Years after actor Sharon Stone burst onto the scene with her unflappable confidence and glamour, she continues to shock fans and critics.
In July, the Hollywood icon posted pictures of herself clad in a bikini on social media, and the Internet went wild. One photo received 30,681 Instagram “likes” -- and triggered an avalanche of comments, like “sexiest woman on Earth,” “still scorching,” and “an absolute inspiration to all women.”
Of course, not everyone was a fan. Some called her “old.” Others suggested the images were digitally enhanced.
But Stone, 59, isn’t the type to let naysayers ruin her day. In fact, criticism is nothing new. “I’ve had people try to shame me for my work -- but to what end?” says the former model and film star who’ll appear in the movie The Disaster Artist in theaters in December. “People will find anything to have a reason to make you feel ‘less than.’ They don’t want you to pop up above the water level. But everybody should feel special and wonderful.”
Though she has appeared in more than 100 films and earned a Golden Globe for her work in the Martin Scorsese blockbuster Casino, her turn as a femme fatale in the 1992 thriller Basic Instinct made her notorious for pushing the envelope. The film included a scene with partial nudity. While it established her as a bona fide movie star, it attracted some criticism.
Stone took the criticism and accolades in stride. “I don’t want to be the flavor of the day,” she says. Stone tries not to be swayed by the fickle nature of Hollywood or by others’ expectations. “I just think it’s better to have a more grounded perspective,” she says.
So she focuses less on what people think and more on making the world a better place. “All we have to give in this life is service and kindness to others,” she says. “What else is there?”
A Passion for Good
True to her word, Stone has passionately advocated for many health causes. She helped raise money for breast cancer research and those in need after Hurricane Katrina. In 1993, she co-created Planet Hope, a foundation for homeless and abused mothers and children that is still going strong.
In the early '90s, Stone became involved in education and fundraising for HIV and AIDS causes. Her neighbor, Elizabeth Glaser, who created the Pediatric AIDS Foundation to raise money for research, was living with HIV. Glaser’s daughter, Ariel, had died from AIDS. Stone and a group of other neighbors wanted to help, so they organized street fairs to raise funds.
“That grew and grew,” Stone says. The president of the Dominican Republic heard what Stone did for Glaser and asked for her help. “There were so many children dying in the Dominican Republic, and they needed someone to come down and guide them,” she says. “I went with maybe six people. We tried to help people understand what we knew and to raise money. It was heartbreaking.”
Since then, Stone has continued to be actively involved. For more than 20 years, she has been the global campaign chairwoman for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, traveling to places like Dubai, Mumbai, and Sao Paolo to chair events and raise money for research.
Stone received several awards for her advocacy, like the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Ribbon of Hope and the Human Rights Campaign’s Humanitarian Award.
Now she works with the Foundation for the AIDS Monument to raise money for a memorial to be installed near West Hollywood Park in 2019. Funded by donations from private organizations and the public, it will be a group of totem-pole structures designed to honor and memorialize the many people affected by HIV and AIDS, and teach visitors about them. The memorial will also have a digital component -- video interviews of activists, medical professionals, and family members that tell stories about HIV and AIDS.
Jeff Valenson, a volunteer who works with Stone and the Foundation for the AIDS Monument to raise money, says Stone’s impassioned speeches have inspired many to get involved. “She has served as a spokesperson for events and helped raise over $500,000, in addition to contributing as a major donor,” he says, adding that Stone was recently named to the board of trustees of the foundation.
'It’s Not Over'
HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the body’s immune system and is spread through body fluids like blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. It makes it hard for the body to fight infection and disease, and it may develop into AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, if not treated properly. HIV can’t be cured, but medication called antiretroviral therapy (ART) can keep it under control.
Since the epidemic began in the early 1980s, 35 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses worldwide. But researchers and doctors have made major strides in testing, treatments, and prevention.
“In the 1980s, HIV was a virtual death sentence,” says Michael Gottlieb, MD, an HIV specialist who was actor Rock Hudson’s doctor and co-founded amfAR. “Now patients fortunate enough to be able to access antiretroviral medicines and who take them are projected to have near normal life expectancy.” he says. Treatment can bring the virus to what doctors call an "undetectable" level. “This reduces the risk of transmission to a miniscule level, if at all,” Gottlieb adds.
But it’s not over. In poorer countries, people with HIV are often diagnosed too late, lack access to medicine, and are still dying, says Gottlieb. In 2016, 1.8 million became newly infected, and 1 million people died.
In the U.S., about 1.2 million people have HIV. Certain groups are particularly at risk, including black and Hispanic gay and bisexual men. “People don’t realize the HIV epidemic is not under control in the U.S.,” Gottlieb adds.
He says funding is key to target, educate, and treat high-risk populations and to find an effective vaccine and a possible cure. That’s where people like Sharon Stone come in.
Even though Stone has continued to step into the spotlight for HIV and AIDS awareness, in recent years she dipped below the radar professionally. Though she kept working -- in films like Fading Gigolo and television series like Law & Order: SVU -- since the early 2000s, she has had mostly smaller roles.
This was by choice, she says, so she could support her adopted sons, Roan, now 17, Laird, 12, and Quinn, 11. It didn’t feel right to be away filming movies and in the public eye as they grew up, she says now.
Stone believes it paid off. “I’m so proud of the young men that they are. They’re kind and warm and funny and bright and interested. And they’re good -- they have good character,” she says.
Now that they’re older, she’s diving back in. “Because they’re running around doing so much stuff out of the house, it’s the appropriate time for me to be out of the house too. It’s natural,” she says.
But she wouldn’t trade her time away from big film projects for anything. “I’m so much less in the spotlight right now, which has actually been terrific,” she says. “Frankly, I’ve enjoyed my reprieve.”
For much of her adult life, Stone says she felt pulled by the desires of others. She was in a series of relationships with men who she now believes weren’t in it for the right reasons and didn’t support her.
Having kids helped her see the big picture, she says. Now she’s squarely focused on what feels right -- having a happy family, following her own compass, and striving for health and wellness.
Speaking of wellness, how does Stone radiate such confidence and health?
Perhaps it’s attitude. Stone believes hyper-focusing on the aches and pains that come with age, and talking about them incessantly, is a trap. “We have to stop having these conversations or else we’re going to have to meet people and be like, ‘Hi, I’m Sharon, you know, teeth and knees,’ ” she says with a laugh.
Stone is also a believer in clean living. “I don’t eat a lot of processed food, though I haven’t been able to get potato chips out of my mind!” she says. She eats gluten-free, avoids caffeine, and rarely drinks alcohol.
Being active comes naturally. “I’m athletic. I’ve always been kind of a tomboy. I’m the person who likes to hit baseballs and throw footballs and run around on the beach,” she says.
But it was actor and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger who turned Stone into a fitness enthusiast. To play his wife in the 1990 movie Total Recall, she whipped herself into top shape. “I had to lift really heavy weights and do karate for hours every day,” she says. After hanging out with Schwarzenegger and his fitness-buff friends, she became a believer that fitness changes everything.
Stone especially loves Pilates and does it three to five times a week. “On a good day I might work really hard for an hour and 15 minutes on a Pilates machine. If my body doesn’t feel willing, I might do stretches for 30 to 40 minutes. Like everybody, I have good days and not-so-good days. I really believe you have to listen to your body.”
After decades of ups and downs in Hollywood and in life, she believes it’s equally important to be kind and loving to herself -- no matter what people say, think, or expect.
“I feel like this is the third act of my life,” Stone says. “To come to the true core of my being and not be pulled by the fancy of others? That, in fact, is true wellness.”
HIV and AIDS: Then and Now
- Since the epidemic began, 76.1 million people have been infected with HIV.
- Globally, 36.7 million people now live with HIV -- 17.8 million are women, and 2.1 million are children.
- Regions most affected are sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.
- As of 2014, about 1.2 million people in the U.S. live with HIV.
- In the U.S., about 1 in 7 people who live with HIV don’t know they have it.
- Most people diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. are men -- about 4 in 5.
- The number of black and Hispanic people living with HIV is higher than average. In 2015, 45% of people in the U.S. with HIV were black and 24% were Latino.
- AIDS-related deaths peaked in 2005. Since then, the rate has fallen by 48%.
- Since 2010, new infections have fallen by 11%.
- About 19.5 million people currently take medication for HIV.
- About 53% of people with HIV have access to treatment.
- In 2016, about a quarter of pregnant women living with HIV lacked access to medication to prevent passing it to their babies.
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