The music legend accepts an honor by speakerphone at an event
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Credit: Andrew Toth/Getty

Entertainment legend and civil rights hero Harry Belafonte was due to be honored in person Thursday night at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation’s Restore Brooklyn Annual Benefit Gala in New York City, but sadly became ill shortly before attending the event.

Still, the 88-year-old actor and singer (he was responsible for “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” – think the iconic dinner scene in the movie Beetlejuice) managed to accept the honor.

Telling the crowd at the fundraiser that he’d like to “express my deep, deep sense of regret I was not able to be in attendance this evening,” Belafonte, via speakerphone, went on to explain, “I was in the lobby of my building, just about the step into the car to bring me to the celebration, when I had a seizure.”

Many in the room gasped as the musician, who orchestrated the We are the World benefit recording 30 years ago, continued, “Every joint in my body went into disarray. I felt that rather than rely on all the things I could not control, I thought it was in everybody’s best interest I just try to not show up.”

Belafonte was introduced by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose father helped found the Corporation. Kennedy told stories about the singer and activist, and began by explaining, “Harry got sick on his way over here tonight, he had to return to his home, he was on his way over here, he is almost 90 years old, he spends too much time running around.”

“I met Harry in 1962 when I was 8 years old. He was a regular guest at my house, a very close friend of my parents, one of the few people who played tennis as competitively as they did. He was originally introduced to my family in May of 1962 because he was a guest at my uncle President Kennedy’s birth day party and he was put there by Martin Luther King.”

Belafonte, a lifelong civil rights activist, was saddened he couldn’t accept the honor in person from the group, whose mission is to integrate job training, education programs, social services, arts programming and financial counseling to support and strengthen the community.

“One of the great losses of my life was [not] to be able to share an evening with you with the mission that has been set forth [by] the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and [this] remarkable award is absolutely stunning,” he told the crowd. “I am very pleased.”