When Roles and Charities Become One
By Mike Hess Posted Jun 29th 2010 12:00AM
Hollywood is all about entertainment, right? Well, at its core, sure it is -- but every now and then, a project comes along that means a whole lot more than movie tickets or television ratings. These projects are few and far between, but when they strike, they hit hard and affect thousands more than just those watching. PopEater decided to take a look at three major cases where the interest of an actor has had a major charitable impact, one of which was established far beyond the show representing it, and two in which one singular role transformed the views and actions of the actor involved.
Denis Leary: Firefighters
Denis Leary's affiliation with firefighters formed years before 'Rescue Me,' but he's the prime example of a celebrity using their craft or vehicle to gain awareness for a cause. Leary formed his Leary Firefighters Foundation in 2000 following a fire that killed his firefighter cousin along with four of his comrades in Worcester, Massachusetts. With budgets for first responders and firefighters always on the chopping block in rough times, Leary's foundation raises awareness and money for fire departments.
On 'Rescue Me,' Leary and his crew of fellow firemen operate in a post-9/11 New York City, with storylines often linking back to that tragic day. "When it comes to 9/11, it's far beyond Monday-morning quarterbacking. The FD has been underfinanced, understaffed and left alone for years. They knew their radios were bad. My foundation is all about trying to get them the new equipment. And instead you have senators spending all this money to sit on a dais to blame people, and getting on the news, instead of solving the problem," Leary told New York Magazine in the show's first days.
Gary Sinise: Soldiers and others affected by war
Perhaps the most prominent of all role-to-charity stories is that of Gary Sinise, who became one of the most outspoken troop-supporting celebrities following his Oscar-nominated role as Lt. Dan in 'Forrest Gump.' While that may have really driven him to ramp up his charitable efforts, Sinise first became interested in veteran affairs after he starred in a 1983 play written by Vietnam veterans. "There were people suffering from post-traumatic stress, injured people. Those were difficult times for Vietnam vets ... After that, I ended up staying in touch with a lot of those local Vietnam veteran groups," Sinise said.
Post-'Gump,' Sinise has made more than a dozen USO visits to troops overseas, and was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush for his dedication to the military. Aside from his work with the USO, Sinise recently co-founded his own Operation Iraqi Children Program, an organization that helps build schools and hospitals for Iraqi kids affected by the war.
Don Cheadle: Victims of genocide
Don Cheadle's persistence to help the people of Rwanda goes far beyond his Oscar-nominated performance in 'Hotel Rwanda.' The actor used his experience making the film, which documented the tribal genocide in that country, to learn more about the cause and help those in need. In 2007, he co-authored the book 'Not On Our Watch,' and also set up a charity of the same name with the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and others.
Just last month, it was announced that Cheadle would be a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the organization's environmental program. To kick off his role, he flew to Rwanda.
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