"NOTHING IS coincidence, it is all fate." -- Mehmet Murat ildan.
IT is rare that a philanthropic event melds, by chance, with the release of a popular Hollywood film, but this is one of those rare times.
We know about the critical success of Matthew McConaughey in the movie "The Dallas Buyers Club" -- and of this actor's astonishing "comeback." At first he was just another pretty male face. Then he was a kind of perpetually stripped-to-the-waist, running-on-the-beach, laid-back semi has-been. And then he redeemed himself as an actor in movies such as "Killer Joe," "Mud" and "Magic Mike."
"The Dallas Buyers Club" is set in the '80s. It tells of lowlife, hard-living heterosexual (McConaughey) who had always been disdainful of homosexuals. Until he discovers he has AIDS -- this at the apex of the fatal crisis when diagnosis meant certain death. He is suddenly catapulted into a new awareness that those around him dying by the dozens are the same gays and transsexuals he once despised. Only now, because of promiscuous, unprotected sex, he finds himself in the same boat.
Drugs that the medical community had not yet approved were the only lifeline at the time, so people died by the hundreds with help "on the way." Matthew's real-life character became the model for a new way to save lives -- illegally. And he made a living doing just that.
He preserved his own existence and financed the saving of others by dealing in these drugs and questioning the medical establishment. (McConaughey lost a lot of weight to play this role. That and his raw performance have been critically acclaimed. His co-star, Jared Leto, has been equally hailed in the role of a gay transvestite.)
McConaughey's lowlife schemer went on selling illegal, life-saving, unapproved drugs in Dallas and environs. More or less, he made history, manifest in this bold movie.
AROUND THIS time -- the early 1980s -- in Manhattan, a lovely woman named Judy Peabody, from the distinct upper crust, began her own private fight for AIDS sufferers, physically nursing many of them and encouraging and spending time with the dying. She reconciled desperate, ashamed parents with their suffering children and consoled heartbroken partners. She co-facilitated a care partners group called the Gay Men's Health Crisis and raised a tremendous amount of money by enlisting help for the New York Presbyterian's benefit, the Fete de Famille, at Mortimer's restaurant. (Many still recall that era -- a terrible time in which even the most sophisticated and liberal people in the upper echelons were so fearful of AIDS that they shunned their gay friends, abandoned their hairdressers and decorators and eschewed kissing, even socially.)
Later, in 1984, Dr. Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor founded AmfAR, eventually bringing in stars such as Sharon Stone, Madonna and Kenneth Cole, raising legal money. I was one of the earliest board members. AmfAR was and is a valiant, valuable organization, but at the time it was late already.
DESPITE substantial fundraising, Judy Peabody kept inserting herself physically into the scene. She was tireless.
Now a dedicated group has opened a Wellness Center at 53 W. 23rd Street and they have wisely named it after Judith Peabody, who died more than three years ago.
Many who are ill with AIDS and other diseases don't yet know about the Wellness Center, which opened its doors and many hearts in downtown Manhattan. Judy's husband, Sam, and their daughter, Elizabeth, are prime movers behind the Wellness Center. At the recent official opening, Sam made a wonderful speech about his happy marriage to Judy and how gratified she would be to know of this new happening. (As for AIDS, there are now 30 drugs available to combat the disease. The Center also offers help for other chronic diseases.)
The Center, which is staffed with professionals and volunteers seeking promising new therapies for those without hope, is located in a beautifully designed complex and named for a terrific, one-of-a-kind woman. Dr. Jonathan Jacobs of New York Presbyterian made a great speech at the opening of the Wellness Center.
Dr. Jacobs deplored the reality that is poverty, substance abuse, mental illness and the inadequacies of the current health system. He noted that if one is African-American and gay, he still has a 30 percent chance of AIDS infection. That is much higher than in Nigeria where they have a sister clinic. Many women, victims of domestic violence, are finding succor in the Wellness Center. The Center tries to track the sick and then act, not just write a prescription.
I am sorry I've been so long in writing about this opening and the terrific party of helping hands it generated. Why not go there and see if you want to volunteer your services, time and money, as Judy Peabody did in her amazing, but all-too-short life!
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2013 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
'The Dallas Buyers Club' mirrors real life in the '80s
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