Twenty-five years ago around a kitchen table in Atlanta, Elton John and a few friends decided to start the Elton John AIDS Foundation to combat HIV/AIDS and change minds about the widely misunderstood and demonized disease. Despite the pop icon's star power, the Foundation wasn't an out-of-the-gates success. But in 2017, after decades of hard work, it's regarded as one of the finest AIDS charities in the world (98% of money donated goes directly to those in need; the Foundation covers its own overhead) and it's raised an impressive $385 million to help people in more than 30 countries.
So naturally, the 25th anniversary gala deserved special treatment. Taking place by candlelight inside Manhattan's Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Tuesday night (Nov. 7) with Neil Patrick Harris serving as de facto emcee, a roster of actors, philanthropists, musicians and politicians gathered to celebrate the EJAF's 25th year. Those in attendance gave generously (a portrait of Sir Elton by the late Herb Ritts went for $95,000 during the auction) while enjoying performances from the soon-to-retire Aretha Franklin (who delivered a knockout nine-song set, including a lovely "Say a Little Prayer" that took on greater resonance inside a church), violinist Joshua Bell, and Heather Headley, who revisited her days as the original Nala on Broadway's The Lion King by singing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." All in all, the gala raised more than $4.3 million.
An enormous number of faces in the intimate audience were nationally recognizable: President Bill Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (both of whom spoke at the event), Billy Joel, Sting, Diane Lane, Ethan Hawke, Glenn Close, Padma Lakshmi, Elton's husband David Furnish (the Foundation's MVP), Aileen Getty, three of Elizabeth Taylor's grandchildren (who presented Elton with an award) and many more.