An emotional Sharon Stone told a talk at Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival on Friday that her decision to take get behind AIDS research fundraising organisation amfAR in the mid-1990s had been a career-destroying move at the time, but one she never regretted.
The actress, artist and activist explained she had been incredulous when the organisation first approached her in 1995 to stand in for then-chairwoman Elizabeth Taylor at its famous annual fundraising event in Cannes Film Festival.
“I had pretty big shoes to fill with Elizabeth Talyor at amfAR… When I was approached in Cannes, I was like, ‘Can I take Elizabeth’s place?’”
Stone discussed the proposition with her then-publicist Cindy Berger.
“She said, ‘If you do this, it will destroy your career”. At the time you weren’t allowed to talk about AIDS. She got hives on her neck. I said, ‘I know, but I am going to do it, you’re gonna kill me’. She replied, ‘And if you don’t, I am gonna kill you.”
Stone was then asked to take on Taylor’s role for another three years, in a journey that resulted in making a game-changing contribution to financing research into the then-deadly virus.
“I had no idea of the resistance, cruelty, hate and oppression that we would face,” she said. “So, I put on a hazmat suit and I had them show me it [the virus] under the microscope. I thought I really need to see this thing that is making everyone go nuts.”
Despite the uphill battle, Stone decided to stay the course, vowing to support the research drive until the medicines that could combat the virus were found.
“I stayed for 25 years until we had AIDS remedies being advertised on TV like we have aspirin,” she said. “It did destroy my career. I didn’t work for eight years. I was told if I said condom again, funding would be removed. I was threatened repeatedly, my life was threatened, and I decided I had to stick with it.”
Stone said she had never looked back, noting that before antiretroviral medicines combatting AIDS were developed, 40 million people died after they contracted the virus. “Now 37 million are living with HIV AIDS, living functioning and healthy,” she said, tearing up.
Attitudes toward AIDS have long since moved on in most Western countries, but the illness, which still impacts disproportionately more gay and bisexual men, remains a relatively taboo topic in Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relationships are discriminated against.
Stone, who is in Saudi Arabia for the first time, joins a growing number of celebrities making the trip to the country, in spite of concerns over the country’s human rights track record.
The actress said she needed to see the country for herself before passing judgement, even if others around her were questioning the trip.
“Everyone said, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ I’m afraid not to know. I’ll go and see what it really is and then I will tell you. What everyone says is not necessarily how it is. You have to see things for yourself,” she said.
“For me to be in Saudi Arabia. I’m a kid from Pennsylvania. I grew up with the Amish, who drove onto my driveway with their buggy. There was no way I was going to come to Saudi Arabia. This is a big deal for me.”