By Leslie Milk
Sharon Does DC: Here's What Happens When a Sexy Hollywood Star Comes to Washington To Talk About Breast Cancer
"What happened? Did you get sucked into it?"
–Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct
Sharon stone's instinct was to help a good cause. The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's instinct was to use the sexy blonde actress to increase public awareness of breast cancer. But when Stone came here to be the celebrity chair for the foundation's Washington Race for the Cure, things didn't go as either the actress or the organizers had planned.
The Race for the Cure is the biggest fundraiser nationwide for breast-cancer research. The race is actually many 5K races run in cities all over the country. But it is the Washington race that has had the high profile since it started six years ago. During the Bush administration, Marilyn Quayle adopted the race as her personal cause. Former White House social secretary Gretchen Posten handled the organization of the race while she was dying of breast cancer. Quayle and Posten recruited heavy hitters from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and the media who cover them.
For the past three years, Vice President Al Gore and wife Tipper have co-chaired the event. But while Al Gore has great legs, race organizers knew a Veep in shorts doesn't attract enough attention. The Marine Corps Marathon had Oprah. The Race for the Cure needed a headliner.
The race for the cure committee decided to recruit Sharon Stone, star of Basic Instinct, a steamy thriller about a serial killer in which Stone revealed a lot more than her acting ability. Who better to focus national attention on breast cancer than the woman whose breasts launched a million popcorn sales?
Dr. Pamela Peeke, a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health and a member of the Race for the Cure committee, made the Stone connection. Peeke and Stone had met two and a half years ago when the doctor was in California delivering a lecture on nutrition, wellness, and longevity. Stone asked Peeke for a private briefing, explaining that her presence at a public event would create pandemonium. Stone then sent her makeup artist, Trishia Sawyer, to Peeke as a patient and invited the NIH researcher to visit her on location. The two have been in contact ever since.
Pamela Peeke approaches women's health with evangelical zeal. As part of her involvement in the race, Peeke chaired a women's health forum on Capitol Hill. She wanted as much exposure as possible for the race to get out the message that women can protect themselves against breast cancer.
At the beginning of the year, Stone told Peeke that she was coming to Baltimore in February to visit her 27-year-old then-boyfriend, Bob Wagner, who was working as a cameraman on a film directed by Jodie Foster. While Stone was in Baltimore, Peeke and Roseanne Domenici of Hayes, Domenici & Nunn, the public-relations firm managing the race, brought Stone down to Bethesda for lunch.
By the time lunch was over, Stone had agreed to be celebrity chair for Washington's Race for the Cure, to speak at the National Press Club about women's health, to do the race, and to take part in the events for big givers that increase the zeroes on the contribution checks.
Things started to go wrong a few days before the race. It became clear that Sharon Stone may be a pulse raiser, but she is not a runner. Secret Service agents would be providing security for the vice president and Tipper, but the agents would be running to keep up with the Gores.
Event organizers had agreed to pay $1,000 to protect Stone during her weekend in Washington. The charity could not afford additional security to walk along with the actress during the race itself. She toyed with the the idea of riding in the pace car. It seemed more likely that Stone would cheer the racers at the send-off but not actually walk or run in the race.
American Airlines donated a free ticket for Stone. But the day before her press-club speech, Stone missed her flight from Los Angeles. At noon on Thursday, June 15, race coordinators learned that Sharon had been too busy to catch the scheduled flight and would arrive later. Back here in Washington, some prominent doctors from Harvard and Yale who were waiting to dine with Stone were left twiddling their bread sticks at Cafe Milano in Georgetown.
The actress and her constant companion, Mimi Craven, arrived in Washington at 11 o'clock that Thursday night. A waiting limousine and the ex-cop who had been hired by the race to provide security for Stone took the two women to the St. James Preferred Residence at 24th and K streets near Georgetown. The hotel is a favorite for privacy seekers, but it didn't please Stone. All the St. James will say is that she was there–but not for long. Stone used the phone at the St. James to call the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown and to book herself a two-bedroom suite and arrange for a massage the next day. The actress and her buddy breezed into the lobby of the Four Seasons around midnight. Stone was wearing a slouch hat and sunglasses. She registered as Dr. Temple. It wasn't in homage to the MDs she had stood up earlier; Stone always travels under a medical alias.
Stone then called the 1789 restaurant near Georgetown University and booked a table under a medical alias. That alias didn't last long at the restaurant. While dining on pork tenderloin and grits, she began asking the waiter about local attractions. "Who is the sculptor who did 'The Awakening' at Hains Point?" the actress asked. The restaurant called the concierge at the Four Seasons, who is known to be a font of local information.
"Who wants to know?" asked the concierge.
"Where's she staying," the concierge asked.
"At your hotel, " was the reply.
Sharon stone's friday speech at the National Press Club was a sellout. Stone was to arrive at noon for a VIP reception before the speech, and a big crowd was on hand to greet the actress–including dozens of journalists who normally do not cover either the entertainment industry or women's health. "I'm here to cover the economics of Sharon Stone," explained Owen Ullmann of BusinessWeek.
Also in attendance were the doctors Stone had missed the night before, and Ann Klenk, executive producer of WUSA's Broadcast House Live. Klenk comes from Sharon Stone's hometown, Sagerstown, Pennsylvania, where Klenk's mother and Stone's mother still do water aerobics together. Stone's mother told Klenk's mother that Ann was the student teacher in Sharon's English class in high school.
Their reunion was thwarted when the Press Club spokesperson announced that Stone would not arrive at the Press Club until seconds before the live TV feed of her speech. According to a race organizer, Stone's New York publicist, Cindi Berger, explained that Stone does not like to be in a room with people for a long time because "people become weird on her."
Few speakers object to the pre-speech receptions. But the club has had problems with Hollywood guests before. "The last person to do this was Robert Redford," fumed a woman from the Press Club.
Stone finally made it to the national Press Building a few minutes before 1 pm. She was dressed in California formal attire–an Armani-style pants suit, sunglasses, and sneakers. The actress stopped to pose for a few pictures with journalists who had skipped lunch to wait for a Stone sighting. Then she took off her sunglasses and went into the ballroom, where a standing-room-only crowd of 300 guests and ten camera crews sprang to attention.
Stone took her seat on the dais, took one look at the lunch, and announced that she wouldn't eat it. She asked the waiter to bring her a fruit plate.
In light of her speech topic, Stone turned down a slab of red meat, mashed potatoes, and layer cake: A low-fat diet is one key to prevention of the disease.
Before she could bite into her melon slices, Stone was introduced by Press Club president Monroe Karmin. His final accolade indicated that people who "become weird on her" aren't all in the actress's imagination. "Ms. Stone's topic today is wellness, fitness, and a positive attitude," Karmin told the audience. "She's achieved those desirable goals by a simple guide to living well. She never wears underwear."
After this introduction, Stone managed a credible nine-minute speech in which she made a pitch for bringing breasts out into the open, so to speak. "We're not supposed to talk about our breasts, but there are a lot of people in this room who paid $7.50 to see mine," Stone quipped.
The speech would have disappeared in a cloud of unrequited audience lust had the actress merely accepted the National Press Club coffee mug, the gift the club gives all speakers, with a smile. Instead, Stone decided to share something personal. "I hadn't planned to say this," Stone began. "Four years ago I was told I had cancer, lymph cancer. . . . I had a lump in every lymph area of my body. I knew what that meant. Very, very fortunately for me, with a lot of positive thinking and a lot of holistic healing–I say that in a very personal sense because I know that that's a personal approach–I ended up testing negative for lymph cancer, but it took several months, and those months changed my life. And one of the changes during that time is that I stopped drinking coffee, and when I stopped drinking coffee, ten days later I had no tumors in any of my lymph glands."
With that, the coffee grounds hit the fan. Stone barely had time to limo back to her suite at the Four Seasons before the radio and TV news began reporting that she had had cancer and it was in remission.
Stone told the Associated Press later that night that she was misdiagnosed, that reporters had misunderstood her comments at the Press Club, and that the ensuing news reports had her friends "completely shocked and appalled."
"I've got nothing to hide."
–Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct
Some Washington doctors also were shocked and appalled by the reports on the Stone speech. Some said they feared that cancer patients might adopt her caffeine-free, think-good-thoughts therapy instead of medical treatment. "Irresponsible statements like that can kill," said radio talk-show host and Georgetown University professor Gabe Mirkin.
A spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society expressed similar concerns and added that ACS studies since 1980 have "found no connection with caffeine and any increased risk for cancer."
Meanwhile, Stone got a massage, worked out in the exercise room at the Four Seasons, and got ready for the vice president's private party on Friday night for Race for the Cure supporters.
The actress earlier had explained to her Press Club audience that the pressure to look beautiful was part of the tradeoff of celebrity. "The older I get, the more pressure it is," Stone said. "And every time I pull off another cosmetic miracle, I drop to my knees and thank God."
Sharon stone arrived at 6:30 pm at the Naval Observatory with her companion Mimi Craven. The party was scheduled to run from 6:30 to 8:30, and Stone was one of the first to arrive. She was dressed in California casual–a black sleeveless sweater, tight white jeans, a cashmere cardigan draped over her shoulders, and sunglasses. Sharon and Mimi sat down at a table in a corner of the party tent and talked to each other, ignoring everyone else except when one of the race organizers brought a big giver or Washington VIP over to meet the Hollywood guests.
Corporate sponsors who had donated at least $15,000 received invitations to the vice president's party along with congressional and administration supporters and members of the race committee. The actress offered a hand and a smile to Congressman John Dingell, FBI director Louis Freeh, and the others who were brought into her presence. "She only got up for Al," noted photographer Marty LaVor. "And to get into the food line."
When Stone and Craven returned to the Four Seasons before 9 pm, the hotel switchboard was ablaze. At midnight, Stone talked to AP Washington reporter Susan Sobieraj, the only journalist at the Press Club who reported Stone's cancer story as a misdiagnosis rather than a cure. Stone told Sobieraj that she was not going to walk or run in the Race for the Cure because "thoughtless, pointless, and inaccurate" reports had created "a media frenzy, and we don't have that kind of security" to handle it.
"Being a movie star is a lot like being an alcoholic. The only way to survive it is one day at a time."
–Sharon Stone At the National Press Club
Saturday, June 17, was race day. Stone left the Four Seasons at 7:30 am in a two-limousine convoy with security and Mimi Craven at her side. Both were in the California athletic uniform–black leggings, sunglasses, and clean running shoes.
The convoy pulled up to the staging area for the race, near the Washington Monument, which was already filling up with runners, walkers, reporters, and celebrities. Senators Bob Kerrey, Bill Bradley, and Chuck Robb were there. CBS anchor Paula Zahn came from New York to run. DC Mayor Marion Barry and Cora Barry had their walking shoes on. Cancer survivors in pink visors stood out in the crowd.
Sharon Stone and Mimi Craven stayed in an air-conditioned trailer, with only brief forays into the celebrity tent, where Stone's security guard and Secret Service agents kept away anyone who tried to approach the actress.
When it was time for the pre-race festivities, Stone joined Vice President Al Gore on the stage to welcome the 26,412 participants. "I've been carbo-loading for three years for this," Stone told the crowd. Then the vice president lead the racers to the Constitution Avenue starting line, and security took Stone back to her limousine.
The 1995 washington race for the Cure raised more than $1 million–up from $830,000 in 1994. Sharon Stone left for the airport before the starting gun sounded. By noon she was on an American Airlines flight back to Los Angeles.
"Your character's dead. Goodbye. What do you want, flowers?"
–Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct
On Tuesday, June 20, a four-foot-high bouquet of flowers arrived at the Senate Press Gallery. It was for Susan Sobieraj from Sharon Stone. "Clearly she thinks I have a grand foyer instead of a 200-square-foot studio apartment," the AP reporter said.