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The Saratoga Falcon

Celebrity fame furthers causes

“This year, Planned Parenthood has gone through a series of unfortunate events, and it felt right to make our support more public and more dramatic,” Lisa Brown said in an interview with BuzzFeed.

Brown and her husband Daniel Handler, who is more commonly known as Lemony Snicket and the author of the popular "A Series of Unfortunate Events" novels, announced last month that they will donate $1 million to the embattled organization.

Planned Parenthood, which offers affordable health care services such as STD tests and treatments, educational programs and abortions, has been heavily attacked by Republicans attempting to cut off its funding. Some have gone so far as to threaten shutting down the federal government if its budget contained any funding for Planned Parenthood. In a time when lawmakers incorrectly but persistently accuse Planned Parenthood of selling fetuses for illegal profit, Handler’s donation comes as a welcome gift.

Lemony Snicket is only one of many celebrities who have been using their wealth and influence for philanthropic causes. Often celebrities will make large donations to existing organizations, as in the case of Handler. Some start organizations of their own. For example, Michael J. Fox, the actor most well-known for his roles as Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” trilogy and Alex Keaton in “Family Ties,” has used his own experiences with Parkinson’s disease to help those who also suffer from the disease.

After disclosing his condition to the public in 1998, Fox established the Michael J. Fox Foundation, an organization that has since become the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's research in the world, and invested more than $450 million in research.

Celebrities like Fox often contribute their wealth through foundations and monetary contributions, but many also use their  status and fame to brighten someone’s day. Actor Johnny Depp, most famous for his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, sometimes spends time visiting children’s hospitals while dressed as the famous character.

During his most recent visit to Lady Cilento’s Children’s Hospital in Australia, the children and their families were delighted by his antics and affectations, as he truly embodied his motto that “not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.”

Comedian and actor Russell Brand is similarly approachable. He is known for helping out the homeless and occasionally treating them to a meal. While neither Brand’s actions nor Depp’s actions are particularly grandiose, they still are meaningful and have rightfully drawn praise and attention from the media.

Perhaps the varying efforts of celebrities can best be seen by looking to Angelina Jolie, the iconic actress-turned-humanitarian. She first gained an interest in humanitarian affairs in 2000, when she went to Cambodia to film the adventure movie "Tomb Raider." Since then, she has gone on numerous field missions across the globe, personally meeting refugees in more than 20 countries while sharing the same living conditions as do the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Jolie’s humanitarian work is especially commendable because of her desire to be treated not as a famous actress, but as a human who will sacrifice and work to help others.

But her efforts do not stop there: With her equally famous husband Brad Pitt, she has engaged in more causes than most people know. The Jolie-Pitt Foundation works to eradicate rural poverty, protect natural resources and conserve wildlife. And according to tax records, Jolie and Pitt donated more than $8 million to charity in 2006 alone.

Jolie has even taken to the media to share her own story in coping with the risk of cancer. In 2013 and 2015, she authored two op-ed articles in the New York Times discussing her decisions to undergo a preventive double mastectomy and surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. By speaking openly about her personal choices and hardships, Jolie let other women know that they are not alone. She encouraged those who might be afraid to take the next step, such as undergoing a mastectomy.

“I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer,” Jolie wrote.

The differences that Jolie and celebrities like her can make extend beyond the capabilities of the average person — and the fact that they use their resources to make positive change is to be commended.

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