by Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith
's trip to Russia did more to raise awareness of the plight of Chechen refugees than a host of non-celebrity media stories. As she walked through one of the camps threatened with closure by Russian authorities, who are pressuring some 80,000 Chechens to return to their war-torn land, crowds tried to reach her despite a heavy Russian security detail. "At last someone is paying attention to us!" refugee Aina Khasakhanova told CNN. "I am crying out of happiness."
Completing the trek last week, Jolie went on to visit a children's hospital, then went to the Kremlin, to make her passionate plea on behalf of the refugees directly to the Russian government. She held a news conference and "spoke without notes," pointed out a Moscow Times reporter.
When the "Tomb Raider" star took on her most important role in 2001 -- that of goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees -- many scoffed. After all, this was the woman who'd jumped into the Beverly Hills Hotel's pool in all her Golden Globes finery after the awards. And the same woman who'd admitted to using knives as sex toys and raised eyebrows in a variety of other ways.
But she was serious, as she has proven with her investment of time, talent and energy in places from Tanzania to Cambodia, where she helped sponsor a school and adopted her son, Maddox.
Many, many stars, to their great credit, lend their names, images and financial support to important causes. And some, like Angelina, take their causes so far as to be considered a life's work.
U2's Bono has made it his mission (among the activist music star's many missions) to get relief from massive debts owed by developing countries to countries in the industrialized world. His 2002 tour of Africa with then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was part of his effort under his DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa) advocacy group.
Becoming a follower of Tibetan Buddhism led Richard Gere to much more than a minimum of 45 minutes of meditation each day. It led him to take up the cause to free Tibet from the heavy constraints of China, and to become a vocal campaigner for exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom he visits three to seven times a year.
Super producer/hitmaker Quincy Jones has been devoting time, energy and money to help battle famine, AIDS and illiteracy in Africa beginning in the mid-1980?s with his major involvement with the USA for Africa charity which raised millions with the international hit "We Are the World." More recently, as part of his Listen Up Foundation, Jones took a group of Los Angeles inner city youths to Johannesburg, South Africa to build homes for the poverty stricken in that country.
Paul Newman's philanthropy has certainly become his greatest performance. His Hole in the Wall Gang Camps have afforded tens of thousands of children with cancer and other serious ailments the chance to remember what it is to be a kid and have fun -- a respite from their grueling lives under medical treatment. His Newman's Own food product line -- from which he donates 100 per cent of his after-tax profits ? has helped more than 2,000 charities with tens of millions of dollars in endowments.
Meanwhile, Newman's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" partner, Robert Redford, is an active environmentalist, who founded IRM, the Institute for Resource Management, in 1981. He's bought land to preserve it, has traveled countless miles and made countless speeches and personal appearances in support of finding solutions to land development vs. preservation issues.
The Drive to Survive -- as in the annual caravans of alternative fuel cars that go from L.A. to Washington, with promotional, educational, and lobbying activities from here to there -- is just one of the pro-environment activities led by former "McCloud" star Dennis Weaver.
Wendie Malick couldn't be much further removed from the self-absorbed ex-model she played on "Just Shoot Me." In real life, Wendie and her husband, Richard Erickson, spend much of their time doing volunteer philanthropic work around the globe. Erickson helped build a medical clinic in Abunga, Congo years ago and he and Wendie continue to help fund it and bring over items the clinic needs. They've also helped found an orphanage and a shelter for abused women in Tijuana, Mexico.
Though it's often the spoiled tyrants among the show business celebrity set who get the most attention, the fact is that these performers -- and countless others -- deserve kudos for adding enormous amounts to the plus side of the human condition.