×

Jennifer Aniston’s Mom on ‘Friends’ Inspired Her Work With St. Jude

When Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel Green on “Friends” needed someone to play her mom, the actress suggested Marlo Thomas. “Her father, John Aniston, and I had done a play together before Jennifer was born,” Thomas recalls. “We played brother and sister. When I got the call to play Jennifer’s mother, I said, ‘That’s funny — I already played her aunt!’ We had a great time. She was very excited to have me there, because she’d remembered gifts I’d sent her and her brother when she was small.”

Their rekindled friendship led Thomas to ask Aniston to start appearing in public service announcements for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the pediatric facility in Memphis, Tenn., that provides free medical care to children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The doctors and nurses at St. Jude treat 8,000 patients a year from all 50 states, with housing available to them and their families at no charge. Since 2006, Aniston has filmed an annual PSA for St. Jude, sitting next to the young patients as she talks with them and asks the public to donate money to the nonprofit.

Peggy Sirota for Variety

“I started doing everything I could, meeting the children, and they’re these little heroes,” Aniston says. “I remember one year the little girl kept calling it her ‘owies,’ her little tumors, because they wouldn’t say the word ‘cancer’ in front of her. It’s the hardest day of the year and the greatest day of the year, because they allow you to put it all into perspective. You see these little miracles, these heroes, walking through something that no child should ever have to be walking through.”

Thomas — whose father, the actor, singer and philanthropist Danny Thomas, founded St. Jude in 1962 — chose Aniston to be part of the campaign because she knew she’d have a strong bond with the children and the view­ers at home. “I was in the medicine room of St. Jude one day, and a mother said, ‘Will you give this note to Jennifer Aniston? She saved my daughter’s life.’ How is that?” The mother went on to explain: “I didn’t know what was the matter with my daughter who had headaches. I saw the commercial, and Jennifer was talking about this little girl, and I realized those were the symptoms. I went to the doctor and said, ‘Jennifer Aniston told me these symptoms. I want an MRI.’ And in fact, my daughter did have a brain tumor.”

“I stay in contact with the families sometimes,” Aniston says. “Most of these kids are from places that don’t have the opportunities, and necessarily income, that some families have the good fortune of having. And it’s a beautiful environment. Every year, I get this birthday card that St. Jude makes with all their faces on it. And each of them signs it. They are treated like the angels that they are.”

More TV

  • Weeknd

    Watch The Weeknd Perform 'Heartless' on 'The Late Show with Stephen Colbert'

    The Weeknd channeled major Michael Jackson and Prince vibes for his first ever performance of recent single “Heartless” on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Dressed in a red retro suit and dancing in the backstage hallways of the Ed Sullivan Theater, the three-time Grammy-Award winner had some fun with the impromptu music video, his [...]

  • Abby McEnany as Abby in WORK

    TV Review: Showtime's 'Work in Progress'

    There’s never a second that Abby (co-creator Abby McEnany) is unaware of all the things that make her different from the characters we’re used to seeing on TV, let alone those that typically get to anchor their own shows. She’s a butch “queer fat dyke” (her words) with OCD whose deep insecurity about all the [...]

  • Snooki Jersey Shore

    Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi Says She's 'Retiring' From 'Jersey Shore'

    The fist-pumping and GTL days are over. Nicole Polizzi — aka Snooki — says she’s retiring from “Jersey Shore.” “I am retiring from ‘Jersey Shore,'” Snooki said on Friday’s episode of her iHeartRadio podcast, “It’s Happening With Snooki & Joey.” “I am not coming back for ‘Jersey Shore’ Season 4, if there is one. The [...]

  • Showtime Lakers book cover

    1980s Los Angeles Lakers Drama Scores Series Order at HBO

    HBO has given out a series order to the untitled one-hour drama about the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. The project had originally been ordered to pilot at the premium cabler back in April. The show is described as chronicling the professional and personal lives of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, one of sports’ [...]

  • Comedy Central Refinery29

    Comedy Central and Refinery29 Team for Two All-Female Digital Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Comedy Central and Refinery29 have signed a digital content partnership to produce two comedy series featuring an all-female lineup of comedians, Variety has learned exclusively. Slated to premiere spring 2020, the series will be co-branded and distributed on both Comedy Central and Refinery29’s digital platforms. While neither series is being eyed for a linear run at present, [...]

  • Keli LeeStep Up Women Network 9th

    Keli Lee Exits ABC Studios International as Disney Considers Division's Fate (EXCLUSIVE)

    ABC veteran Keli Lee has left the international arm of ABC Studios as Disney considers the future of the London-based content unit, Variety has learned. Sources said Disney has told the creative community that there “has been a re-evaluation of ABC Studios International” and that it is re-assessing “the creative direction” of the business. There [...]

  • Biggest Scandals Feuds and Apologies of

    Biggest Scandals, Feuds and Apologies of 2019

    Variety looks back on some of the biggest scandals, feuds and apologies of 2019: College Admissions Scandal Wealthy parents including Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged with bribing school officials to get their unqualified kids into prestigious universities. Shane Gillis Executives at “SNL” hired, then fired, Gillis in September, before the new season started, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content