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Hollywood Takes Action on Health

Celebrities are increasingly trying to raise awareness of a variety of health issues.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Michael J. Fox, David Hyde Pierce, Julia Roberts, and Katie Couric are just a few of the celebrities who have been known to tug at our heartstrings when they speak on behalf of various diseases and medical needs.

But it's not just our heartstrings that are responding. According to some experts, the luxury of having a celebrity voice on your side creates an impact that can be felt all the way to the bank.

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"Jean Smart from 24 was the MC for our gala this year. Last year we raised $1 million, this year we raised $1.4 million plus, and I would argue that the extra money was a direct result of a very heavy celebrity presence at the event this year," says Lou-Ellen Barkan, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association New York City chapter.

Other groups, including the National Parkinson Foundation, find the "cause celeb" to be among their most valuable tickets to fund-raising success. Mary Ann Sprinkle, the group's director of development, tells WebMD that for many years the late Bob Hope and his wife Delores, as well as Dick Clark, played major roles in bringing attention not only to the foundation, but to the disease itself.

"Millions of dollars were raised through their efforts --- money that we otherwise would not have known," says Sprinkle.

The Power of Celebrities

Picking up the ball for a whole new generation is actor Michael J. Fox. His own battle with Parkinson's diseaseParkinson's disease was behind the creation of MichaelJFox.org. It's a fund-raising charity that experts say is making a huge impact on the course of this disease.

"Because of his actions and his voice, every organization involved in Parkinson's disease has benefited," says Sprinkle.

In fact, the power of celebrities can be so great, that an entire foundation has been created to give Hollywood stars even more opportunities to participate.

The group, known as the Entertainment Industry Foundation, (EIF) runs some of the better-known celebrity charities, such as Katie Couric's National Colon Cancer Research Alliance (NCCRA) and Halle Berry's Diabetes Aware Program.

"We help celebrities who want to make a difference accomplish their goals," says Judi Ketcik, vice president of communications for EIF.

Hollywood and Capitol Hill

One place where you might not expect the celebrity name to carry much weight is on Capitol Hill.

But surprisingly, experts who have attended congressional hearings on disease funding say it is here where the celebrity voices resonate the loudest -- and perhaps accomplish the most.

"When Julia Roberts got up in congress to speak about the rare neurological disorder Rhett syndrome, powerful lawmakers paid attention. And because of her efforts, a disease that otherwise would probably go unrecognized on Capitol Hill got recognized," says medical ethicist Arthur Caplan, PhD, professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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