on the rooftop of the Kennedy Center this past weekend. Serious because the subject was AIDS, and sensational because the guests included the richest man in America, Bill Gates; one of the nation’s most photographed movie stars, Sharon Stone; and the recently out-of-the-closet Anderson Cooper. Yes, it was possible to get blinded by the camera flashes, especially when Gates wrapped his arm around Stone’s waist.
The dinner hosted by amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, and GBCHealth on the eve of the 19th annual International AIDS Conference, which is underway through Friday at the Washington Convention Center. Gates was presented with the amfAR Award of Courage. Stone is the group’s global fundraising chairman. When she was introduced by Cooper he called her “an extremely persuasive fundraiser.”
Stone lauded Gates for seeking courage and truth. “To know Bill a little bit is to know this is a person who is shy, not seeking the limelight,” she said. “He understands the computer world, but he also understands the human world.” She said the money he has contributed to AIDS research and to helping people with AIDS, particularly in Africa, is “changing the world.”
It wasn’t long after she stepped up on the stage that Stone was in tears, asking for the guests to “take a moment for those people we have lost” to AIDS. She then noted that Washington was the right location for the AIDS Conference because “DC is the worst place for the crisis in America.” DC reportedly has the highest HIV rate in the United States: 20,000 people have been affected by the virus, and 10,000 have died
“I’m so sorry. I have a tendency to get a little emotional about this,” Stone said, wiping away tears. She recalled that 17 years ago, she was asked to fill in for Elizabeth Taylor at an amfAR event. “You can imagine what that was like.” Stone thought the crisis would end. “Three years later, when it wasn’t over, I couldn’t imagine how I could go on.” She stopped to try to compose herself, and then continued haltingly. “Now people are living and will continue to live . . . I’m sorry . . . and [looking at Gates] it’s your courage that is enabling them to live.”
Gates, bespectacled and composed, said “it’s amazing” that it’s been 30 years since articles came out on the subject of AIDS. “There’s still a significant epidemic, but the number of new infections are coming down. Almost all pregnant women infected with HIV receive treatment to prevent passing the infection on to their newborn.” He urged people to “stay committed” and said, “We have many potential game changers for bringing us closer to the end of AIDS.”
Gates received standing ovations at the beginning and end of his remarks. He returned to his table, where he was seated next to Cooper. They seemed deep in conversation even while photographers swarmed. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi stopped by for a photo op, as did Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Earlier, during the red carpet and rope line arrivals, a lot of attention was paid to Cooper, who recently made public that he is gay. When a reporter tried to engage him in conversation, however, he said he did not want to answer questions. Others attending the dinner included actor John Corbett, shoe industry executive Kenneth Cole, opera singer Jessye Norman, and rapper Eve.