PROJECT ANGEL FOOD THANKS GEORGE MICHAEL
- with Help from Adam Lambert
24 years ago, a check for $25,000 with a note saying “Keep doing what you’re doing. Love, George” showed up on the doorstep of Project Angel Food in Los Angeles. The George in question was none other than George Michael and the check for $25,000 showed up every year until he died. Now the organization is honoring him with an Elizabeth Taylor Leadership Award – as a final thank you, for his continued support. Read Metrosource’s exclusive interview with Executive Director of Project Angel Food, Richard Ayoub, and George Michael’s long-term boyfriend and business partner, Kenny Goss.
On September 17th, 1985, Ronald Reagan mentioned AIDS publicly for the first time. On October 2nd the same year, actor Rock Hudson died of an AIDS-related illness, leaving $250,000 to help set up the American Foundation for AIDS research (amfAR). Elizabeth Taylor served as the founding National Chairman – and supported the cause for the rest of her life.
Over the coming years, other showbiz personalities like Liberace (1987) and Freddie Mercury (1991) also succumbed to HIV/AIDS. It was around the same time (1991) that a new chapter started in the life of George Michael – he fell in love for the first time, with Brazilian Anselmo Feleppa. But within months of his newfound happiness, a test revealed that Anselmo had also been infected. On April 20th 1992, in the midst of his heartache, George Michael was performing in front of 72,000 people at Wembley Stadium, honoring his idol Freddie Mercury – knowing that the man he loved was likely heading for the same fate.
‘What people obviously wouldn’t know about that particular performance, is that Anselmo was in the crowd. I went out there and knew I had to do two things: I had to honor Freddie Mercury and I had to pray for Anselmo. It was all so much to me, all in that one performance. I’m so proud that I held onto that feeling, because I just wanted to die inside. It was overwhelming for me and I think what it did, was that it turned on one of the best performances of my career,’ George explained in his documentary, A Different Story, in 2005.
Saving Project Angel Food
It was after Anselmo passed away from an AIDS-related brain hemorrhage in 1993 that George Michael sent the first donation to Project Angel Food, an organization who helped feeding AIDS-patients all over LA county. In 1993, Project Angel Food was dealing with an influx of clients with AIDS.
Richard Ayoub, Project Angel Food: "There came a moment when we were frightened that we weren’t going to be able to make payroll. Then suddenly, at our doorstep, appeared this letter. It was a handwritten note that said, “Dear Project Angel Food. Keep doing what you’re doing. Love, George”. Out fell a check for $25,000 and it was from George Michael. That check came every single year until the day he died. He’s still our largest individual donor and it’s a beautiful gift, and a legacy, that he’s left with this organization. He also donated his Mercedes to sell at an auction to make money for us. He’s also spent some time in the kitchen here to bake some cakes with his then partner Kenny Goss, when he had community service to fulfill. He’s always quietly, and with a great deal of dignity, supported this organization. We’ve called his office multiple times to say that we’d love to honor him, and every single year he’s said no. So, this year, because he’s passed away, we decided that it’s time that everyone knows about his generosity. Everyone knows he’s a great performer, everyone knows he’s got that legacy that he’s leaving behind, but we want to make sure that people also know he’s a generous soul."
Project Angel Food was founded in 1989 by author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson in response to the AIDS-crisis. She had friends who were dying of AIDS and she wanted to send them love in form of food. Today, 28 years later, Project Angel Food is still sending love and food to people living with HIV/AIDS, but sharing the outreach with everyone that has a critical illness in LA county: Women with breast cancer undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, people with heart and lung disease, diabetics, and people with kidney failure.
Ayoub: "Every single person gets a specialized meal for their illness. So, for instance, if anyone has a kidney problem, they must have reduced potassium, sodium and phosphorous. We prepare them meals that fit their requirements, and these meals help heal them. Their lab results get better, they feel better and 1 out of 5 feel so much better that they say, “I don’t need the program anymore, give it to someone else.” That’s a great success of what we do."
Kenny Goss: "The real philanthropists and heroes are the people that give their personal time in the kitchen every day. That help to this organization is priceless. George was always committed to organizations that help people in need. At the time that he became involved with Project Angel Food, it was about helping those people with HIV and AIDS, ensuring that they received food every day."
“People Only Need a Certain Amount in a Bank Account”
After George Michael’s passing, many of other charities – and individuals – have publicly acknowledged that he quietly supported them too. Jane Barron from the Terrence Higgins Trust said that he donated experiences and gifts used to raise funds to support people with HIV, that he donated parts of the royalties from “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” with Elton John to them and that “his donations contributed to a vision of a world where people living with HIV live healthy lives free from prejudice and discrimination”.
Dame Esther Rantzen, founder and president of Childline, revealed that he gave all the royalties from “Jesus to a Child”, his first musical tribute to Anselmo Feleppa, to them. She said, “He was determined not to make his generosity public, so no-one outside the charity knew how much he gave to the nation’s most vulnerable children.” He was also a Macmillian Cancer Support Ambassador. Goss reckons that, altogether, George Michael must have given at least £10M (approx. $13M) to various charities over the course of their 15-year relationship.
Goss: "George believed in donating to many, many needy organizations. It was more important for him to give than to keep the money for himself. He often said, when talking about himself, “People only need a certain amount in a bank account.” George was very aware of the many people and organizations in need, and his awareness began with the AIDS crisis."
Ayoub: "When he heard about something that struck his heart, he quietly did something about it, and we certainly weren’t the only ones who benefitted from that. I think it’s pretty remarkable that he kept doing it for us. Our motto is “For Life, For Love, For As Long As It Takes”, and he must have believed that same thing. He was a very modest philanthropist, and that’s when you know it’s genuine."
Goss: "George supported charitable causes to assist the important work of each charity – not for the publicity value. The donations came from his heart in response to the need of the charities. He was an extremely generous man and so many people benefited from his charitable gifts."
In 2007, George Michael and his by-then partner Kenny Goss decided to found the Goss-Michael Foundation together, which has become one of the leading contemporary British art collections in the United States. It’s a non-profit that supports emerging artists, another example of George’s charitable commitment that Kenny carries on.
Goss: "[We] co-founded the Goss-Michael Foundation in 2007, and the collection includes many important artists in contemporary art, including Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. In addition to displaying the private collection, the foundation supports an Artist-in-Residence program, is actively involved in many charitable causes and events, [and] exhibits select international artists on a rotating basis, while also working with significant, emerging Texas-based artists. The foundation will continue with its philanthropy and our devotion to helping emerging artists and supporting important causes, focused on those in need."
The “Last Christmas” That Changed Everything
Kenny Goss was having Christmas dinner with his family when George’s sister Melanie called him to say that there was bad news about George; his manager soon followed up with another call. For a long time, Goss was in a state of shock, trying to process the loss of a relationship that had lasted from 1996 until 2011. Ayoub also vividly remembers receiving the news that George had passed away.
Ayoub: "It was Christmas day and I was visiting my family in Texas, and it just hurt my heart because — not only is this an entertainer who was beloved — but he was a very special friend to this organization, so we were devastated. People loved George here and they were just very sad to hear the news. He was also very young, just 53 years old, and it was so unexpected, so everyone was in great shock. Plus, it happened around the holidays when you’re supposed to celebrate. He had the song “Last Christmas” and it was his last Christmas. Everything about it was just heart-breaking and heart wrenching."
Project Angel Food wanted to celebrate George Michael’s life on what would have been his 54th birthday; on June 25th, they held a party in honor of him.
Ayoub: "We had 11 different performers sing different George Michael songs that day. We had a huge banner where fans signed, sending well-wishes and their thoughts, which we will send to his family in the UK. Chef Angel made a festive GM birthday cake and we sang happy birthday together. LA City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell came by and proclaimed it George Michael Day. It was a pretty special occasion and it was a celebration of him and his music. People in the neighborhood could come in and not only share his birthday but also share and understand what he was all about, and why he cared so much for us."
And the Angel Award Goes to…
On the evening of August 19, 2017, Project Angel Food is paying tribute to George Michael in a very special way as part of their annual Angel Awards in Los Angeles.
Ayoub: "Because he said no to us [honoring him] year after year, we’re now saying yes to him. We are honoring him with the Elizabeth Taylor Leadership Award, which will be presented by Kenny Goss. There will be music too, and we thought that the best person to do George Michael justice is Adam Lambert. We reached out to him and asked if he would please do a musical tribute. He’s touring with Queen right now, and naturally very busy, so we were thrilled beyond belief when he said yes. So, for one night only he’s going to stop all the Queen music, and he’s going to bring George to life through his music. It’s going to be a very, very special occasion. We know that George’s family is sending us a letter to read to the group that evening, so we’re really excited about that. We definitely have the family’s blessing and they’re so thrilled that people care so much about George that they want to keep his legacy alive. Just keeping his generosity alive as well, and remind people about him."
Goss: "I’m very honored to be presenting the award on behalf of my dear friend George. One of my longtime friends was asked by Project Angel Food if I would be interested in helping out this year, as they would be honoring George, so I met with Richard and the team and immediately said yes."
Ayoub: "We’re so proud to be presenting George with this award to say thank you for everything that he’s done for us."
Fans Carry on His Legacy
George once said, “I have the audience I deserve. Or at least I have the audience that represents the kind of people that I like”. Since his passing, his fans have been donating to charities — with some even starting GoFundMe pages to benefit his favored charities such as Project Angel Food. Richard Ayoub remembers a recent event with an attorney from San Francisco:
Ayoub: "Out of the blue we got a $10,000 donation. I tracked her down to say thank you, because she’d never donated before. I asked how she found us, because it’s always curious to me, and she said, “I’m a huge George Michael fan and I read about his involvement. I also read that you have a waiting-list and I want to help.” I reached out to her about the awards, just to say that we’re honoring him, and she said she’d like to send another $5,000, adding, “I can’t come myself, but I’d like you to use it and get some other people there.” This is very, very generous – and it’s all because of George Michael. It’s a huge testimonial from his fans to him. It also honors his legacy to us, and by having the award given to him it honors our legacy to him."
You can support Project Angel Food and pay tribute to legacy of George Michael by purchasing tickets to the Angel Awards, by donating to Project Angel Food or by supporting the work of the Goss-Michael Foundation.