Sometimes the biggest gestures start in a small way. A little boy. A modest goal. A short conversation.
And soon … boom.
We saw this unfold over the weekend, or over two weekends, with Elann Saula and his family’s fundraising effort for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. The birthday party we celebrated at Tuscany Suites’ Copa Room for my 50th on Feb. 28 was a way to raise money for little Elann, who is 5 and suffers from a dangerous assortment of autoimmune diseases.
As I have written many times, St. Baldrick’s donations are directed toward the care for Elann and scores of children at Children’s Specialty Center of Nevada, the only nonprofit pediatric cancer outpatient treatment facility in the state. St. Baldrick’s is the largest nongovernment cancer-research foundation in the world and finances every stage of research for childhood cancer.
To boost St. Baldrick’s on the night of the party, we raised $1,300 in the room with a bucket pass through the crowd. That effort was executed by those twin towers of charitable activity, Danielle Lewis (daughter of Jerry Lewis, who knows how to usurp money for philanthropic causes) and Four Queens comic magician Mike Hammer (who will take your wristwatch if allowed).
That total grew to $2,300 with a donation from hotel owner Brett Hears. All of that money went to Team Elann for his St. Baldrick’s campaign, the goal for which was to raise a total of $10,000.
As we would soon learn, that night was merely the start.
The next day, I happened to be in a text conversation with Criss Angel, who couldn’t make the party, as he is working something like 20 hours a day developing his new show at the Luxor.
Angel asked about a gift for my birthday; I told him to just donate to Elann’s St. Baldrick’s page and I’d be fine. I had planned to shave Elann’s head at Saturday’s St. Baldrick’s shave-a-thon at McMullan’s Irish Pub, where the St. Baldrick’s Day shave-a-thons were launched in 2006.
Elann shaved me last year, so this was a tidy bit of charitable revenge.
Angel asked why I wasn’t shaving my head, too, as I had every year for the past three. I said because I was shaving Elann and participating in all other fundraising for the event and am also MC’ing at the St. Baldrick’s event this Saturday at New York-New York’s Brooklyn Bridge. To be shaved again seemed pointless, especially since Elann was volunteering to do just that.
But as this conversation blossomed, Angel threw out a number that I could not turn down — $10,000 — to shave my head during the McMullan’s event.
And he wanted to do the shaving.
“I’ll be there Saturday with check in hand,” Angel said.
“I am like stunned right now,” I replied, reminding Criss that his donation alone would wipe out Elann’s entire monetary goal.
As surprised as I was at this development, I was not nearly as stunned as I would be Saturday. As we prepared to walk to the stage for our shaving appearance, Angel turned up — right on the button — with St. Baldrick’s spokeswoman Avery Driscoll, who is bravely fighting a brain tumor and whose care also is funded by St. Baldrick’s.
We proceeded with Elann’s shave to great response — at one point, I asked Elann if he was uncomfortable, forgetting the many excruciating intravenous treatments he’s sat through at Children’s Specialty Center.
“I am OK!” he told me as I trimmed him clean.
At our sides were Elann’s parents, Leslie and Sami, who also were being shaved. Sami is a multi-instrumentalist and acrobat in “Ka” at MGM Grand. They had been shaved in 2011 during St. Baldrick’s, raising money for the cause before Elann was born. Leslie beamed from the stage as she held a frock of her own dreadlocks, now shorn for posterity.
Angel then walked to the stage to join the group of shavers from Tease Boutique Salon of Las Vegas and MC Cory Harwell of Simon Hospitality Group. I quickly told the crowd of Angel’s participation and support, believing that he would unfold a check for $10,000 to St. Baldrick’s.
Not quite. Criss took the mic and told a moving story about his 2-year-old son, Johnny Crisstopher, who is undergoing intensive treatment for leukemia in Australia.
Everyone in the room was sniffing and tearing up by then, and Angel finished by asking me how much was being donated.
“Ten thousand dollars,” I said into the mic.
“I think we can do better than that,” Angel said.
He goosed cheers from the crowd at $20,000, and asked Elann to call out for more. The number hit $50,000, and I nearly blacked out. The place came apart with cheers, and the donation was the largest ever — by $90,000 — in the decade-long history of the St. Baldrick’s events at McMullan’s.
“I knew that his heart was just giant, and I expected him to probably say something to inspire the crowd and make a generous contribution,” said St. Baldrick’s Foundation CEO Kathleen Ruddy. “But I didn’t expect him to start upping himself. ‘Is that enough? Is that enough?’ We are very grateful to him, obviously.”
Angel also announced that the foundation named for his son, the Johnny Crisstopher Children’s Charitable Foundation, would launch in Las Vegas with an event Sept. 12. Details for that foundation are to be announced.
Back at McMullan’s, the money is still being counted from Saturday’s event, but expect the total to reach at least $500,000. My man Ubiquitous Robin Leach took over MC duties later in the afternoon, and St. Baldrick’s events are to continue Saturday at New York-New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, Khoury’s Fine Wine & Spirits on Eastern and Ri Ra Irish Pub at Mandalay Place.
On Sunday, the annual Lepre-Con shaving event is set for Town Square. On March 17, the shaving center is Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel (for details about when these events are scheduled and how to donate, go to StBaldricks.org).
The buzz from the buzz at McMullan’s lasted well through the weekend and is certain to continue through this month’s events. As Leslie Saula, in her distinctive French accent, so aptly put it shortly after being shorn: “I have no words to say enough.”
No need. Our bald heads say it all.