This year marks the 28th anniversary of Elton John’s annual Oscar-night bash benefiting his eponymous AIDS Foundation. Founded in the United States in 1992 and in the U.K. in 1993, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has thus far raised more than $450 million to help combat the stigma surrounding HIV and the AIDS virus; prevent infections; provide treatment and various other clinical services; and educate governments around the world to put a stop to the AIDS epidemic.
Next to the Governors Ball, John’s fundraiser is the longest-running Academy Awards soiree.
It was Patrick Lippert of Rock the Vote campaign fame who persuaded John to seize upon his high profile and throw his inaugural Oscar bash in 1993. The party, urged Lippert, would not only raise awareness but much-needed funds for AIDS research; three months later, Lippert died from the disease.
That first fundraiser, held at the now-shuttered Maple Drive Restaurant in Beverly Hills, was not a lavish affair, but it would cement John’s status in the arena of AIDS philanthropic work and raised $300,000. And it only grew from there. By the time year two rolled around, stars at John’s Oscar party included Bruce Springsteen and Tom Hanks (both winners for “Philadelphia”) and Prince. Elizabeth Taylor, who founded her own AIDS Foundation in 1991, was a steady fixture at John’s fete; even as her health declined, she continued to show up, memorably rocking the red carpet in a wheelchair.
John is now considered a bona fide expert on producing charity galas. The veteran rock star spares no expense creating a temporary West Hollywood hot spot, a luxurious white-tented oasis in the middle of the neighborhood dog park. One notable highlight of every Elton John AIDS Foundation event is a centerpiece performance serving as a launchpad for breakout artists, thanks to his keen eye for spotting talent. Rather than book a legacy act, the host has a proven track record for introducing next big things. He was the first to showcase such music stars as Nelly Furtado and Scissor Sisters. Most recently, Greta Van Fleet and Taron Egerton, who sang John’s classics on the “Rocketman” soundtrack, were the acts of the hour. John’s latest discovery is British singer-songwriter Sam Fender, who is relatively unknown in the U.S., but likely not for long. He will perform on Feb. 9.
Some have argued that John’s starry gathering is an even more coveted draw than Vanity Fair’s ubiquitously hyped shindig, especially in the wake of editor Graydon Carter’s departure. While one can’t purchase tickets to Vanity Fair’s Oscar-night bash (it’s strictly invite-only), some contest that’s John’s fundraiser event is a more valuable use of their time, and a gathering that ultimately does more good in the world.
John, meanwhile, is experiencing something of a career zenith. He’s been nominated in the original song category for his “Rocketman” track “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” which he co-wrote with Bernie Taupin, and his autobiography “Me” became an instant No. 1 New York Times bestseller. After a short hiatus from the road, John is soon to resume his sold-out farewell tour, which doesn’t have an announced end date but currently has gigs booked into 2021.
All of these add to his Oscar party’s luster. John is so busy, in fact, that he had to recruit the five guys from “Queer Eye” (Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, Karamo Brown and Bobby Berk) to kick off hosting duties while he attends the Academy Awards as a nominee.
And what makes a party more fabulous than its own host arriving fashionably late?
The profile of John’s foundation has also spiked in recent years. Even Sharon Stone, who replaced Taylor as global campaign chair for American Foundation for AIDS Research before resigning a few years ago, praises EJAF.
“He’s doing such good work,” she told Variety. “I really think Elton is where it’s at now.”