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Friday, 9 November 2007

Barbra Lends Support to Fire Victims

Super-investor Ron Burkle hosted an event at his historic Beverly Hills estate.
By Tina Daunt, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 9, 2007

The billionaire hosted the gathering, an intimate affair with a small group of his richest and most famous friends -- the kind of people you can count on in a crisis.

There was a former president, a princess, a diva, a rock star, a famous local quarterback and the one-time king of the NBA court.

They began arriving around 4 p.m. Saturday at super-investor Ron Burkle's historic Beverly Hills estate, Green Acres. The cause that brought them together was a serious one and a little closer to home than most: the wildfires that swept through Southern California, leaving thousands of people homeless and in need. Burkle and company wanted to lend a hand.

The guests, about 50 in all, were greeted by a doorman and guided down a windowed hallway to Burkle's living room, ball-room-sized with paneled walls, plush couches and bright David Hockney paintings. The California Highway Patrol's dignitary detail kept watch near the main gate outside.

This was about as exclusive as a Hollywood get-together gets -- power, money, talent with a focus.

Former President Bill Clinton, the guest of honor, worked his way through the crowd, shaking hands and giving out hugs to people who have become old friends. Barbra Streisand, wearing a black beret, took a seat on the couch.

Laker legend Magic Johnson, towering over everyone else, mingled in the back. Anthony Kiedis, the lead singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, stood next to his girlfriend as she rocked their newborn baby.

One-time USC quarterback Rodney Peete was there, as was a Saudi princess, who arrived with socialite Daphna Ziman.

There was casual conversation for about half an hour, then onto the raison d'être: raising money to help those who had lost everything in the fire. Clinton took center stage.

"Because of the nature of a disaster of this magnitude, there will be significant gaps in assistance," he told the group. "Even people with insurance will be in need."

In recent weeks, a number of celebs have stepped forward to help. Pop star Gwen Stefani donated ticket proceeds from her recent San Diego show to fire victims.

Members of the Eagles donated $50,000 to firefighters, as did members of the local superstar band Linkin Park. Madonna, Green Day and others have donated autographed items to be auctioned on EBay. (www).

Clinton, who was making a sweep through town on behalf of his wife's presidential campaign, told the crowd at Burkle's house that "we didn't feel right about coming out [to Southern California] without doing something to help those who have been hurt" by the disaster.

He read from an article offering suggestions on preventing wildfires. One recommendation: put the electrical lines underground, Clinton told the crowd. (Streisand, a longtime resident of Malibu, responded with a resounding "yes!")

By 5:30 p.m, the Burkle event was wrapping up. Nearly $300,000 had been raised for the San Diego Foundation, a group that has been assisting fire victims for years.

"They need help in repairing their lives and getting back to some sense of normalcy," said Johnson, a longtime friend of the Clintons. (He recently had a fundraiser for Hillary at his Beverly Park home that brought in more than $500,000 for the senator's presidential campaign and rallied black support in Hollywood.)

As Johnson spoke, Clinton came up behind him and tapped him on the arm. They embraced, and the former president said, "I love you, man. I'll never forget what you did for her."

Johnson caught his breath as the former president walked away.

"Hillary is great," Johnson said. "She's a leader and the smartest person in this race."

And with that, Johnson sighed. "I've got to go. Cookie [Johnson's wife] is waiting for me."

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