Not only has Sharon had all these close brushes with the hereafter, she’s also lost friends and family at different times in her life. “I had two friends in their forties die of breast cancer in a two year period,” she said. “When I was in high school the guy who took me to the prom died at 17 from a hit-and-run driver. My uncle died from alcoholism—fell down in the snow and froze to death. I have sadly had a bizarre amount of comprehension of death and dying. My Buddhism has allowed me to understand that death is a beautiful, natural, glorious season. I know I’m losing the physical presence of that person but I also have a really big faith, so I know the best of them lives on in me. Hopefully my behavior grows from my experience of knowing them, and in that way I’m with them still.”
When Elizabeth Taylor died in March 2011, Stone couldn’t register her friend and mentor being gone. “I knew that she was sick, but I never thought of her dying. She was such a legend. She was the brains of the amfAR operation. She taught me my job. She made the job for everyone. There wouldn’t be an amfAR if it wasn’t for her. She was the courage that created all that happened. Beyond AIDS research, she explained to the world that people should have human interest in each other. They should take seriously that each person is equal to another person. There wouldn’t be any discussion of gay marriage if it wasn’t for Elizabeth Taylor. And there certainly wouldn’t be all of the drugs that exist today: there wouldn’t be nevirapine that blocks the transfer of the HIV virus from mother to child. I’m sure she did not know the incredible, valuable impact that she made in the world. She saved millions and millions of lives, not just because of the medical impact, but also because people didn’t kill themselves because someone changed the way the world saw them. “
Sharon has been involved with amfAR for 16 years and has helped raise many millions of dollars in the battle to find a cure for AIDS. But AIDS isn’t the only philanthropic work she does. She’s raised money for the hungry, for people who lost their homes after Hurricane Katrina ripped apart New Orleans, for villages that don’t have clean water or anti-mosquito nets to ward off malaria, and for homeless children in need of dental care. On the Ellen DeGeneres afternoon talk show someone in the audience wanted to buy something from her, so she sold her earrings for $7,000 to give to charity. She once got two people, a man and a woman, to pledge $50,000 each at a Project Angel Foods auction for a kiss. “It was so tender and so loving, so moving and so touching,” she recalled. “Thinking about it brings a tear to my eye. Anjelica Huston spoke afterwards and she said, ‘If kisses were horses, beggars would ride.’ At the end, I said, ‘We need money to buy another van and fuel to deliver the food to people shut in from HIV. I’d like to start a team called Stand Up and Put Your Hand Up. And I’ll give $10,000. If you’ll be on my team, stand and put your hand up.’ So many people stood that we bought a fleet of vans. We now take food not only to people with AIDS but to anyone who is so ill that they can’t get out.”
For the Hurricane Katrina relief project, Sharon wrote a song (“Come Together Now”) that became the title track on a double disc album, Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now, put out by four labels which came together. There are 35 songs by such major artists as Coldplay, B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Bonnie Raitt, Diddy, Barbra Streisand, Elton John, R. Kelly, Faith Hill, Kanye West, Norah Jones and Wyclef Jean. “We were shocked, pleased and proud to be chosen as the title track,” Stone said. “I’ve been writing lyrics for a couple of years, and I have a catalog of demos. I knew at some point one would get published by a working artist. I certainly didn’t expect it to be sung by 26 working artists the first time out. It wasn’t until I was driving in the car when my son Roan said, ‘Mommy, let’s listen to your song’ and I put on the CD when it really hit me: what a beautiful, moving song it was. And it was inspired by Hillary Clinton. I was in a meeting at someone’s home where she was talking. She said, ‘People have to write songs’ to make changes. And I said, ‘I can do that.’”
The dental care program for homeless children is called Homeless But Not Toothless. “I work with a dentist and a clinical psychiatrist (Dr. Charles Sophy) who works with these kids. Children who don’t have teeth or dental care can’t get into the mainstream school system. We got a lot of dentists in Los Angeles who give up their off time to work on these kids.”
I had to ask her how she gets people involved. Do they agree to offer their services because she takes advantage of her movie star status? ” I’m not really a star fucker,” she said defensively. “I try to ask people who want to be involved or people who I sense would find it rewarding in their own lives. I don’t just hit people up. Like I get a lot of calls, like ‘Can you ask Elton John to do this?’ Or, ‘Will you ask Wolfgang Puck to do that?’ And I tell people, ‘I’m not going to do it, I’m not a star fucker.’ And people go, ‘Oh don’t use that language. Please don’t talk to me like that.’ And I say, ‘You’re the person who called me. You can’t be asking me this stuff and not let me say how I feel.’ I get so many outrageous requests. Just because I’m famous doesn’t mean I have a passport to go to other famous people with requests.”
And when people come to her, asking for her support? “I always say ‘This goes through my publicist.’ Because I can’t do 10,000 things a year. I do less now than I used to because my kids are old enough to notice my absence. You can’t be everywhere at once. When you are your business and your product and the only parent, there’s only so much of you that comes out of the peanut butter jar.”
For her philanthropic work she’s received the Presidential Medal of Honor, the Harvard Foundation’s Humanitarian Award and the French Ministry of Culture named her an Officer des Arts et des Lettres, making her one of the youngest women to ever get such an honor. Then they honored her with an even higher rank, making her an Officer of the Knight.
How did her consciousness evolve to be able to do all the charity work that she does?
“It was the way I was raised,” she said. “Because my parents didn’t buy dog food—we fed our dog with the leftover food from our table. Because my mother had a garden and she grew the vegetables which we canned in the summer and ate in the winter. Because my parents didn’t talk about an integral life, they lived one. When we acted out, it was ‘Yes m’am’ and ‘Yes, sir.’ Because there was a grid of ethics in the family structure. And because there was a structure. My parents were sometimes too strong as disciplinarians. Too tough. My father’s father died when he was four, his brother was seven, and his sister was three. They came from a wealthy oil family. It was a nightmare experience. The business fell apart. My father and his brother were farmed out and had to live with strangers and grow up doing chores and living in people’s barns. They went from living in a mansion to living in abject poverty and being abused. So my father really was an extraordinary disciplinarian. Because he wasn’t treated well growing up, he’d sometimes be too tough on us, in an effort to try and have the parenting he never had. There is an understanding in my family that it’s a concentric life we all live, not a linear life where you walk on and leave shit behind you. It doesn’t start or end somewhere, it just is. I believe that you must teach your children to walk in the eyes of God.”
Stone doesn’t only talk the talk, she walks the walk. Upset that some gay friends couldn’t visit their partners who were in intensive care in the hospital, she applied to become an ordained minister online and once she was approved she was able to be her friends’ minister and take them into the hospital. She’s also used her online ministry to perform a few weddings.
Her spiritual beliefs extend beyond just being an ordained minister, however. She also has healing hands. Or so one particular friend has publicly claimed. He was dying of cancer when he asked Sharon to perform a reiki healing technique on him. When I brought it up, she told me that she was “freaked out that he put it in the paper. I don’t know if I saved his life or he just got better. He had cancer in his face. I did healing work with him. He believes that this is the reason that his cancer went away.”
And then she added, “I’m a person who doesn’t just believe in miracles, I count on them as a way of life.”