The Alzheimer’s Association held its annual “Imagine Benefit” on Monday, October 24, at the Jazz at Lincoln Center, with cocktails beginning at 6:30 PM. The Association is a nonprofit with the highest impact on Alzheimer’s research worldwide, behind only the Chinese and US government.
This gala was spearheaded by Princess Yasmin Aga Khan in New York in 1984 to honor her late mother, the iconic Rita Hayworth, who endured the disease for five agonizing years before her death at age 68 in 1987. Despite being extremely private, Yasmin chose to publicize her mother’s illness to call attention to the disease as she cared for her from 1981 through her death.
Nobody can forget the glamorous Hayworth, one of Fred Astaire’s favorite dance partners. They reached her apex as a sex symbol in 1946 after her strip scene, which involved nothing more than removing her arm-length gloves in “Gilda”-take note, Kim Kardashian.
Hayworth’s five-year marriage to Prince Aly Khan in 1949, the son of the spiritual leader of millions of Ismaili Moslems, produced Yasmin Aga Khan. She has worked tirelessly to raise more than $80 million for this epic cause. Currently, 1 in 9 adults over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s, which is approximately 6.5 million people – a staggering number.
For $2,500 a ticket for adults and $500 for those under 40, guests were treated to a lively cocktail hour, a dinner of short ribs and chicken, the music of Aaron Diehl, Lisa Fischer, Harlem Gospel Choir, Scarlet Envy, Talia Suskauer and an after party with drinks, dessert, and dancing. Guests, including Kara Ross, Jean Shafiroff, María, Ken Fishel, Sharon Bush, Harold Koda, Peter Thomas Roth, and Cheri Kaufman, were genuinely moved by the meaningful evening.
Normally held at Cipriani 42nd Street, this venue had perfect acoustics for the pithy but memorable musical performances. However, this evening is about the disease itself, and there was no more moving story than that of the Martz family.
Introduced first on stage and later via video, we learned of their tragic and heroic battle after the glue of the family; their father, Dr. Brian Martz, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 59.
We saw pictures of him swimming and playing ball with his kids before being ravaged by the disease, which now has him struggling to walk and talk. His brave wife, Loren, tearfully recounted her life being torn apart when Brian was stolen from her in what was supposed to be their golden years. The pain etched on his children’s faces as they struggled to hold back tears was heartbreaking as they paid tribute to their mother, whom they described as their father’s “primary caregiver.”
Loren said her husband’s ability to wake up to hold her hand and say, “I love you,” makes it all worthwhile. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Thankfully it wasn’t all bad news as CEO Harry Johns said that as a result of all the money raised, the FDA had approved the first-ever treatment with another one in the pipeline that will make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
He also thanked Yasmin Aga Khan, clad in her favorite designer Naeem Khan, for being the most impactful member of the Association for the past 39 years and noted she was receiving the Legion of Honor from the French Consulate tomorrow night for her tireless Alzheimer’s work.
Yasmin was born in Switzerland and attended Burlington College, where she was seriously considering becoming an opera singer. However, her current life, including skiing in Utah, summering in the Hamptons, and, most notably, raising funds for this horrific disease, is far more compelling than any Hollywood career.
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