Once in a while, there is a gala that has a moment that is so unforgettable that it not only leaves you in tears but will be etched in your consciousness for eternity. At Rita Hayworth's 35th Alzheimer's Gala held on Tuesday, October 23rd with cocktails beginning at 6:30 PM there was one such indelible memory.
The night began with the usual pleasantries as the heroic Yasmin Aga Khan, Gala Chair and Founder and daughter of Rita Hayworth, thanked the crowd and sponsor Rolex in her one-of-a-kind Naeem Khan gown - looking every bit the star. She and Anne Hearst work tirelessly for this cause as joint chairs and have gained a reputation for their steadfast efforts.
Martha Stewart opted for one of her own designs from QVC that she bedazzled herself. She said she would be selling kits to learn how to bedazzle and was excitedly anticipating Halloween where she would be making her own Pharaoh costume - this woman is unstoppable.
The night had a Western theme entitled "Blazing Trails" which even had the Catsimitadis clan dressed in their Gary Cooper best with Margo wearing a sequined cowboy outfit and John wearing a more casual-rugged look.
There were certainly a host of additional luminaries including: John McEnroe and Patty Smyth, Candace Bushnell and Jim Coleman, Anne Hearst and Jay McInerney, Christopher Mason, Chuck Scarborough, Eric Ripert, Matt Rich, Robert Verdi, Nicole Miller, Susan Magrino, Diandra Douglas, Jean Shafiroff, Michele Herbert, the Kornfelds, Nurit Kahane, Nikki Haskell and dozens of others.
And then came that magical moment that so rarely happens where the perfect combination of beauty and sadness collide and just when it's almost too much to bear it concludes. Emcee and news anchor, Willie Geist, who does a magnificent job each year, introduced Jay Allen who had composed a song called "Blank Stares" documenting the struggles of his 56-year-old mother who has early onset Alzheimer's. Jay flew in from touring Nashville for tonight's event and recounted how every so often his mother, Sherry, has a lucid moment and says "I miss you".
I am tearful recounting Jay joining his ailing mother on stage as he sung the most haunting tune with her clinging to him. For the duration of the four-minute song, she never let go and Jay never stopped hugging her. The bravery of this duo was mindblowing with Allen's mesmerizingly soulful voice filling the Cipriani ballroom with an overwhelming melancholy. The crowd was in shock and awe as most of the attendees were both crying and speechless-trying to process the enormity of the moment they had just experienced.
The bond between a mother and child is unparalleled as exemplified by Aga Khan who still mourns the death of her mother Rita Hayworth and Jay Allen whose mother still desperately clings to him. Allen is headed towards country superstardom possessing an abundance of vocal talent and charm. The guests at the dinner were running over to hug him and tell him of their stories of woe at the hands of this dreaded disease.
Fashion expert Robert Verdi whose mother is sick with the disease and father died of it was tearful as he hugged Allen. Allen's performance hung over the whole evening as he humbly stood at the dinner in a jersey and jeans greeting all his newfound fans with a smile.
Another luminary who accepted an award was David Hyde Pierce whose father and grandfather struggled with the disease and who has been a longtime advocate. Pierce said that more than 5.7 million people struggled with this malady, the sixth leading cause of death in the world and that by 2050 that number could increase to 14 million. He noted that surprisingly and thankfully the Trump administration had quadrupled its funding for research with an additional $425 million allocated - bringing the total government funding to $2.3 billion.
Pierce was further encouraged by a study that linked the reduction of Alzheimer's to the lowering of blood pressure and said there were a host of drugs in the pipeline. Pierce remarked, "research is a fancy word for hope." Another illustrious family being honored were the Johnson & Johnson family who had lost heiress Libet Johnson to Alzheimer's in June 2017 at the tender age of 66.
Yasmin Aga Khan noted how Libet had gotten her through difficult times and how she brought light and love to all those she came in contact with. Her handsome son Oliver accepted the award on his family's behalf and said he could feel his mother's presence in the room. He also thanked CeCe Cord and Laurel O'Brien who organized his mother's care and helped every step of the way.
After the Western-themed meal of braised short ribs and corn succotash was served guests were treated to some lighter fare with the fabulous country group "California Cowboys" and the legendary Patty Smyth - this woman still has it. The “California Cowboys” added just enough mirth to a heavy evening especially when they played Pretty Woman.
Another delightful experience was bumping into actress Donna Dixon who is married to Dan Aykroyd whom she met on a movie set. When I asked why she was no longer acting she said that life was short and she wanted to do meaningful things such as her current animated movie which highlights the dangers of global warming. This woman was with her adopted daughter Augusta and is still the beautiful vixen I remember from "Bosom Buddies."
Another sex goddess, Rita Hayworth, would have been 100 this month; feting her with this memorable birthday dinner was the ultimate gift of love from a daughter to her mother.