- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

The Kennedys are used to being the center of attention, even when their parties attract top athletes and movie stars.

But the collection of A-list celebrities who showed up at this year's Best Buddies fund-raising ball may have outshone even the first family of politics.

The nearly 1,000 guests jamming into Sargent and Eunice Shriver's Potomac, Md., mansion Saturday night made sure to press the flesh with the hosts, their daughter, Maria Shriver, and son Anthony Kennedy Shriver, who founded Best Buddies, an organization that joins volunteers with the mentally disabled.

As soon as Muhammad Ali arrived, however, crowds of fans flocked to his side, hoping for a photo with the former heavyweight champ or merely a moment at the side of "the Greatest."

Showing the effects of age and Parkinson's disease, Ali was slow to climb on stage after his standing ovation at the the $500-a-plate dinner, prompting sprightly octogenarian Sargent Shriver to note: "I think maybe he's a little bit reluctant to come because of my giant physique."

A bit later, a couple of other "champs" Academy Award winners Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt were whisked to their table in front of the stage for a short stopover.

"Become a friend for no other reason than to make one," said Mr. Spacey, encouraging personal participation in Best Buddies. He apologized for being late, adding that he and "Pay It Forward" co-star Miss Hunt flew in from New York.

Mr. Spacey's "American Beauty" co-star Thora Birch, charmed guests with her faint smile and approachable demeanor. Supermodel Angie Everhart, in a long strapless gown, made a few bow-tied men blush, including the volunteer who followed her throughout the night.

Countless Shriver grandchildren ran underfoot all night, inevitably ending up onstage, where the little ones got a round of applause for their unrehearsed antics. They preferred the company of Washington Capitals mascot "Slapshot" to all the other stars.

Acrobats from Cirque Du Soleil's newest production, "Dralion," kept the formally attired crowd enraptured; Kool & the Gang brought them to the dance floor.

Other celebs, including golfer Tiger Woods, donated autographs, tickets and musical instruments for auction (a signed acoustic guitar from pop singer Bono fetched $4,400).

The 12th annual ball, titled "Friendships Through Technology" in honor of the contributions of Washington's high-tech sector, managed to raise about $1.6 million.

Help from Capitals co-owners Jonathan Ledecky, the founder of U.S. Office Products, and American Online's Ted Leonsis keeps these fund-raisers on par with high-dollar Democratic and Republican bashes.

Both sponsors contributed more than $100,000 to the bottom line, although the evening brought out other big checkbooks as well, in particular those of Proxicom Chief Executive Raul Fernandez and MicroStrategy Chief Executive Michael Saylor.

Mr. Saylor and Mr. Ledecky got dubbed the "most eligible bachelors in D.C." by Anthony Shriver, who did some playful matchmaking on stage by bringing Miss Everhart and the glamorous Maeve Quinlin into the mix.

A giant tent where the hosts provided dinner and entertainment was decorated in futuristic black and silver colors, with CDs hanging from tent poles and table centerpieces. Wall-to-wall techies made the party seem like a dot-com board meeting.

"I had to flash my AOL password at the door," said the master of ceremonies, ABC newsman Chris Wallace.

This year's ball honored Mr. Leonsis and his wife, Lynn, who received the Spirit of Leadership Award.

Mr. Leonsis has been involved in Best Buddies for five years. Over the past 12 months he has been exchanging e-mails with his own Best Buddy, Ken, through e-Buddies, a cyberextension of the organization.

Apart from the award, Mr. Leonsis also took home a bust of John F. Kennedy after a whopping $55,000 bid.

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