×

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

  • MAKING IT -- Season: 1 --

    TV News Roundup: NBC Announces 'Making It' Season 2 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, NBC announced the “Making It” Season 2 premiere date and HBO Max greenlit a new docuseries from Brad Goreski and Gary Janetti. DATES Hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman will return with the second season of “Making It” on NBC Dec. 2. After the show’s holiday season premiere, the show [...]

  • Luis Fonsi Erika Ender Latin Grammys

    The Second Latin Explosion: How 'Despacito' Ushered in a New Generation of Stars

    Music is an ever-evolving art, and for the Latin Recording Academy, that’s meant riding multiple waves of attention. The most recent arrived with the stratospheric success of “Despacito,” which kicked off a second Latin Explosion with full force in 2017. The Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit, later featuring verses by Justin Bieber, made Latin [...]

  • TV Review: 'Catherine the Great' Starring

    TV Review: 'Catherine the Great' Starring Helen Mirren

    For some, “Dame Helen Mirren playing the Catherine the Great” is all the convincing they’ll need to watch this new biographical limited series, which is perfectly understandable. The casting of Mirren in the role, which follows the Russian empress in the embattled latter years of her life, is a smart choice that proves its worth [...]

  • Ricky Martin Celia Cruz Gloria Estefan

    From Idea to Legacy: Latin Grammy Awards Mark 20 Years of Global Recognition

    The idea of creating a separate organization to honor the diversity of Latin music was a discussion that took place for years before it actually happened, but an event driven by one of pop music’s most important crossover artists solidified it. During the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony, a young Ricky Martin was scheduled to perform [...]

  • Science Fair

    Disney Plus Fleshes Out Nonfiction Slate, Including 'Howard,' 'Science Fair,' Mickey Mouse Docu

    Disney Plus further fleshed out its nonfiction content slate at an International Documentary Association showcase event Friday, as the streamer, preparing for its Nov. 12 launch, continues to flesh out its programming strategy. Among the announcements: The streamer has acquired the global distribution rights to “Howard,” the Don Hahn-directed documentary about “Aladdin” and “Beauty and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content