"What a great moment for me, my son, the world. What you have made possible for so many people defies all reason." LOWELL WEICKER, JR.
Former United States Senator
Enlisting the help of celebrities to publicize and promote your cause always involves a delicate balance. Are they doing it to help the cause? Or are they doing it to help themselves?
Over the years Special Olympics has been extraordinarily fortunate in the relationships it has developed with famous people. It has a lot to do with Eunice, of course--when a Kennedy asks you to do something, it's not like the celebrity has to say, "Who?" No explanation necessary: It is Eunice and the cause is Special Olympics.
But the nature of Special Olympics--the feeling that one gets from participating in a meet--cuts across lines of fame and fortune. "I've never met anyone who didn't have a good time getting involved with Special Olympics," says Susan Saint James, one of the earliest, and most dedicated, celebrities to get involved. "At the end of the day, it's not about you. That feeling is universal."
Appearances at Special Olympics meets by actresses such as Saint James, and athletes such as Rafer Johnson, the 1960 Olympic decathlon champion, gave an early kick-start to the program. In 1978, the late Christopher Reeve joined Eunice and others for a gala premiere of the movie "Superman" that benefited Special Olympics. Another major Hollywood personality to be involved over the years is director Steven Spielberg. Other major stars who have lent their name to Special Olympics causes include: Vanessa Williams, Tom Arnold, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Danny Devito, Henry Winkler, Colin Farrell, Zhang Ziyi, Peirce Brosnan, Dick Sargent, Paul Newman, Barbara Streisand, Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Jackie Chan, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Special Olympics has itself gone Hollywood. Loretta Claiborne was the subject of a Disney movie that premiered on ABC called "The Loretta Claiborne Story," her part played by an actress named Kimberly Elise, who has stayed active in Special Olympics. A riskier Hollywood venture to which Special Olympics gave its okay was "The Ringer," in which Johnny Knoxville portrayed a young man who was masquerading as a Special Olympics athlete. Knoxville, too, has stayed active with Special Olympics.
Conductor John Williams was an early booster of Special Olympics, and other musicians who have been involved include Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, Bono, Kenny G, and Tom Petty.
The program has long gotten a huge lift from the participation of former Olympic athletes such as Billy Kidd and Picabo Street (skiing), Scott Hamilton and Michelle Kwan (figure skating), Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen (speed skating), and Michael Phelps and Donna De Verona (swimming). Two former Olympic champs, in fact, have become pivotal figures in the growth of Special Olympics--the married gymnast couple of Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci, both of whom serve on the international board of directors for Special Olympics.
Some of the biggest names in sport, too, have been involved in Special Olympics. They include Frank Gifford, Pele, Muhammad Ali, Johan Cruyff, Michael Jordan, Yao Ming, Kaka, and Chris Evert. Two professional leagues in particular have long been involved in Special Olympics, too--the NBA and the NHL.
In a class by himself in terms of helping Special Olympics, though, is a man known internationally as Ah-nold. No one cuts across more celebrity lines than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is a celebrity politician (the governor of California), a celebrity actor ("Terminator"), a celebrity athlete (still recognized as the greatest body-builder in history) and a celebrity son-in-law (married to Maria Shriver, Eunice and Sargent Shriver's daughter). Whenever Schwarzenegger gets involved, such as with the launch of Special Olympics growth campaign in China in 2000, the attention given to Special Olympics goes stratospheric. "But what I've gotten from these fantastic athletes," says Schwarzenegger, "far outweighs whatever benefit I've been to the program."
That response is typical of the celebrity who has gotten involved with Eunice's dream.