This Thursday, the eighth annual Songs of Hope event, benefitting non-profit comprehensive cancer center City of Hope, will take place at the House of Rock in Santa Monica. There, in a palatial estate where last week Christina Aguilera debuted her new album, music business insiders will gather, gossip, drink, listen to tunes by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, hear speeches by co-chairs Doug Davis and David Renzer (the former, Clive Davis’ son and a top music attorney, the latter a longtime publishing executive), and bid on auction items like the sheet music to “Lay Lady Lay” autographed by Bob Dylan and VIP tickets to a Paul McCartney concert. There will be talk of much-needed funding and additional research to battle America’s No. 2 killer and perhaps some signs of progress — never enough and always, it seems, too little too late. Undoubtedly, the word “hope” will be uttered so many times that it may start to lose its impact, though in a way, so few letters hardly do justice to its grandiosity as a concept.
Indeed, on the opposite coast, one of the industry’s own is losing hers. Meredith Israel Thomas, a former publicity and marketing executive at RCA Records who worked with the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Kings of Leon in the early 2000s, was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. She’s defied all odds by long outliving her original prognosis while at the same time raising a daughter, Niomi, now five, and later marrying the love of her life, Gary Thomas, a hotelier. Now, she only has a few weeks left to live, and has been documenting nearly the entire journey.
It seems it’s Meredith’s way to do things out of order, like have a kid and then get hitched, but after undergoing what was an extraordinarily regimented step-by-step process — intense chemotherapy and a series of experimental treatments — the end of the road has arrived. Meredith said as much: “The liver won and I will die.”
Meredith has detailed nearly every turn of her journey in a journal that she’s maintained fastidiously on Caringbridge.org. With some 200,000 visits and cross-posts on Facebook, it didn’t take long for many of her former music business colleagues to hear the news. More learned of Meredith’s life and tremendous courage via the Huffington Post, which picked up her story, and later The Daily Mail and Miami Herald.
True, Meredith had connections in the press from her years drumming up the covers of Rolling Stone and Spin for her bands, but considering the candidness, wit, sass and easy flow of her posts — an example: “I still can’t believe that my perfect boobs are going to be the reason I die … I use [sic] to tell everyone how I loved my boobs when I was drinking. HA! Now, they are mush, but oh well. They were still perfect my entire life.” — it stands to reason that she would have gotten such deserved attention regardless.
And that’s what benefit galas are all about, right? Drawing attention to a cause? Making a big splash with a swanky dinner and a slew of celebrities on the red carpet in hopes of securing news coverage to spread the word? We in the entertainment industry sometimes find ourselves going to so many such soirees, that it’s easy to sweep aside the grim reality of the dilemma at hand. Maybe it’s because the idea of curing or even effectively treating such an indiscriminate disease seems absolutely insurmountable. Your brain is likely telling you it’s so, but that’s when your heart should kick in.
What’s been going through my mind as I think back on my short time with Meredith is how, when you work in the “music biz,” as they say, you come in contact with scores of people and lose touch with just as many — yet some stick out. You find yourself remembering a shared laugh at a photo shoot, a late-night hang at a club, and even the tense times negotiating interview time or asking for comment — fleeting moments that strangely left an indelible mark by bringing this incredibly likable person in and out of your life.
Plenty of people who never knew Meredith have reached out to her via Caring Bridge, Facebook and email. They include Justin Chambers and Kevin McKidd from Grey’s Anatomy (she’s a fan of the show) along with several producers from the series. Artists who were once under her care, including Natalie Imbruglia and Verve Pipe’s Brian Vander Ark, have emailed, and this morning, Z100’s Elvis Duran anointed Meredith “bad ass chick of the day.” The Dalai Lama has heard Meredith’s story, as have thousands of ordinary citizens facing similar sentences who have taken the time to sign her guestbook. For all the hateful comments found on the web these days, it’s nice to see one place where positivity rules (and how fitting of a cheery publicist).
Last November, The Hollywood Reporter teamed with the Motion Picture & Television Fund for an event to celebrate the next generation of agents, managers and attorneys and, yet again, raise awareness for those in need. In the MPTF’s case: to “protect and preserve the health and quality of life of those who devote so much of their lives to a career in the entertainment industry.” Robert Downey, Jr. delivered rousing oratory that night, making a case for the importance of the nearly century-old charity whose mission statement has always been to care for its own. The success stories certainly made an impression, but so did the commitment and focus to do the right thing.
Compared to movies, music is a tiny industry, with few Downeys or Barrymores or even Bings to parade for its causes (although certainly the Davis family comes close), which means, it’s up to us to do something. As helpless as one feels reading on Facebook, “I’m scared to death of dying” or in a blog post, “Saying goodbye, is it time yet? How do you really know?,” if we don’t band together in this fight, we don’t stand a chance. Consider this: whatever your charity of choice, go to fewer events but give more of yourself. And appreciate those around you, however briefly they enter in your life. Meredith Israel certainly did, as she stated emphatically in her last post:
“When I pass, it’s never goodbye. It’s Meredith lived a great life and had fun times. I enjoyed life to the fullest. I traveled the world with rock stars, I ran around with celebrities, I partied my ass off, tried things I never should have and just had fun with life. I lived it to the fullest!”
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