Sean Penn's ardent dedication to the ongoing recovery of Haiti and its residents got a $6 million shot in the arm thanks to the help of some of his A-list friends on Saturday night.
Fittingly titled "Sean Penn & Friends Help Haiti Home," the 4th annual gala and fundraiser was held at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills and featured former President Bill Clinton, performances from many of Penn's industry pals, including Coldplay's frontman Chris Martin and a surprise finale from The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Minutes before the start of the nearly four-hour-long affair — a benefit for J/P Haitian Relief Organization — Penn stressed the importance of the glitzy fundraiser, which drew Bryan Lourd, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Salma Hayek, Ben Stiller, Rainn Wilson, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Rachel Zoe, Josh Hutcherson and Harvey Weinstein.
"One of the things that has to be understood is that governments no longer pay for the kind of help that organizations like ours do," Penn told THR on the white carpet, noting that he originally went down to Haiti five years ago after the devastating earthquake with plans to stay for two weeks, but he soon realized there was much more to do. "There is an emergency phase, there is grant money, but those dry up very quickly, so you have an incomplete job. Nights like tonight are extremely important because they fund the work that we continue to do."
Penn had a lot of work to do for Saturday night. Unlike many Hollywood star-led causes, Penn is involved in every aspect, from personally calling friends to show up, wrangling girlfriend Theron to present, sleeping outdoors in Haiti while steering recovery efforts and working one-on-one with politicians to keep the focus on the struggling country, which is entering a phase of political unrest.
In introducing Clinton, Penn called him "a once-in-a-generation leader with laser focus, immense curiosity, courage and compassion that can be unequivocally measured by sustainable benefits and the improvement of so many lives around the world." He continued: "From firsthand experience, I can assure you that the devastating challenges that we face today would have been greatly tempered had you been able to continue as our commander in chief."
In a 20-minute speech, Clinton mentioned the political unrest in Haiti and praised Penn for sticking with the country over the years. He also thanked Haiti’s former Prime Minister Laurent S. Lamothe (who was in attendance), calling him "the most decisive public official I have walked with in Haiti in more than 20 years." Added Clinton: "For helping welcome us in your country and making sure that we never forget it was your country and your people's country, it meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to Sean."
Clinton noted the work of J/P HRO in an effort to encourage guests to open their pocketbooks, saying, "You will never contribute to an organization that will give you a higher probability of having your good intentions turned into real positive changes in other people's lives."
Speaking of positivity, Martin received a warm welcome thanks to his charming presence onstage and his well-received performance of two Coldplay hits, "Magic" and "Vida la Vida." He explained, "Sean called me on Tuesday and said, 'Can you play the Montage on Saturday?' I said, 'I play the Montage every Saturday.' I spent so much money last year that I had to get another job." Martin detailed that his other gigs are stuffing envelopes and working at In-N-Out burger. What about whereabouts of his Coldplay colleagues? "They are more handsome and more talented and a bit more in England."
Other talented stars who took the stage included Rozzi Crane (with a rendition of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On") and the Chili Peppers, who closed the event with a 30-minute set. Before their performance, the live auction featured many lively moments, including Stiller spending $150,000 to take home Zoe's curated fashion lot and a $1.5 million score comprised of three separate $500,000 bids to travel to Haiti with Penn and Clinton.
The night was presented by Lynne and Marc Benioff and sponsored by Jeep and NRG Energy Company. Douglas Brinkley filled in as emcee for an absentee Anderson Cooper, who was needed by CNN to cover the fallout in France following the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.