LOS ANGELES—During a gala dinner at the Avalon-Carver Community Center Thursday night, officials from the City of Los Angeles honored the Shining Star Foundation for its ongoing work with local developmentally disabled celebrities.
Saying she was "incredibly humbled" by the award, Shining Star founder Rachel Davis emphasized the tremendous efforts of her dedicated staff, whose work has helped make daily life easier and more manageable for prominent special-needs stars like Jeremy Renner, Susan Sarandon, and John Legend.
"We started Shining Star with one simple but vital goal in mind: to provide our mentally challenged actors, actresses, musicians, and television personalities with the assistance they so desperately need," Davis said to the gala's 250 attendees. "We get up every day aiming to make a difference in their lives, even if it's something as small as driving them to Santa Monica and helping them buy designer clothes, or taking them out for some exercise with a personal trainer. We're there for them."
"Obviously some of our celebrities will never be fully independent," Davis continued. "But seeing Bradley Cooper, for example, move into a 15,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion and only need us to stop by twice a week to make sure he's eating well and cleaning up—well, that's what we hope to achieve for everyone."
Davis told reporters she was inspired to start a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping disabled celebrities after watching Martin Landau struggle through his Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech at the 1989 Golden Globes and realizing that "something had to be done to help these people."
One year later, Shining Star's flagship Beachwood Canyon facility opened to great acclaim, providing the likes of Andy Garcia and Andie MacDowell with access to basic, day-to-day disability services, including assistance with bathing, getting dressed, and driving to and from major Hollywood movie studios.
"I think it's wonderful what they've done, helping so many A-listers who previously had no chance of being a functional part of show business, let alone society at large," said foundation donor and Paramount Pictures chairman Brad Grey, adding that he has personally and professionally come into contact with hundreds of developmentally disabled Hollywood performers over the years. "I have seen firsthand how they've helped my friend Jon [Voight], and the results are astonishing."
Shining Star staffer Pamela Irwin, 33, acknowledged that while her work is incredibly rewarding, it can also be challenging at times, especially when working with some of the more severely disabled celebrities. Many, she claimed, have extremely underdeveloped social skills that make it difficult for them to participate in simple conversations or red-carpet interviews.
"It used to be a real challenge bringing some of the special-needs celebrities we work with, such as Richard Gere, to movie premieres or press junkets," said Irwin, noting the high number of mentally challenged film directors, from Brett Ratner to Penny Marshall. "You would never know when they might become too frightened and start screaming or acting out. And some of the bigger guys like John Goodman were problematic because they just didn't know their own strength. But we've been able to socialize them much better over time."
Despite the challenges, Shining Star employees claimed the results have been self evident: hundreds of show-business stars whose lives have been vastly improved, including three of the 10 highest grossing actors in Hollywood.
"When Shia [LaBeouf] here first came to us, he wouldn't interact with anyone except his mom and dad," disability specialist Erin Culver, 41, told reporters as she carefully cut LaBeouf's vegetables and fastened a napkin to his collar. "But now, if he goes one day without seeing his best friend Patrick [Dempsey], he'll run over to me asking, 'Where's Patrick? Where's Patrick?' They give each other confidence to get out there and try new things."
"Just recently, Shia was able to go on The Tonight Show all by himself for the very first time," continued Culver, her eyes welling with tears of pride. "I didn't even have to hold his hand."