Magic Johnson and Cookie Johnson honored during the star-studded Elizabeth Taylor Ball to End AIDS

Written by on September 22, 2023

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On Thursday night, all eyes were on NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie Johnson, during the fourth annual Elizabeth Taylor Ball to End AIDS, held at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.

According to a press release to theGrio, the gala, put on by the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, featured a seated dinner, a performance by seven-time Grammy Award winner Gladys Knight, and, in partnership with Christie’s, a live auction of artwork and luxury experiences. 

Over the course of the evening, actress Angela Bassett and husband Courtney B. Vance presented the Johnsons with the Elizabeth Taylor Commitment to End AIDS Award.

(Left to right) Cookie Johnson and her husband, Magic Johnson, attend the Elizabeth Taylor Ball to End AIDS at The Beverly Hills Hotel on Thursday night in Beverly Hills, California, where they received an award for their activism. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation)

During his remarks, while accepting the award, former NBA superstar Johnson — who first announced he had tested positive for HIV in November 1991 — said, “When I think about my journey 32 years ago, when people say I wouldn’t be here, it’s companies like Gilead and others who provided [an opportunity]. At that time there was only one drug, but the blessing is, now there are over 40. We made some great strides. Now we can have dinners and talk openly about HIV and AIDS where back then we couldn’t.”

The same year he tested positive for HIV, he founded he founded the Magic Johnson Foundation, which for more than 30 years has been spearheading initiatives to improve urban communities. Through the foundation’s “I Stand With Magic” program, just under 80,000 Americans have gained access to free HIV/AIDS testing. The Johnsons have also given more than $14 million to HIV/AIDS organizations through the foundation.  

Bassett, who was the gala’s host, told those gathered: “When Elizabeth Taylor founded The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation decades ago, she knew what is still so clear today. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is not just a health crisis. It is also a social justice and health equity crisis. Even though we’ve made so much scientific progress, people living with HIV still face stigma, discrimination, criminalization and profound inequities.”

While HIV/AIDS has declined in some communities, it’s plateauing for others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that of the new estimated 34,800 cases in 2019, Black people were leading for new cases, with Black women and Black transgender women having the highest rates. 

During the evening, Vance read a letter on-stage from former President Barack Obama congratulating the Johnsons on the award that read, in part: “They didn’t just help raise research dollars or educate the public. They moved us to think in an entirely new way about a condition affecting millions of people around the world – changing attitudes with the kind of grace and encouragement that only true leaders can display.” 

“Magic’s pragmatic, optimistic approach to his diagnosis,” Vance continued, “ended up changing the way the world saw the disease.”

Co-chairs for this year’s Elizabeth Taylor Ball to End AIDS included musician-model-actor and ETAF Ambassador Paris Jackson, as well as entrepreneur-producer-ETAF friend and longtime supporter Christine Chiu.

Thursday night’s gala was sponsored by Gilead Sciences, Inc. and Diamond Sponsor Bulgari, and attendees got to have an up-close look at exclusive items from The Elizabeth Taylor Archive, including highlights from Taylor’s personal life, film career, and philanthropy.

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