- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

NEW YORK

Diane Lane recently made a drastic change with one of her most valuable assets: her hair.

On “Today,” Miss Lane — smiling but wincing — got a haircut, losing eight inches of her sandy-hued locks.

Why? To donate the shorn hair to a charity that gives wigs to women battling cancer.

“On a personal level, it was kind of hard to top as an adrenaline rush,” Miss Lane, sporting a sleek, brand-new bob, told Associated Press. “But, really, it’s a great relief to know it’s not really about the hairdo I’m left with. It’s more about where the hair … went.”

More and more celebrities are giving millions, even billions, to charity and taking up humanitarian causes. They’re also drumming up media attention to get out the message — and that’s not to mention their work for political candidates and their campaigns.

What’s the motive for this high-profile munificence?

It’s a mix of factors, underpinned by the viewpoint that philanthropy is a must on a celebrity’s to-do list.

“I think we’re finding a new era in which as more do it, more will put in on their agenda,” says Paul Schervish, director of the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. “That is, they will be responding to social expectations.”

Those expectations are being set by A-listers such as Angelina Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, whose passion for the plight of refugees and other issues has helped encourage celebrity activism, says Marc Pollick, director of the Giving Back Fund, a nonprofit organization that mentors celebrities about philanthropy.

Miss Jolie and beau Brad Pitt, perhaps the world’s foremost activist couple, sold the first picture of daughter Shiloh to People magazine, saying all proceeds would be donated to charity. They recently gave $300,000 to help government-run hospitals in Namibia, where Shiloh was born.

When Miss Jolie, who uses her star wattage to lure the media spotlight to impoverished corners of the globe, gets praised for her efforts, her peers feel compelled — even pressured — to do the same.

“Others are saying, ‘Gee, this is a great thing to do and look at all the good it produces,’” Mr. Pollick says. “And so I think the copycat behavior is fabulous. It’s sort of a tide rising all the boats.”

Nicolas Cage recently pledged $2 million to help former child soldiers around the world. Action star Jackie Chan intends to dispense half his wealth — that’s $128 million, he estimates — to charity. Warren Buffett, a celebrity by dint of being the world’s second-richest man, has announced that he’s bestowing a yearly sum of $1.5 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Mr. Gates, of course, being the world’s richest man) to seek cures for the world’s worst diseases and improve American education.

Oprah Winfrey is the only show-biz celebrity to rank, at No. 22, on Slate.com’s 2005 list of the top 60 donors to charity.

Celebrity activism, however, is nothing new.

Jerry Lewis has hosted his Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon for 40 years. Paul Newman, through his Newman’s Own line of food products, has raised more than $200 million for charity since 1982. (And for years, good deeds have been done in stealth.)

“This is a kind of philanthropy that existed a long time, but as all forms of philanthropy now are becoming more prominent — donations and the people involved are becoming more substantial — this has taken on a life of its own and has become something that celebrities are compared with each other about how much they’re doing,” Mr. Shervish says.

Stars seek similar recognition for their charity work, Mr. Pollick notes, adding that “they’re competitive. It’s a good thing … And it’s worked. They have become role models.”

Many stepped forward after three events: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a celebrity-driven telethon helped raise $200 million in three months for victim relief and related efforts. Two star-studded televised concerts — NBC’s “Concert of Hope” to aid tsunami victims, and “Shelter From the Storm,” aired by six networks after Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast — raised a total of nearly $50 million.

More celebrities also are becoming “students” of issues such as AIDS, poverty and the environment, says Lisa Paulsen, chief executive of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a charity that works with the likes of Tom Hanks and Katie Couric.

“They’re well-informed,” Miss Paulsen says. “They study. They’re articulate.”

They’re also media-savvy.

U2 frontman Bono was named one of Time magazine’s Persons of the Year (and landed on the cover) in 2005 for his campaign to raise awareness of poverty and AIDS. Michael J. Fox, afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, has become a vocal advocate for stem-cell research in the wake of Christopher Reeve’s death. Cher appeared on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” last month to bemoan the lack of safe helmets for U.S. soldiers.

Though Miss Lane says she was raised “never to showboat” her charitable work, she figured her clout was needed to motivate women to chop their locks. It didn’t hurt to go on live television.

“I think it’s more the example of encouragement,” she says.

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