The Women’s Cancer Research Fund unfurled the pink carpet for “An Unforgettable Evening” at the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles on Thursday night, raising $1.8 million for breast cancer research. Fresh off her best actress Oscar win for “Judy,” Renée Zellweger was back in black tie attire for a cause that’s dear to her heart.
“My friend Nanci Ryder was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 2000s, so we did some advocacy work for different organizations. We’ve been following the work of this particular group for quite some time,”Zellweger told Variety. “[The WCRF] works directly with so many of the research projects that I know Nanci and I were reading about it at the time of her diagnosis and the advances that they’ve made in terms of early diagnostics and target gene therapies are pretty extraordinary. It’s millions of hours of research [being] funded. That’s no small feat.”
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Of capping off a big start to 2020 by being guest of honor at the event, Zellweger added, “[I] feel a little spoiled rotten to be honest. I got a lot of special memories and experiences with my friends. It was a really, really memorable year.”
Zellweger accepted the Courage Award for her contributions and advocacy for breast cancer awareness and research throughout her career at the annual fundraising event. Previous honorees of the WCRF — which has been working to promote breast cancer research and awareness for over 20 years — include founding gala supporter Natalie Cole, Courteney Cox, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge and Sir Elton John.
“Renée has been touched by breast cancer through a dear friend of hers,” Rita Wilson told reporters. “She understands if it’s somebody that you love that’s going through that you really want to be there for them and you understand how deeply. It’s scary. It’s really scary until you know you’re on the other side of it.”
Wilson, her husband Tom Hanks, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg serve as honorary chairs for the WCRF, helping organize “An Unforgettable Evening” each year. However, their work with the organization also extends beyond the fundraising event, as the group also helps decide how grants will be distributed each year.
“There’s a day in the summer time, it’s usually in August, where we get together,” Wilson said. “We’ve done the research of all the scientists that are working in the areas that we find really exciting and really progressive, either in prevention or cure, and we sign those checks and say ‘This is for your grant money so you can continue your work.’ That is a really exciting day.”
With over 275,000 cases diagnosed in the United States each year, breast cancer treatment and awareness is personal to many, including Wilson, who discussed her own experience as a breast cancer survivor.
“When we started out doing this event, I didn’t think I would ever get breast cancer and that I’d be able to use the resources of this amazing organization to help find me my doctors… Think about the days when women didn’t have reconstructive surgery and you were left with a scar and an empty void. Now we have reconstruction. I like to say that I finally went Hollywood [and] got some implants,” Wilson quipped.
Ken Jeong — who served as emcee for the evening — also shared his own personal history with breast cancer.
“My wife [Tran Jeong] is a breast cancer survivor, eleven years cancer free, and so this is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart,” Jeong told Variety. “As a former physician, and my wife is a physician, this has an even deeper meaning to me. I can’t think of a more important platform to get behind.”
Following the red carpet and cocktail reception, gala guests — including Martin Short, Camila Alves McConaughey, Paris Hilton, Loni Love, Katie Couric, Glen Powell, Maria Bello and Dominque Crenn — gathered inside the ballroom for a dinner, a series of speeches and a special performance by the Jonas Brothers.
In her speech, Zellweger recalled her friend Nanci Ryder’s decision to continue working as a publicist on a red carpet event even though her effects of her chemotherapy were evident.
“[Ryder] took a deep breath and she reached up and she grabbed a fistful of wig and flung it across the room and said ‘Okay, let’s go!'” Zellweger said. “We all know that courage is contagious, as is the easier absence of courage. So I’d like to take this moment to acknowledge you and to thank you. Your courage, coupled with the support of everyone here and those who are compelled to act will touch lives and encourage others who are facing any circumstance of unknown consequence. I join everybody in celebrating and applauding it tonight.”