Sean Penn Offers to Take Selfies in Exchange for $5,000 Donations to Disaster Relief

Nicholas White

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A decade after the catastrophic 7.0 Haiti earthquake left between 50,000 and 100,000 dead and nearly a million people displaced, Sean Penn hosted the 10th anniversary CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) gala, raising funds for international disaster relief at the Wiltern Theatre on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

“We’re not here tonight because we want your help, we’re here tonight because we need your help,” Penn said onstage. “When the next disaster strikes, you might be in a place, a living room perhaps, maybe playing with your children. You might turn on the television and see people in great anguish. I’d like that when you see CORE on the ground, that you feel your feet in those boots. So that’s what we’re asking of you tonight.”

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“Ten years of experience at this event tells me that sometimes people like to take selfies, and I am so uncomfortable with that. … I don’t know why,” Penn said, before offering a creative solution that would benefit CORE. “But for the rest of the night, I am anxious to do it. We’ll go $5,000 a pop. So bring your checkbook if you’re talking to me.”

Attendees at the star-studded fundraiser included Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, David and Christina Arquette, Patricia Arquette, Oliver Stone, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Garcelle Beauvais, Connie Britton, Jason Derulo, Soleil Moon Frye, Jimmy Iovine, Rachel Zoe, Rebecca Gayheart, Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova and G-Eazy. Co-hosts of the gala with Penn were CAA co-chair Bryan Lourd and venture capital investor Vivi Nevo.

Conan O’Brien, wearing a Haiti track jacket emblazoned with the country’s flag, emceed the event and reminisced about giving away “Team Coco” t-shirts in Haiti while there in 2018 for his show “Conan Without Borders.” The term “coco” had a different, more explicit local translation.

“When I went to Haiti, I was communicating with Sean [Penn] and the people in CORE,” O’Brien explained. “It felt like this is such a good cause. The people of Haiti are so resilient and creative, and they have so many resources that it felt like, yes, with some coordinated assistance from other people and from organizations like this, a lot can happen there.”

Onstage, Penn paid tribute to the life of Martin Luther King Jr., who would have been 91 on Wednesday, pointing out King’s friend and protege, Rev. Jesse Jackson, in the audience.

Speaking with Variety before the event, Jackson said, “[King] was fighting for the relief and rescue. … Relief and rescue is the opposite of greed and carelessness. It’s the right place to be. We are indebted to Sean in a special way.”

Event first-timer Alyssa Milano, who worked with Penn on 1997’s “Hugo Pool,” praised her former co-star.

“I think that it is a very rare person who is able to recognize that it’s important to do what you can with your platform,” Milano told Variety. “A lot of people may find fault with that, but they do it anyway. That’s what Sean has always done. He has always spoken his mind. We disagree on a lot of things, but the one thing we do agree on is that we have this privilege, and we have to use it.”

Inside the event, CORE honored Balthazar and Rosetta Getty, artist Ed Ruscha, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and producer/philanthropist Fernando Sulichin. The musical entertainment, curated by Linda Perry, was Americana chic, including performances from Portugal. The Man, Beck, Jenny Lewis, Henning May and Dwight Yoakam. Beck and Lewis did a duet of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” — performing arm in arm — and Portugal. The Man’s set included 2011’s “So American.”

Three of Wednesday’s auction items included an original painting by Jim Carrey, which sold for $50,000; Chuck Close’s art piece “Cindy (Smile),” donated by DiCaprio; and a live home performance of Portugal. The Man, the latter of which drew an opening $100,000 bid from Sean Parker, CORE board member and impresario of Napster and Facebook. Penn and his A-list guests ultimately raised more than $5 million for the initiative the Oscar winner helped spearhead after the January 2010 Haiti disaster.

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