Scene Last Night: Loeb, Fixel, Lauder Back Michael J. FoxAmanda Gordon
Michael J. Fox said at a weekend benefit that people in finance and business are an important part of his fight against Parkinson’s.
“It’s not just their financial generosity, it’s their entrepreneurial take on it and the fact that they hate to lose,” Fox said Nov. 22 at the Waldorf Astoria during “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson’s.”
“They want to get it done,” added Fox’s wife, Tracy Pollan. “They’re used to winning.”
Fox then turned to Pollan. “Do you remember the first time we went to Robin Hood? I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Pollan said. “It was: ‘OK, this is what we want to do.’”
The Robin Hood Foundation started by Paul Tudor Jones in 1988 to fight poverty “is a role model to us,” said Fox, who created the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 38 in 2000, nine years after he had been diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s. The disease, which more often hits people in their 50s or 60s, is a chronic, progressive disorder that breaks down parts of the brain, leading to tremors, rigidity and non-motor issues.
The foundation has granted more than $450 million to research, including in drug development, underlying genetic causes and untreated symptoms, according to the New York-based group’s website. Its goal is a cure.
“From the beginning I wanted this to be as much a business model as medical one,” Fox said. “I wanted it to be like a startup, and I wanted business people involved. The way Robin Hood marshals that community was really brilliant and interesting to me.”
The proceedings at the Waldorf Astoria show how his foundation is emulating Robin Hood. The event gathered boldface names in finance -- activist investor Dan Loeb mingled with artist and yoga instructor Barry Silver -- along with billionaire Leonard Lauder, Robin Hood Executive Director David Saltzman, and actors Julianne Moore and Ryan Reynolds, whose father has Parkinson’s and said the disease has helped bring together his “fiery-tempered family.”
For entertainment, Paul Simon was on stage, joined by Fox for a jam on “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” -- as was comedian J.B. Smoove, who’s in Chris Rock’s new film, “Top Five,” coming out next month.
Lee Fixel, co-head of private-equity investing at Tiger Global Management LLC, was among the 10 event chairmen, including actor John Slattery, Tishman Speyer Co-Chief Executive Officer Rob Speyer and chef Mario Batali.
The program showcased a Robin Hood-like strategy of deploying capital fast and working without an endowment, highlighting why the fundraiser was important. It raised more than $5.4 million.
While that total may be missing a Robin Hood zero, the food challenged that of a Robin Hood gala: The dinner’s cauliflower, pan-seared salmon with salsa verde were prepared using recipes in “The Pollan Table Family,” the cookbook Fox’s wife recently published with her family.
KKR’s Marc Lipschultz, a board member at the foundation along with Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn and Apollo Capital Management’s Barry J. Cohen, said he’s “been involved for many years, because of the foundation’s singular focus on winning the battle against Parkinson’s.” He added, “Michael’s focus on delivering this mission always looking up is truly inspiring.”
To Fox, winning and losing hold different meanings: there’s the gradual loss from the point of view of the disease; the defeat of research paths -- “we get as much wrong as we get right,” he said; and what Fox called “the loss of innocence on how these things work.”
He continued: “You lose the notion that these things would be easy. And you gain a perspective that’s really powerful. You’re able to say, I can meet this challenge and get past it. We can find a way to incent pharma to pursue drug targets that they might not otherwise pursue.”