“I had to show my voter registration and passport to get in here,” joked Robert De Niro as he accepted the 2014 Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night Award on April 12 in Phoenix. “And to get a drink at the bar, I had to prove I was not gay. Which is why I am still sober!”
The jokes and the booze kept flowing until the wee hours at the 20th anniversary of Ali’s Celebrity Fight Night, the mega charity event held every year at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge Resort. Superstars from sports, cinema, television and music descend on the desert with one common goal: to raise millions in support of Ali’s continuing fight to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
“It’s as if Muhammad Ali had to get this terrible disease to make the world sit up and take notice,” mused John Corbett during the VIP cocktail party; and notice they have, as the glittery event has raised over $87 million over the years, funding the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute nearby, as well as numerous other causes.
It helps to have stalwarts like Corbett, Billy Crystal, perennial host Reba McEntire and musical director David Foster on board every year, who give generously and help pack the ballroom with over 1,000 of Phoenix’s movers and shakers. It helps, too, that the incredible live auction (which lasts for a solid two hours) included everything from VIP tickets to “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” premiere to a spaceflight with Corbett in XCOR’s Lynx Space Rocket. A private dinner with Crystal, De Niro and Major League Baseball great Joe Torre went for $500,000 twice; dinner at McEntire’s Beverly Hills home brought in the same amount – twice.
Even a trip to the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod brought $400K, despite Robert Kennedy Jr.’s quip that “I’m the only democrat in this room.” Michael Buble closed out the event at 11 p.m. with a set of his hits, after the Band Perry, Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Dunn and Reba McEntire had given the rapt crowd a country music-filled show. The only disappointment of the night was the absence of Muhammad Ali and his wife Lonnie, having both come down with the flu earlier in the day.
But the celebration went on; in fact, six hours wasn’t even enough, so the party kept on rolling into the resort’s Roy’s restaurant, where Crystal and his wife Janice took over a center table, Foster and his “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” wife Yolanda snuggled in one corner and McEntire, her husband Narvel Blackstock and pal Melissa Peterman shared a laugh with Corbett in another.
There was no sign of De Niro at the after party — maybe he was still off looking for that drink!