George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez and More Rally Together in New Video to Carry on Chris Cornell's Advocacy for Refugees
"Chris was always concerned about the welfare of children," longtime friend Eric Esrailian says of Cornell's human rights work
Chris Cornell‘s philanthropic legacy lives in.
Before his May 18 death, the Soundgarden frontman filmed a music video in honor of World Refugee Day, which was released posthumously on Tuesday, when the cause is observed.
Cornell wrote and recorded “The Promise” for the movie of the same name, which stars Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale and tells the story of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian genocide at the end of World War I. Cornell was a fierce advocate for those affected by the current refugee crisis, and since The Promise’s release this year, he traveled the world promoting the film and did work with his Chris & Vicky Cornell Foundation.
Now, a slew of A-listers have joined forces to encourage people to #KeepThePromise to help displaced refugees, and PEOPLE has an exclusive video in which they passionately urge others to uphold Cornell’s legacy of fighting for human rights.
Isaac, Bale, George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Tom Hanks, Josh Brolin, Elton John, System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, Cher, Jennifer Lopez and Pharrell Williams appear in the inspiring clip, which also features a final, poignant declaration from the late Cornell: “Hi, I’m Chris Cornell, and I vow to keep the promise to fight for the world’s most vulnerable children.”
Cornell was 52 years old when he was found dead in his Detroit hotel room last month; a medical examiner ruled the cause of death suicide by hanging. He is survived by wife Vicky, their kids — daughter Toni, 12, and son Christopher, 11 — as well as daughter Lillian, 17, from his previous marriage to Susan Silver
Eric Esrailian, The Promise producer and a longtime friend of Cornell, opened up to PEOPLE exclusively about their friendship and the rock star’s commitment to helping children and refugees.
How did you get to know Chris?
We met about 10 years ago, when they were living in Los Angeles, through our friends in the Greek community; he became one of my best friends in the world. He was like a big brother in many ways, who went off to college. I wouldn’t see him all the time, but when he was back in L.A., he would check in and we would see each other, then he was a really close confidant during the whole process of making the film. I’m a physician, so I relied on people who know a lot more than I do about creativity, towards trying to take this idea and make into a reality. Chris was a master of that, of taking ideas and bringing them to life. It’s just heartbreaking that he’s not here to see the impact that his music will have.
What will you remember most about Chris?
I think I’ll remember most his generous spirit and his sincere interest in being a great friend. Truthfully, watching him with his wife and children and seeing the love he had for his family is how I will remember him.
How did Chris get involved in the Keep the Promise movement?
The film is based on the Armenian genocide, and the song pays homage to the victims of the Armenian genocide so it would never be forgotten, but also that it would be able to drive awareness about human rights issues of the day. Chris always wanted the video to be released on World Refugee Day, and all the proceeds of our company were going be donated to charitable organizations, and Chris was going donate all the proceeds of his song to organizations that support refugees and children. “Keep the Promise” may mean different things, whether it be supporting refugees or ending racism or fighting genocide in corners of the world. We had an incredible group of people commit to keep the promise. Sadly, the video came out on World Refugee Day, as Chris had hoped, but he was very much a part of the process along the way.
What kind of work did Chris do in supporting this cause?
Chris was always concerned about the welfare of children. That was something really important to him; he just had a great deal of empathy for children around the world. He was concerned about people he never even met before. It was something that was always on his mind. The concept of being able to drive any proceeds from music to help those that were less unfortunate was something that was entirely his idea.
We were in Europe because our film was asked to be screen at the Vatican, and we went to London for a screening, and right after that Chris went to Greece to a refugee camp. He met with Syrian refugees, and it not only touched his heart, but I think it also reinforced the mission of promoting the project so that it would reach as many people as possible.
You said that he was always very concerned about the welfare of children: Was that informed by him being a father himself?
Absolutely. In fact, he would often refer to circumstances and then relay a story about his daughters or his son and how he empathized with being a parent. That’s one of the things, we often just spoke about things as parents, not necessarily the fact that he had his career and I have mine.
If there’s one thing people take away from this campaign, what would that be?
I think the main thing is that even though there is evil in the world, and there are these unspeakable acts that have taken place over the years — but people are resilient. There can be hope, there can be perseverance, and there can be survival. That’s really what Chris’s song is all about. The triumph of the human spirit is alive and well. People are fleeing these conflict zones and having to leave their homes, and we have to remember that many refugees are refugees because of these difficult circumstances and yet, you see the smiles on the face of the children and the gratitude towards rescuers that these refugees are expressing, and it ends with a message of hope.