- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

Talk meister Larry King knows how to throw a party. His Friday night fete began with a bang and ended after four hours of magic, melody and often malevolent humor.

Almost 700 of the CNN interviewer's closest friends crowded into the new Ritz-Carlton Hotel, paying between $1,000 and $100,000 apiece to attend the eighth annual Larry King Cardiac Foundation Dinner.

Fireworks kicked off the celebration, exploding from the stage with a loud bang that left the ballroom mired in sparks and purple light.

As a siren roared, Mr. King kicked off the first crack at what was to be a Bush-biting event.

"That's just a police car chasing Gov. George Bush," he explained, referring to the revelation of the Republican presidential candidate's 24-year-old drunken driving charge.

What followed just got better and better. Magician Joe Romano pulled the so-called king of hearts out of a box again this year. After a video about heart disease and the foundation's work, Wynonna belted out lyrics in her own special blend of rhythm and blues and gospel that had the audience tapping their feet as they picked at their appetizer, yellowfin tuna with mango and avocado tartare.

The dinner was billed as a Ritz-Carlton inaugural party after its grand opening three weeks ago with you guessed it Larry King presiding at the dedication ceremony. While there were a few glitches, including overcrowding the dinner, the hotel provided a classy repast with special seasonal touches, especially the roast veal with pumpkin main course and the presentation of flower-shaped butter pats served on leaves.

The event, which raised more than $1 million for heart patients in need of surgery, also featured 15-year-old Ugochi Ezeanochie, who received foundation assistance when she received heart surgery in September.

After the teen-ager was introduced to Wynonna, there was a touching moment when the singer asked the girl if she knew who she was. "No," came the bashful answer.

"That's what I thought," Wynonna replied, going on to tell the girl, "If you can believe it and conceive it, you can achieve it."

Apart from silent and live auctions featuring Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves and other celebrity items, there was the presentation of this year's Larry King Heart Award to J.W. "Bill" Marriott Jr., chairman and CEO of Marriott International Inc., for his work with the foundation.

Mr. Marriott has had personal experience with heart disease. In 1962, his 5-year-old daughter, Debbie underwent heart surgery. He had two heart attacks himself in 1989.

"It is a very scary experience," he said. "I can't imagine what it would have been like if I was turned away from a hospital. This foundation has given so much so others might live."

With the election only days away, the evening was punctuated with political punches, most of which were aimed at Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Politically Incorrect's Bill Maher led the way.

"Don't vote (against Mr. Bush) because of a DUI 25 years ago," he said. "Don't vote for him because he is an idiot."

Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman, whom Mr. Maher referred to as the "liar" and his "rabbi," weren't totally spared.

"There are people who say Gore is too smart for his own good," he cracked. "He's overqualified to be leader of the free world."

While guests roared with laughter at many of the lines, others fell flat, punctuated by groans or dead silence.

Spirits were lifted just in time by the true star of the evening: Stevie Wonder, who charmed the audience with old favorites such as "My Cherie Amour" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." Guests enthusiastically sang along, often clapping and dancing in their seats as Mr. Wonder crooned out lyrics, egging the audience on to "clap so hard I can see you."

Soon after, Mr. King joined the singer in the performance of his life: a hilarious parody of "Ebony and Ivory."

"I'm blind. Give me some of that money," Mr. Wonder crooned to Mr. King.

"I'm white. Give me some of that rhythm," Mr. King croaked back.

Dinner guests included event co-chairman Chris Jeffries, president of Millennium Partners, which owns the hotel; co-host and Redskins owner Dan Snyder; and a mixture of political, media and business personalities including journalist Bob Woodward, former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, Cristina Vidal McLaughlin (hubby John was a no-show) and Mr. King's wife, Shawn King.

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