It’s been ten years, nearly to the day, since a movie star graced our cover. In November 1997, it was Elizabeth Taylor, the founding chairman of the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), which funds improved treatment and the hunt for a cure. This month, we profile Sharon Stone, amfAR’s new global fundraising chairman. Powered by the funds Stone helps to raise, amfAR continues its aggressive search for a scientific solution to AIDS.
Stone, of course, has appeared on dozens of magazine covers—and ours isn’t her first tied to AIDS. In 1999, Esquire put Stone on the front of its March issue, alongside Tom Hanks, Grant Hill, Lauryn Hill, Dr. Mathilde Krim, Madonna, Natasha Richardson and Chris Rock. The group held up signs that together said “The Four Letter Word We All Forgot About.” The feature story, “The Virus at the End of the World,” written by noted AIDS journalist Laurie Garrett, predicted that despite the protease “miracle” of 1996, AIDS was not over and would get much worse. Garrett wrote, “Minute by minute, HIV gains advantage. And it will take a lot more hard work, money and creative human thinking to come up with a way to shore up the dam—or build a better one.”
Inside the magazine, Esquire’s editor, David Granger, thanked the stars for lending their support. The publication jokingly apologized for its exploitation of celebrity, which it deemed essential to draw much-needed attention back to AIDS: “It is simply a fact...that a cause sans célèbre is no cause at all.”
Eight years later, celebrity power has only increased. Want to motivate today’s youth? Call Alicia Keyes. Or Kanye or Pink. Wanna make Gen X perk up and listen? Roll out Angelina, Leo or the Dixie Chicks. Celebrities’ influence over our culture may be cause for alarm. But what if they can sound the alarm for a cause, to let the world know that AIDS is still here, bigger and badder than ever?
The decision to put Stone on our cover was twofold. First, on the occasion of World AIDS Day (December 1), we’d like the world, particularly America, to refocus its attention on the crisis of AIDS. And Sharon Stone commands attention. Second, while Stone is widely known as a fervent AIDS activist, many may not know how many millions of dollars she has raised to help save the lives of we who live with HIV/AIDS. At a time when celebrity involvement is often focused on Africa, Stone, who travels the world to talk about AIDS, is sensitive to the fact that AIDS is being underplayed in the U.S. Witness the rising infection rates, plummeting budgets for care and treatment and the fact that one in four Americans living with the virus doesn’t know it.
As we head into 2008, we encounter a pivotal time in AIDS history. With the impending presidential election we have the opportunity—and the mandate—to encourage the new administration to handle the AIDS epidemic better than any of its predecessors. When I told Stone that the nation’s activist groups had gotten little response to inquiries and questionnaires sent to the presidential candidates, she said, “Well, I’ll tell you what we will do. If you want to, I’ll make sure that the candidates know I’ll walk you guys to them.” I’d like to think that the AIDS community doesn’t have to rely on celebrity power to get the candidates to listen. But it is nice of her to offer. And let me tell you—I have seen Sharon Stone in action. And I have no doubt that even the Republicans would return her call.