And sure enough, from there on, scads of performers over 80 in total rose up for the star-spangled television event. One by one, and sometimes in pairs, celebrities from all crafts were revealed from shadows to pay spoken tribute to those who lost their lives and those rescue workers who strive to find lives. To kick off the evening, Tom Hanks quoted United flight 93 passenger and apparent hijacker attacker Jeremy Glick, saying, "We're going to try to do something." And though, as Hanks added, the stars on hand were "not heroes, merely artists," they did do something. Something special.
While the illustrious likes of Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Adam Sandler and Goldie Hawn manned the jammed telethon phone lines (almost immediately, on-screen alerts re-routed people to the fundraiser's Web site), a parade of live, relatively unplugged entertainment brought forth their music to soothing candlelit stages. Following Hanks' intro, Stevie Wonder was among the first to sing a piece of truth, with "Love's In Need Of Love Today." U2, live from London and in moody black-and-white, used their current hit, "Walk On," to succeed a story from George Clooney about a diehard, now deceased, NYPD vet.
Then, as Enrique Iglesias punctuated Jim Carey's tale of a selfless World Trace Center employee with the song "Hero," the pattern became apparent: Each musical offering had astutely been partnered up with appropriately-themed anecdotes a thoroughly impressive feat, considering the lightning-fast manner in which this telecast came together.
Some acts and appearances of note: Neil Young, on piano, tenderly evoking John Lennon's "Imagine"; Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst heading up a quartet's acoustic take on Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here"; Dennis Franz reuniting with former co-star Jimmy Smits to declare that the real-life NYPD BLUE has "given New York City a new reason to be proud." (Cue, wonderfully predictably, Billy Joel singing "New York State Of Mind," who had a charred firefighter's helmet on his piano); A recovered Mariah Carey braving the public eye (and shying away from a few dog-whistle high notes) to pay tribute to her own "Hero"; The night's penultimate performance, "God Bless America," as belted out by the retired and Canadian Celine Dion. (Was anyone else a bit twigged by the back-of-mind Titanic connection?)
To be sure, the emotions weren't restricted to the myriad of musical voices. Muhammad Ali, using his quiet voice to loudly lambaste those evildoers who have sullied the Muslim name, said, "If I had a chance, I'd do something about it." (And you believed him.) Most noticeably, Julia Roberts stayed pretty as she fought back tears during her tribute to a group of brave Pentagon souls who proved that "before we save ourselves, we save each other."
Then, leading into an en masse performance of "America" at which point you realized just how many caring celebs, including Brad Pitt, Meg Ryan, Tom Cruise, Chris Rock, Dave Mathews and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, came out that night Clint Eastwood closed the non-stop, two-hour outing with stirring words: "Make no mistake, the terrorists' intended victims were all 300 million of us. But they're going to get 300 million heroes instead." And no closing line here can top that.