As the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico spills from spring into summer, celebrities have finally stepped up.
Larry King will host a two-hour telethon tonight on CNN to benefit victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. Proceeds from the event "Disaster in the Gulf: How You Can Help," which begins at 8 p.m. ET, will benefit a host of charities, including United Way and the Nature Conservancy.
King's bringing out the big guns for the broadcast: Justin Bieber, Cameron Diaz, Ryan Seacrest, Robert Redford and Sting are among the stars who've signed on to participate.
More than 60 days after a BP oil rig exploded, the telethon marks the first Gulf charity event celebrities have signed on to en mass. Though they flocked to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and tweeted and telethoned after the Haiti earthquake, Hollywood's been slow to respond to the Gulf oil spill. Why? For a town of performers, this particular tragedy may be lacking in drama.
Actor Edward Norton, who recently launched Crowdrise, an online platform that uses social networking to raise funds for a variety of causes, including the oil spill, speculated that the seeming lack of a human element is keeping Hollywood from diving into the crisis.
"I think that at the moment it feels, with the exception of the tragedy of the explosion itself and the loss of life, it feels environmental, not like a human tragedy," Norton told ABCNews.com at the Mashable Media Summit in New York City earlier this month.
To be fair, the loss of human life from the oil spill doesn't compare to the hundreds that died after Hurricane Katrina or the hundreds of thousands that died in the Haiti Earthquake. Norton speculated that may be why Hollywood's hesitant to latch on.
"It's very easy to say, 'My money can help take medical supplies to these people who are suffering,' he said. "But I think people look at something like the oil spill and they sense that enormous corporations and government agencies are struggling with what to do and they think, 'What can I do?'"
There has been talk: Actor Kevin Costner testified at Wednesday's House committee on Science and Technology hearing on Capitol Hill, saying he can provide an oil-separating technology "that is available immediately, a technology that will allow rigs to resume operation and put people back to work." Director Spike Lee urged President Obama on CNN to "go off," while actor Ted Danson proclaimed "no more ocean drilling."
And there has been some action. On a recent edition of "The Colbert Report," Stephen Colbert declared that everytime he said the word "bing," the Microsoft search engine of the same name would donate $2,500 to oil-spill cleanup efforts. He managed to say "bing" 40 times in the subsequent 20 minutes (best usage: "Bing is a great Web site for doing Internet Web searches. I know that because I Googled it"), thereby raising $100,000 for a new charity, the Colbert Nation Gulf of America Fund. (Notably not the Gulf of Mexico fund because, as Colbert said, "We broke it, we bought it.")
Actress Victoria Principal donated $200,000 to Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Director James Cameron solicited advice for the Obama administration from underwater technology experts. Gulf Aid, a May 16 concert in New Orleans featuring John Legend, Lenny Kravitz, Mos Def and Ani DiFranco, raised more than $300,000 for the Gulf Relief Foundation.
Few Grand Displays for Oil Spill
Worthy efforts, yes. But they're small potatoes compared to the haul Hollywood brought in after Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.
In the days after January's earthquake, actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt dropped $1 million on Doctors Without Borders. Madonna coughed up $250,000 for Partners in Health. In 2005, after Katrina, producer-rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs and rapper-businessman Jay-Z jointly donated $1 million to the Red Cross. Actor Nicolas Cage also gave $1 million.
Beyond the money, the grand displays stars made after Katrina and Haiti garnered attention. For the former, actor John Travolta revved up his private plane and jetted down to Baton Rouge, food supplies and tetanus vaccines in tow. Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey cut short her summer vacation to visit New Orleans and "personally assess how I could be best of service." At the NBC telethon to raise money for Katrina victims, rapper-producer Kanye West proclaimed that President Bush didn't care about black people.
Haiti also inspired a star-studded telethon, co-hosted by actor George Clooney and featuring some of music's biggest names, including Jay-Z, Bono, Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake. Rapper Wyclef Jean made it the subject of one of the most ambitious text message and Twitter campaigns to date.
It all added up. As of last month, according to Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, donations to help Haiti amassed $1.3 billion, while dollars for Hurricane Katrina amounted to $5.3 billion.
King and his cohorts are hoping that the telethon for the Gulf can raise similar funds and garner more attention for this latest crisis.
"I understand bureaucracy and that some things take time, but when you're out of work, you don't need help tomorrow, you need help today," King said in a June 18 statement about the event. "I'm grateful so many friends and colleagues are coming out to support our June 21st telethon. We're going to raise all we can to help the people and also the Wildlife that need it now."