While actor/comedian Denis Leary is familiar to many as a result of his years in the entertainment industry, the star and cocreator of FX's Rescue Me wants those who follow his work to also follow a cause that's equally close to his heart: his charity. To increase awareness of the Leary Firefighters Foundation, he held the Sixth Annual BASH for New York's Bravest fund-raiser this past Friday at New York City's famed Cipriani restaurant on Wall Street.
Leary suits up as FDNY Ladder 62 firefighter Tommy Gavin on FX's hit dramedy, but his passion for the work firefighters do extends far beyond his day job. He started his foundation in 2000 after his cousin, firefighter Jerry Lucey, and a childhood friend, Lt. Tommy Spencer, lost their lives in the line of duty while battling a blaze in the actor's hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. In order to remember those lost and to rebuild for the future, the Leary Firefighters Foundation has pledged to turn donations into much-needed equipment for firehouses and departments in New York, Boston, New Orleans and Los Angeles. To date, the effort has raised more than $5 million.
At the recent benefit, Leary and a few of his celebrity pals — Michael J. Fox, TV chef Rachael Ray, Sen. John Kerry, Donny Deutsch, and fellow Rescue Me stars Callie Thorne and Andrea Roth included — came together for dinner, entertainment and a live auction. Prior to the festivities, Leary spoke with TVGuide.com about what the public can do to give back, his plans for Thanksgiving and what has him all fired up for Season 4 of Rescue Me.
TVGuide.com: With this being the sixth-annual benefit for your foundation and five years since 9/11, how have you seen things change, especially here in New York City?
Leary: Well, that's definitely true [that things have changed]. You now have to do a lot more to get people's attention. It's always pretty amazing to me how quickly people forget, especially in this country. I think part of the country wants to heal and carry on. What the firefighters and the iron workers and all those guys at Ground Zero did was an amazing recovery job, and I think that tends to make people think it's over, but the truth for the firefighters is that it's not over. In terms of financing, which is what this foundation's about — helping these guys financially — it's gotten worse, so I just try to make as much noise as I can and try to remind politicians and people with money that a lot of help is still needed.
TVGuide.com: You and Lenny Clarke recently visited my home state of Massachusetts to donate a speed rescue boat to the Boston Fire Department, prompting the mayor to declare that particular day "Leary Firefighters Foundation Day." Can you explain more about how you turn dollars into donated equipment?
Leary: Well, it's very easy to do, actually, with firefighters, because in any city you pick, they all have a list a mile long of equipment and training facilities that they don't have and that they're not going to get any time soon. So we look at how much we have and what is the priority. The great thing is that the manufacturers of the trucks and the training facilities cut us a little bit of slack. They tend to outfit [trucks] with all the bells and whistles without charging us, and they speed up the process. The vehicle we got for the FDNY two years ago came in six months, and soon it was on the streets of New York and then down in New Orleans for Katrina. The least of our problems is turning money into equipment.
TVGuide.com: You recently appeared on [BASH fund-raiser auctioneer] Rachael Ray's daytime talk show as a "mystery guest," and helped cook a chicken burger. Since you now have the skill, will the Leary household be swapping turkey for this latest creation for Thanksgiving next week?
Leary: I don't actually cook….
TVGuide.com: But you do clean, from what I understand.
Leary: I don't cook, but I do clean very well. I recently learned how to cook risotto. But I've got to say, I eat anything, so whatever is cooked for me [works fine]. I've gotta tell ya, that chicken thing Rachael made on her show was ridiculous. You bite into it and it's a chicken burger, and then it explodes with ham and cheese.
TVGuide.com: Maybe your family will be in for a treat this weekend if you can reproduce it for dinner.
Leary: Cooking it seemed pretty normal, so I'm going to try it. She's going to get me the recipe.
TVGuide.com: As we head into the holiday season, how would you encourage people to give back to the Leary Firefighters Foundation?
Leary: People get blinded sometimes by the amount of money needed. But the truth is [the cost of donated equipment can range] anywhere from $250 to $500. Literally, some firehouses need a microwave oven, so whatever comes in, we can turn it into something. It all goes to a good cause.
TVGuide.com: Lastly, regarding Rescue Me, are you satisfied with where Tommy is, at the start of Season 4? It must be tough struggling with the allegiance you have to him as his portrayer while working to cohesively expand the story line at large.
Leary: We just got done with our first two rounds of fleshing out the story lines for Season 4, and I'm biased, but I think it's above and beyond what we've ever done before. Our big thing is to keep it organic and at the same time keep people's interest. I think it really will this year.
For more information on the Leary Firefighters Foundation and how to donate, visit LearyFirefighters.org. To bid on selected auction items from the BASH, including vacations and celebrity memorabilia, go to CharityFolks.com.
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