NEW YORK (AP) — A teary and emotional Elton John celebrated the 25th anniversary of his AIDS foundation with a gala in New York City, raising about $4.4 million and telling the audience that they would end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
John's efforts to raise awareness and fight against AIDS were lauded by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and singer Aretha Franklin, who closed the event with a collection of songs.
John grew teary-eyed onstage after Jeanne White — the mother of Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who became the poster child for HIV awareness during the 1980s AIDS crisis — spoke passionately about how John visited her son while he was sick and helped her family financially. She called John her "guardian angel."
John said he "hated himself" at the time he visited Ryan White, and that the White family helped him change for the better.
"What the White family did was light a little candle in my soul," John said. "Six months after Ryan passed away, I got help and I became sober."
The 70-year-old singer also was in tears at the end of his speech, recalling a birthday party he held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where Tuesday's event took place, and spending time with his late friend, writer Ingrid Sischy.
"She was my sister. I don't have her anymore. I have her inside of me. And I miss her so much," he said of Sischy, who died of breast cancer in 2015. "I just wish she was here to see this."
The Elton John AIDS Foundation launched in 1992 in the United States and in the United Kingdom a year later. The two organizations have raised more than $385 million since then, and John said 98 percent of what is raised is used to help others.
"The life that Elton John and David (Furnish) have built, the friends they have and the work they do will in the end be the most beautiful song he ever wrote," Clinton said.
"An Enduring Vision: A Benefit for the Elton John AIDS Foundation" was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and attendees included singers Billy Joel, Sting, Sheryl Crow and Maxwell, and actresses Glenn Close and Susan Lucci. The event raised more than $700,000 in a live auction. A visit to a taping of the TV series "Will & Grace" and a meet-and-greet with the cast went for $45,000; a Bvlgari necklace sold for $70,000; and tickets to "Saturday Night Live" went for $55,000.
Alec Baldwin appeared onstage before the "SNL" tickets were auctioned, going into character as Clinton and then President Donald Trump. He earned loud laughs from the audience.
Franklin, who plans to retire soon, closed the three-hour-plus event with songs like "I Say a Little Prayer" and "Freeway." John called her "the greatest singer of all time."
Other performers included Grammy-winning musicians Joshua Bell and Heather Headley, who has also won a Tony Award.