Actor, AIDS activist speaks at international conference; says Hudson, Taylor inspired him to become active in fight against HIV
TORONTO Richard Gere has told an AIDS conference that the media from the chief executives of TV networks to the cultural icons of Hollywood and Bollywood must fight the disease by using their enormous reach into people’s hearts and homes.
Gere, a longtime AIDS activist and founder and director of Healing the Divide and the Heroes Project in India, joined media giants from India, the Caribbean, South Africa and Russia on Monday to promote the use of AIDS awareness campaigns in TV programming.
The 56-year-old actor said he was inspired by Rock Hudson, who died of AIDS in 1985, and Hudson’s good friend Elizabeth Taylor, one of the first Hollywood stars to become actively involved in anti-AIDS campaigns.
Gere said of Taylor’s work: “There was another cultural icon, who just cut to the center of the culture very quickly, very directly. And I think it was in many ways an inspiration to me.
“What I would do later on is work with people who had that ability to cut through very quickly and very deeply into the heart of a culture.”
Gere, a follower and friend of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has made many trips to India. Two years ago, he helped launch the Heroes Project with grants from his own foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
The group worked with TV executives in India to produce public service announcements using cultural icons such as Bollywood’s Amitabh Bachchan, as well as soap operas with HIV-positive characters, documentaries and talk shows.
Gere worked closely with Peter Mukerjea, CEO of the STAR Group in India, whose variety of TV stations has reached an estimated 70 million viewers with its AIDS public service announcements.
Mukerjea announced Monday that STAR was making another five-year commitment of $23.16 million to extend the Heroes Project AIDS campaign.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 18, 2006.