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Stars turn out in unprecedented televised pitch for victims of terrorist attacks

Updated:
NEW YORK (AP) _ Hollywood's finest paid tribute to real-life heroes during an extraordinary benefit for victims of the terrorist attacks that was hard to miss on the television dial.

The telethon was televised Friday night on more than 30 networks, including the six biggest broadcasters _ ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB.

From Tom Hanks to Julia Roberts, actors made understated appeals for donations, telling stories of innocent people killed and heroic acts. They alternated short speeches with singers such as Willie Nelson and Wyclef Jean, who performed on sets decorated by hundreds of burning candles.

``We are not healers,'' Hanks said. ``We are not protectors of this great nation. We are merely artists, entertainers, here to raise spirits and, we hope, a great deal of money.''

Nelson wrapped up the two-hour benefit by leading an all-star version of ``America the Beautiful'' with Stevie Wonder on harmonica. He followed Canadian singer Celine Dion's version of ``God Bless America.''

Paul Simon, wearing an ``FDNY'' cap, sang a spooky version of his venerable hit, ``Bridge Over Troubled Water.'' Mariah Carey sang ``Hero'' in one of her first public appearances since her breakdown.

``America: A Tribute to Heroes'' was reminiscent of the Live Aid concerts for famine relief in 1985, but that wasn't available across such a wide spectrum of networks.

Organizers said it may be next week before they have an estimate of how much money was raised.

Within the first 15 minutes of Friday night's telethon, Bruce Springsteen, Wonder and the rock band U2 performed on stages in New York, Los Angeles and London.

``This is a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters,'' Springsteen said opening the telecast, before singing one of his newer songs, ``My City of Ruins.''

Wonder condemned hatred in the name of religion before singing ``Love's in Need of Love Today.'' Neil Young performed the late John Lennon's hit, ``Imagine.'' Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played their defiant, ``I Won't Back Down.'' Jean, dressed in stars and stripes, sang Bob Marley's ``Redemption Song.''

With such stars as Tom Cruise, Roberts and Jim Carrey and a two-hour limit, it was hard to fit in everybody. Meg Ryan, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone and other celebrities were relegated to the phone bank, answering contributors' calls.

A phone number, 1-866-TO-UNITE, and Web site, www.tributetoheroes.org, flashed across the screen for donations.

The special, pulled together in less than a week with artists donating their time, was telecast live without an audience and went off with barely a hitch.

Actor Will Smith appeared with the boxer he's portraying in an upcoming movie, Muhammad Ali, to remind viewers not to target all Muslims in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

``I wouldn't be here representing Islam if it were terrorist,'' Ali said. ``I think all people should know the truth, come to recognize the truth. Islam is peace.''

``Frasier'' star Kelsey Grammer, dressed in black and fighting for his composure, talked about John F. Kennedy. His show's executive producer, David Angell, was killed in one of the hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Roberts saluted people who saved lives at the Pentagon, which also was struck by a hijacked jetliner.

``Life is so precious. Please, please, let's love one another,'' the actress said. ``Reach out to each other. Be kind to each other. Peace be with you. God is great.''

When Long Island native Billy Joel sang ``New York State of Mind,'' a New York City firefighter's hat sat on his piano.
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