CANNES, France, Friday May 25, 2012 – Sean Penn’s passionate pursuit of alleviating the misery in post-earthquake Haiti is well documented, as is his disappointment with the well-heeled who don’t donate generously, and the publicity-hungry who fly to the stricken nation merely for a photo-op.
But at the recent Giorgio Armani-bankrolled “Haiti: Carnival in Cannes” fundraiser, which the Oscar-winning star co-hosted with Paul Haggis and Petra Nemcova, Penn really let rip.
It was unquestionably the most lavish party in Cannes, with tickets priced at a staggering US$7,500 each, and a gaggle of glitterazzi garbed in designer suits and gowns and dripping with a king’s ransom of bling.
But Penn, unfazed by the prestigious tone of the gala, turned the air blue with some not-so-carefully chosen words during a speech on behalf of his Haitian Relief Organisation.
The actor, whose work in Haiti earned him the Nobel laureates’ 2012 Peace Summit Award last month, riveted celebrity guests with an expletive-riddled appeal for funds, which he later confessed was delivered “under the influence of vodka.”
Penn, 51, made a rambling delivery right from the start, praising fellow Haiti fund raiser Paul Haggis, “even though he was a Canadian whose parents included a man, a woman and a tree.”
“F*** ‘em if people say you’re just writing a cheque, but you’re making a change,” he added.
Penn went on to say that that Haiti should be helped because it was just an hour away from “the richest f***ing country in the world.”
The “Milk” star may have had one or two drinks too many, but he was impassioned about supporting the people of Haiti, although he disclosed that people had to “fight the f*** out of politics” to get things done.
The rant continued when he demanded that guests bid for auction items.
“I want you to stay here and listen to the auction and beat the s*** out of each other to purchase them,” he ordered.
Browbeating guests “to pay the f*** up,” he was also quoted as saying: “They tell you not to give them fish, but to teach them how to fish. Well there are no f***ing fish.”
None of the guests were reportedly offended by the tirade, which had many a celeb in fits of laughter. Some said his spicy language gave the evening some electricity.
The gala’s auctioneer, Christie’s international director Hugh Edmeades, commented with a touch of British understatement: “He’s very passionate about Haiti, isn’t he?”
Earlier, before the vodka had taken its toll, Penn said that 450,000 people were still homeless in Haiti. “But at least that’s down from 1.8 million homeless. Enormous progress has been made with rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, but people are living in tents on dirt floors without water, and cholera is spiking.”
But he added that Haitians were “full of hope” and that schools were being built, and that one of the most exciting sights was watching children preparing to head off to school.
Penn also called on President Barak Obama to do “whatever he can to help Haiti get back on its feet.”
The gala raised some US$2million including hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by auctioning items such as going backstage to meet Bono, and special sporting packages for the London Olympics.