Actor Steve Buscemi is often found performing slightly off-center supporting roles in explosion-filled films like Con Air and Armageddon, but on the day after terrorists attacked the United States, he was playing a part he found even more familiar: New York City firefighter. Buscemi, who from 1980 to 1985 worked in downtown Manhattan’s Engine Company 55, a few blocks from the disaster, rejoined his former comrades amid the wreckage. “He put in 60 hours on top of the pile, pulling out victims,” says retired NYFD battalion chief Richard Ardisson, 56, who was at the site with the 43-year-old actor. “Not delivering coffee or giving moral support. He was exhausted and covered in soot.” Buscemi declined to speak to reporters. Explains Ardisson: “He said he wanted no recognition. He said, ‘These are my brothers.’ ”
If the disaster area seemed like a grim parody of an action movie set, the effect was heightened when celebrities, stripped of makeup and flattering lighting, rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Kathleen Turner showed up unannounced at St. Vincent’s Hospital, where many casualties were taken, and immediately became a field marshal for the city’s caregiving troops. The same hospital also got volunteer support from actors Aidan Quinn and Daniel Day-Lewis, who lugged ice for chilling blood. “I was feeling so helpless watching the TV,” says Quinn. “I wanted to feel useful.”
Survivor I cast member Sean Kenniff, a neurologist (and son of a retired New York City firefighter) who trained at St. Vincent’s, volunteered there but says, “The sad truth is that there were very, very few wounded coming in.” Kenniff headed instead to a makeshift hospital set up on the Hudson River. “We had everything you needed to treat people,” Kenniff reports poignantly, “but the people never arrived.”
Some of those people were friends of Denis Leary’s. After losing a cousin and a friend in the Worcester, Mass., arson fire of 1999, Leary had started up a firefighters charity that introduced him to dozens of members of the NYFD. “A couple of guys I know are still missing,” says Leary, who coincidentally also was a friend of Garnet “Ace” Bailey’s, the L.A. Kings hockey scout who died on United Flight 175 when it crashed into the south tower. Leary, a hockey nut, originally met Bailey, a former Boston Bruins player, at a charity match. “When he walked into a room,” Leary says, “you knew you were going to hear at least two or three funny stories.” The Leary Firefighters Foundation Fund for New York’s Bravest got started with a check for more than $100,000 from the actor.
Not far north of the site, after staging his Madison Square Garden return and family reunion, Michael Jackson pledged to raise $50 million with an all-star “We Are the World”-style ballad to be called “What More Can I Give?” At the same time, his sister Janet Jackson, who was in Florida, focused on their family. Dozens of relatives, flown in for the event, needed to be calmed. An agent who represents stylists in Los Angeles, Margaret Maldonado, Jermaine’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his sons Jeremy, 14, and Jordan, 12, was concerned for their safety. “Janet took charge,” says Maldonado, explaining that the star chartered a bus to take about 30 relatives back to the West Coast. Another celebrity worried about family was Regis Philbin; his son Dan, 36, who was born with a muscular disorder and later had his legs amputated, works in the public affairs office of the Pentagon. But the younger Philbin’s office was on the opposite side of the building from the plane crash, and he escaped unharmed.
One fashion designer, Cynthia Rowley, treated her company like family. In town for the spring fashion shows, she says, “I took as many people as I could from the company on Tuesday and we went to my house in upstate New York. It was like a bunker. Fourteen people and four dogs.” But three days later she was back in the city to organize clothing donations. “Vigils are nice,” Rowley says, “and I’ve been holding a private vigil for the last three days, but right now getting necessities to people seems to be the most important thing.” Fellow designers Kenneth Cole, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and others donated thousands of articles of clothing.
A continent away, grieving hit close to home for the cast and crew of Frasier. The show’s producer David Angell and his wife, Lynn, died on American Flight 11, the hijacked plane that pierced the north tower. “We shall mourn their deaths,” says the show’s star Kelsey Grammer, “as we continue the business of living.” A business that has become significantly harder. “Everybody was numb,” recalls the show’s assistant director Katy Garretson.
It’s a world that, in the months ahead, may increasingly ask celebrity citizens to use their gifts to voice a nation’s sorrow. Patrick Stewart, whose son and daughter-in-law live in an apartment just 200 yards from the World Trade Center but were in England at the time, delivered a reading at a memorial service in his home county of Yorkshire, England. One of the works he read was an essay called “Dream,” by J.B. Priestley, who wrote in 1956 that he had imagined standing on a high tower watching birds who suddenly burst into white flame. “I knew that this white flame was life itself,” Priestley concluded. “What I had thought was tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life.”
The Great White Way flickered back to life quickly. Movie stars moonlighting on Broadway felt it was important to get back on the boards. Says Tom Selleck, who resumed performing in A Thousand Clowns two days after the attack: “As soon as I knew [the request] was coming from the mayor, I felt we had to go on. It’s not as important as unpiling rubble. But it’s what we know how to do, and can do.” At the close of the show, Selleck read a brief statement in response to the tragedy, as did Valerie Harper, starring in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, a comedy that contained some references to terrorism that had to be altered. (The line “You really are some kind of terrorist” was changed to “You really are some kind of shakedown artist.”) Audience members thanked Harper afterward. “They really needed to laugh,” she says, “because their hearts had been so heavy.” The mood turned more overtly patriotic, however, at Broadway’s hottest show, The Producers, when stars Nathan Lane, who had to evacuate his TriBeCa apartment near the site, and Matthew Broderick, who lives close enough to have seen one of the buildings collapse, closed the evening by leading the audience in “God Bless America.”
It was one of many songs that took on new resonance. Radio stations began inserting snippets from news broadcasts into such recordings as Kenny Rogers’s ballad “Beautiful (All That You Could Be).” Rogers himself was surprised to hear the remix of the song (“You don’t know how beautiful you are/ If your eyes could see the love that’s in your heart/ Then you would know what everybody sees”) and downloaded it from a Web site. “I was amazed at how well it suited the situation,” says Rogers of the ballad, written to celebrate the beauty in each person. The singer wasn’t certain he wanted to go on with a planned performance in Oklahoma City two days after the attack, but he says organizers told him, “Of all places in the world, in Oklahoma City we don’t want to be held captive. We want to be entertained.”
Some other performers had to speak out: Madonna, who wore an American flag skirt at her Los Angeles concerts Sept. 13-15 (proceeds will be earmarked for families affected by terrorism), offered these thoughts on the attack: “Each and every one of us should look inside our own hearts and examine our own personal acts of terrorism…. It’s not just bin Laden, it’s all of us. We’ve all contributed to hatred in the world today.”
On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Katie Couric helped her daughters Carrie, 5, and Ellie, 10, sell cupcakes to raise money for disaster relief. Meanwhile Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and other stars planned to participate in a televised fund raiser set to air Sept. 21. Sarah Ferguson, whose charity Chances for Children had an office on the 101st floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center—no employees were present when the planes hit—set up a relief effort called the Duchess of York’s 911 Fund. “You can really see how the American people have rallied round,” says Ferguson, who was several miles away wrapping up an appearance on Good Morning America when the first plane hit. She sees the fund as a chance to return the support she received from Americans while going through her divorce. “Five years ago I was so lacking in confidence, but they lifted me and they have given me another chance and gave my children their mother back,” she says. “I will do anything to help them.”
Although New York Giant Jason Sehorn and his teammates unloaded supplies (“It was to let those people know we were thinking of them,” Sehorn says), other celebrities, like many ordinary citizens who rushed to the disaster site, were turned away. Billy Baldwin, who in the 1991 film Backdraft played a firefighter whose father perished in a blaze, went to Fire Company 40, Ladder 35, to volunteer but was told there was nothing he could do—except one very important thing: console Skylar Marcado, a 7-year-old boy dressed in a mini firefighter’s outfit who was waiting to hear news of his firefighter father, Steven. “It is so very sad,” said Baldwin, sitting next to his charge. “Look at the little guy.” Skylar’s dad is still missing.