Stephen M. Silverman
September 22, 2001 11:51 AM

Musicians sang, actors spoke. The mood was somber but strong. The Friday night telethon, “America: A Tribute to Heroes” was reminiscent of the Live Aid concerts for famine relief in 1985, but this time, an unprecedented 30 networks across the country carried the commercial-free two-hour, all-star benefit. “We are not healers,” Tom Hanks said in the show’s opening statement (following Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of “City of Ruins”). “We are not protectors of this great nation. We are merely artists, entertainers, here to raise spirits and, we hope, a great deal of money.” The remarkable gathering, assembled on only a few days’ notice, raised money for last week’s attack on America. A final tally of the funds collected is not expected to be known for some time. Mariah Carey, looking healthy after her near-seclusion of almost two months, sang her hit “Hero,” which enforced the tone of the evening. Actor Will Smith appeared with the boxer he’s portraying in an upcoming movie, Muhammad Ali, to remind viewers not to target all Muslims in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. “I wouldn’t be here representing Islam if it were terrorist,” the champ said. “I think all people should know the truth, come to recognize the truth. Islam is peace.” Stevie Wonder also condemned hatred in the name of religion before singing “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” Neil Young delivered John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did their defiant “I Won’t Back Down.” Willie Nelson wrapped things up, leading an elongated version of “America, the Beautiful.” Kelsey Grammer, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Jim Carrey were among those who spoke movingly, while Al Pacino, Whoopi Goldberg, Meg Ryan, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone and other stars were relegated to the phone bank, answering contributors’ calls. Throughout the show, a phone number, 1-866-TO-UNITE, and Web site, http://www.tributetoheroes.org, flashed across the screen for donations. Those lines are still open.

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