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CNN Heroes: Sharing the Spotlight

Aired December 2, 2012 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: They garnered global attention for their work in the entertainment world but tonight we go beyond the glamour, talking to three top stars who are using their fame to shine the spotlight on those in need.

Actor and director Ben Stiller is famous for his comedies, but the poverty in Haiti made him get serious and get to work.

BEN STILLER, ACTOR: I just wanted to be able to help people that I thought were doing good work and actually getting things done.

COOPER: For decades, supermodel Christy Turlington Burns has been known for her beautiful face. Now she is using her voice as a global crusader for maternal health.

CHRISTY TURLINGTON BURNS, MODEL: I was already holding my baby and bonding with my baby and I started to hemorrhage.

COOPER: And as he prepares to perform at "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE", R&B superstar Ne-Yo talk to "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT's" A.J. Hammer about the cause closest to his heart. Giving hope to kids caught in the foster care system.

NE-YO, R&B SINGER: A lot of these kids get counted out before they even get a chance to get into the game.

COOPER: By raising awareness, providing concrete solutions or simply lending a hand to those who go without, these celebrities are doing what they can to make a difference.

Join us as we take a look at how they are giving back and hoping to inspire others to do the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.

COOPER: Supermodel it's a title only a few women in the world have held but Christy Turlington Burns has been part of that elite group for more than two decades. She's worked with fashion's top designs, has appeared on the cover over "Vogue" nine times and became an icon representing Calvin Klein.

BURNS: I always see you somewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eternity for men.

COOPER: Her timeless beauty and record-breaking contracts made her a bona fide superstar. But in an industry known for attitude and extravagance, Christy has always been known as being down to earth, a woman who marched to beat of her own drum. At the peak of her fame in the mid '90s, she took a break from the runway to earn a degree from New York University and her passion for yoga led "TIME" magazine to make her their cover girl.

One thing that hasn't changed, she's always been willing to use her star power to advocate for causes she believes in. She was a global ambassador for the Red Campaign. She's been joining her friend, Bono, to lobby President Bush about AIDS research on Air Force One, and she's been a staunch anti-smoking activist for years.

BURNS: Smoking is ugly.

COOPER: She now has two young children with actor/director Ed Burns and it was motherhood that led her to her current passion, promoting maternal health worldwide.

BURNS: The best way to address child survival is to invest in a mom.

COOPER: Deeply committed to making a difference she's currently working on a masters in public health at Columbia University. The supermodel whose face is so familiar has become a recognized voice on this global issue.

I recently sat down with Christy to talk about her journey from supermodel to model citizen.

(on camera): People come to activism in a lot of different ways and it seems like you came to it in a -- through very personal ways, first with the death of your father in the '90s.

BURNS: My father got sick and was diagnosed with lung cancer, stage four. So he died after about six months.

COOPER: Sorry.

BURNS: It was not a big surprise because he had been a lifelong smoker. And after he died, I felt like there was something in the experience having been a smoker myself I felt I could contribute in some way and so I reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and they were kind of take aback like, wait, wait, we normally go to you people.


You know.

COOPER: They don't usually get calls from --

BURNS: Yes. They don't. And I think we created a really powerful public service announcement that I'm still really proud of.

In my life, there are two people in my family who have quit smoking, me and my dad. For me, it took seven years. My dad, it was different for him. He stopped December 1996, just six months before he died from lung cancer.

I hear people all the time that still say that they quit smoking because of that public service announcement.

COOPER: It's got to be a great feeling.

BURNS: Incredible feeling and encouraged me to keep trying to make a difference.

COOPER: People are often skeptical of celebrities getting involved in philanthropic things or activism. Was that a concern on your part?

BURNS: I'm skeptical of it, too, I have to say. But it's also very limiting to think that you don't want to try to do something to better the world because the way that people will think of you, sharing our stories is a really powerful way to help others and so I felt like I wanted to add my voice.

COOPER (voice-over): For the past decade she's been using her voice on another issue close to her heart, maternal health. It's a cause she embraced nine years ago after she experienced complications giving birth to her first child.

BURNS: I was already holding my baby and bonding with my baby and I started to hemorrhage. It went from being this incredibly empowering experience to a terrifying one and my situation was managed really smoothly, but I learned in the weeks after that that same complication is the leading cause of maternal mortality around the world. And that information sort of struck me and --

COOPER (on camera): Had you been some place else in the world, had you been in Tanzania, you could have died.

BURNS: Absolutely. And every year there are hundreds of thousands of women that die. Ninety percent of these deaths are preventable.

COOPER: That's the incredible thing about the maternal health issue is that we're not talking about huge advances in technology that are needed. These are things which already exist, which are very common sense.

BURNS: It's true, but 15 percent out of all births can result in a complication, and so by not being in the right place at the right time or having access to people who in an emergency situation can save your life and your baby's life, it puts people in incredible danger.

COOPER (voice-over): Statistics like that led Christy to become a maternal health advocate for CARE, a global aid organization. She then spent two years making a documentary about maternal mortality issues. In 2010, she started a campaign called Every Mother Counts, now a full-fledged non-profit. It's work that's taken her to some challenging situations.

(on camera): Have you been in places where you've seen births go wrong?

BURNS: Well, I have been in places where things start to go wrong. You know, when I was making my film, for example --

Janet's labor is not progressing. And the threat of death for both baby and mother is palpable. With no money to pay for food or transport, the nurses ask us to help.

And it became clear that there was a real problem, we organized transport.

COOPER: Right.

BURNS: I mean we intervened.


BURNS: We did this sort of non-documentarian thing to do but we did.

COOPER: The human thing to do.

BURNS: The human thing to do. Exactly.

COOPER: Right.

BURNS: But usually it is that difference of an individual, a chance moment of a car coming by that can make the difference in saving somebody's life.

COOPER: I know one of the things you're doing is trying to get motorcycles in one community just to get people to transport them.

BURNS: It's true. Sometimes just getting like a motorcycle or a bicycle to get a health worker to the woman is a huge step. And even here in the U.S., we do have a problem. And we're ranked 50th and we lose two women per day in the United States.

COOPER: Why is that? I was you kind of stunned by that.

BURNS: You know, it is stunning but obesity is a big problem here. Hypertension. Race still plays a big role. African-American women are four times more likely to die in child birth than a Caucasian woman. Right now all we know is that there's parts of the population that are more vulnerable than others and disparity is a big part of t.

COOPER: What are you hoping to o accomplish with Every Mother Counts?

BURNS: We're an advocacy organization so awareness is key, letting more people know that this is a global problem. I want them to feel like, OK, now what? What can I do? And give people ways, tangible ways that they could engage.

COOPER (voice-over): Christy has even put a twist on a classic celebrity fundraiser, running a marathon.

BURNS: It turns out that the distance of a marathon is a pretty average distance a woman will have to transport to emergency obstetric care. So we've invited a lot of women to join us in a marathon.

COOPER: That is an extraordinary way to think about it, the distance of a marathon is the distance people have to travel to get to care.

BURNS: Yes, sort of shout-outs that we got all through New York, especially in the Bronx, which is our hotbed for maternal mortality here in New York. People saying, yes, she does count. That's right. I mean it was just such a fun thing to have people sort of reaffirm what we were wearing on our shirts and what our mission is.

COOPER (voice-over): Up next, Christy Turlington Burns travels halfway around the world to see the work a CNN hero.

ROBIN LIM, CNN HERO: For the poor, we are the only place they can call on.

COOPER: And later, R&B superstar Ne-Yo tells "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT's" A.J. Hammer about the children that moved him to give back.

NISCHELLE TURNER, HLN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: I hope you're enjoying watching CNN HEROES: SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT. I'm Nischelle Turner on the red carpet and we are counting down to "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE 2012."

What better way to kick this out with an all-star than with an all- star Hollywood celebrity of our own, Viola Davis, Oscar nominated- actress viola Davis.

Thank you for coming tonight and thank you for, you know, participating with us.


TURNER: Being one of our celebrity presenters. We were talking earlier, you were telling me, you have a long history with CNN HEROES. This is an event that you really hold dear to your heart.

DAVIS: I do. I find it really inspiring. It's -- you know, it's the one event that I feel that people who are kind of celebrated and kind of devoted and loved on are really deserving of it.

TURNER: Yes. It definitely is. And one of the things that CNN HEROES prides itself on is telling those extraordinary stories of people just like you and me, everyday people out there, who are really making a difference.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

TURNER: How does this differ, this night differ from all of these award shows that you've been to in Hollywood?

DAVIS: Well, because we're really -- we are really elevating heroes. We're really elevating people who have stepped out of their lives and they are living for something bigger than themselves, a higher purpose. And in doing that, they are changing the world. I mean, not to downplay what I do, but I feel like, sometimes what we do is very self-serving and I think it's really, really important to remind ourselves in this day that you can live a life bigger than yourself.

TURNER: Yes. Absolutely. Viola, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

DAVIS: Thank you.

TURNER: And stay tuned because we will be back with more CNN HEROES: SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT in just a moment.


COOPER: Complications during the birth of her first child eventually led supermodel, Christy Turlington Burns, to start a non-profit, Every Mother Counts, to advocate for maternal health issues. It's a passion she shares with midwife Robin Lim, who was honored as a top 10 CNN hero in 2011 for helping low-income women having free birthing clinics in Bali, Indonesia.

BURNS: Robin Lim was a person that I had heard about for a long time. She is, like, talk about a celebrity, but a celebrity in the birth community. And when she was nominated as a CNN hero, you know, I started tweeting away and doing what I could to say, isn't this cool? You know, a midwife is nominated. And then when I got the opportunity to go and meet her, I was just so thrilled.

COOPER: So thrilled that she flew halfway around the world the day after running the New York City marathon.

(on camera): So, wait, you ran a marathon to raise money for Every Mother Counts and then the next day you got on a plane to go to Bali?

BURNS: Yes. Yes.

COOPER: Is that wise?

BURNS: After 24 hours. No. I don't think so, but I felt like I have to do it, I have to meet Robin Lim. This is important.

COOPER: What was it like in Bali?

BURNS: So, you know, going there was surreal. Seeing her, it was just a very welcoming experience, and something that I felt like we were sisters, you know, going way, way back.

LIM: Welcome to Bali.

BURNS: So you go into that clinic and you see that the people are happy, it's bustling, it's busy.

In terms of emergency obstetric care, can you do pretty much everything here if it comes to that?

LIM: We can do everything but a Caesarian.


LIM: We have ultrasound. A situation like yours, we could have had it here.

BURNS: What if a transfusion was necessary?

LIM: We do IV fluids and then we transport to a hospital to transfuse. Yes. For the poor, we are the only place they can call on.

BURNS: So Robin's whole career has been based on bringing life into the world in the most supporting, loving way. And to see her do it, she sings to them in their own faith, as their baby is being born.

Four kilos? Yes? So peaceful.

Her clinic has been running on a donation basis all these years and it takes that tenacity. It takes that, like, you know, I want to say chutzpa, although it's not my language, but it's a unique kind of spirit.

COOPER: Yes, I'm not sure what the Indonesian word for chutzpa is, but there must be --


Robin certainly has that.

BURNS: It is my honor to present CNN Hero Robin Lim.

COOPER (voice-over): A few weeks later, Christy presented Robin with her CNN Hero award at "CNN HEROES, AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE."

(on camera): What is it like being at the "HEROES" event? Because it's unlike really any other kind of awards show.

BURNS: It was awesome. It's sort of that's the bar now that I hold awards shows, too.

COOPER: Oh, yes?

BURNS: You know, I'd watched it in the past and I was a big fan of the show because, I mean, truly, these are the people we should be celebrating. Person after person that got on the stage, it is like everyone was an amazing person. And it became that much more like how does one choose just one?

COOPER (voice-over): But at the end of the night, CNN viewers did just that and Robin and Christy got some exciting news.

(on camera): The 2011 CNN Hero of the Year is Robin Lim.

What was it like to see her win?

BURNS: Remarkable. I think she was truly shocked that she won. She is a real, like, chatty, opinionated person and for the first time, I don't think she knew what she was going to say but I think she took in that moment with such grace and we've gone on to continue to support Robin and her work.

COOPER: So you've kept in touch with her? BURNS: I heard from her last night totally coincidentally. I get an e-mail from her every now and again. I have made a dear, dear friend in Robin Lim.

COOPER (voice-over): With maternal health, Christy seems to have found her calling but ultimately her message is for others to find what moves them and take action.

BURNS: It's very human to want to make a difference. I think that sometimes we just don't know how to do that. We should think about our families, our communities, as a first place of, like, making impact and change.

Service to others is really what this world is about. It can make a difference.

COOPER: Coming up, comedian Ben Stiller gets serious in Haiti.

And next, singer Ne-Yo shares with "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT's" A.J. Hammer how he's bringing hope to often overlooked children.

TURNER: You are watching "CNN HEROES, SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT." We are gearing up here on the red carpet to "CNN HEROES, AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE 2012."

I'm Nischelle Turner. And right now, I'm in the social media suite. Now this is where we want you to become a part of the action tonight. And with me, I have found two Hollywood heavy hitters, Rainn Wilson says, are you talking to me now? Rainn Wilson and Holly Robinson Peete, who are participating with us tonight.

Now you guys are doing our live blog here. We can actually see ourselves, you go to, and you can join conversation.

What are you doing, you're recording us?


TURNER: Yes, you can hit record.

WILSON: There.

TURNER: Now the other thing that I know -- it's recording us right now. We look good.

WILSON: We look amazing.

TURNER: We definitely do. We look like a group.

WILSON: Look at us.

TURNER: We look like a song and dance group.

I know both of you guys tweet a lot. You both like the Twitter. And so tonight, you can go to @CNNheroes or #CNNheroes, talk to people now. When people tweet this tonight, Rainn, are you going to tweet them back?



WILSON: I'll tweet them back. All night long.

TURNER: All night long. We know Holly will tweet you back in a minute.

PEETE: I will. I'm a little obsessed with Twitter. But when it comes to social media, standing next to this guy, I am not worthy.

TURNER: Absolutely. You can also join the party at Facebook and Instagram as well. But stay tuned because we're going to be right back with Anderson Cooper and more of "CNN HEROES SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT.

WILSON: Anderson Cooper?

TURNER: Anderson Cooper.

WILSON: He's --


A.J. HAMMER, HLN HOST, "SHOWBIZ TONGITH": Blowing up the Billboard charts with his hit "Let Me Love You." But his road to success is marked by achievements in writing, producing, and even more recently, acting. You know him as Ne-Yo, but he was born Schaffer Smith. The only son of musicians, childhood challenges led him to songwriting and his first deal with a record label at the tender age of 22. He went on to write and produce hits for music royalty, including Rihanna, Janet, Jennifer, Mariah, Celine, Mary J., Usher, and of course, Beyonce.

In a little more than a decade, he's seen three albums go platinum, claimed as many Grammys and appeared in several films, including George Lucas' "Red Tails."

NE-YO: Congratulations, Captain. You are the first Negro to shoot down a (INAUDIBLE).

HAMMER: But there's more to his story than platinum albums and silver screen debuts. Success has also meant giving back, working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and supporting the Respect campaign against family violence. But his most personal work has been helping kids who often get overlooked, children in the foster care system.

You had such an incredible ride making a name for yourself. But at some point along the way, you made the decision, I want to give back. When was that?

NE-YO: That was shortly after my first album. I was getting a lot of praise and, you know, the money was rolling in. And I've always been told that you are given a blessing to be a blessing. You know, so I know I wanted a way to give back, I just didn't know exactly what it was going to be.

HAMMER: And why foster care?

NE-YO: Well, it was brought to my attention by my business partner, because a lot of the people that were working for our production company came up through, you know, group home circuit and, you know, foster care and all of that. I don't feel like circumstance should ever dictate where did you go in life. You know, a lot of these kids get counted out before they even get a chance to get into the game, behind the fact that they have that foster child label attached to them.

HAMMER: There are a lot of challenges that kids in foster care face that a lot of people don't know about.

NE-YO: As a foster kid, you're basically bouncing from house to house with, you know, everything that you own in the world in a trash bag. Aside from that the thing that really struck a chord was the inspiration to be anything other than a child from a group home. To not use the excuse that I grew up in foster care, you know? That's why we decided to step in.

HAMMER: Often they're coming from these terrible circumstance and the cycle continues.

NE-YO: I feel like the reason that the cycle continues is because there is nobody there to let it be known that this isn't how it has to be. It's a feeling of, well, what other option do I have? There are scholarships out there that you can get just because you're a foster kid and like I can guarantee you that nine out of 10 foster kids don't even know that. That's were the Compound Foundation steps in.

Our main goal and focus is children in foster care, getting them these life skills and the information that they probably wouldn't be privy to otherwise. And just making sure that their circumstance doesn't become a wall, you know, maybe a speed bump but not a wall.

HAMMER: Let's talk about the Compound Foundation. What are a couple of the moments that have stood out to you as you've gotten to meet some of the people who've been affected by what you are doing for them?

NE-YO: Just some of the stories that these kids tell. Like kids that know these super long names of these drugs that they're being forced to take because they have behavioral issues is like, he's 5. And you took him away from the only family that he ever knew and dropped him here. You think he isn't going to have behavioral issues?

You know, as opposed to teaching this child right from wrong, you medicate him and you turn a kid into a zombie. It sucks. Sucks. Supremely. But you know, the Compound Foundation, we're here and we're doing what we can. HAMMER: Each year, his nonprofit runs a "Future CEO Academy" that helps teens in foster care and group homes develop entrepreneurial skills. For Ne-Yo, it's all about giving kids hope and faith in themselves. It's something he needed when he was growing up.

NE-YO: My mom, she worked her fingers to the bone to make sure that me and my sister never needed for anything. She would always say that wants are trivial but needs are ironclad. You know, you need food, you need shelter, you need, you know, someone on this planet that genuinely loves you. I will make sure that you always have these things but as far as, you know, that new pair of Nikes, uh, you know, maybe not.

HAMMER: And every kid in foster care obviously has a different story, they've dealt with different situations.

NE-YO: Of course.

HAMMER: What can you relate to from your childhood?

NE-YO: Well, yes, I mean, you know, my mother and father did not get along very well. You know, Dad checked out relatively early. He was a pretty angry guy, you know, so I -- me and my sister, we saw some things that, you know, at that age we probably should not have seen. But she -- my mom was always very, very real and straightforward with us and just made us understand that people don't get along sometimes, you know? Doesn't mean that anybody loves any less, it doesn't mean that it's your fault or anything like that. Sometimes negative things happen.

HAMMER: You ask a lot of people who their hero is in life. I'm betting you figured out at a very early age that your mom was your hero?

NE-YO: Oh, yes, yes. Super early. Yes. I credit my mom for my love of music. When my mom and dad split up, there was a lot of anger in me. Like, I got the whole, OK, people don't get along, granted. But I'm your kid. Why was I not good enough for you to at least stick around for that part of it? You know, so my mom gave me the pen and the pad and told me to write it down and from that, eventually, turned into songwriting which eventually turned into the man you see before you.

So, if not for that music, there's really no telling where I might have wound up. So what we did we put music studios into group homes.

Ready? One, two, three.

I figured if music can do what it did for me, it's got to work the same way for them.

HAMMER: Maybe you're discovering some real talent here.

NE-YO: The next Ne-Yo might come out of one of these group homes. You never know. You never know.

HAMMER: Coming up, how fatherhood made Ne-Yo a better role model.

NE-YO: It heightens your hustle.


And later, Ben Stiller turns funny into money for Haiti's school children.


TURNER: I know you're enjoying CNN HEROES, SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT, I'm Nischelle Turner here on the red carpet at Shrine Auditorium, where we are just minutes away from "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE 2012."

Look who I found here with me, Jane Lynch.

Thank you so much for being a part of this night tonight.

JANE LYNCH, CNN HEROES PRESENTER: Well, it is my honor to be here. This is one of my favorite events of the year and it's really nice when we shine the spotlight on people we otherwise might not have heard about, who are doing extraordinary things.

TURNER: And you -- yes, they are. You are presenting to Mary Cortani tonight. And I know that you actually went into the field to see the work that she does first hand with the Service Dogs for Veterans.

LYNCH: That's right. Mary is a veteran herself and she takes shelter dogs and matches them up with our wounded veterans and she trains the dogs and she teaches the veterans how to be with them and they heal each other. It's an amazing relationship. I was in Gilroy, California, I spent the day with her and watched her training the dogs. I talked to some of the vets, David Rodriguez, one of them, an amazing guy you'll meet tonight. And she does work that is just so straight from the heart.


LYNCH: And a such loyalty and dedication to these guys and it's wonderful.

TURNER: Absolutely. You know what, and if you want to join and help Mary's cause, you can go to The donations page. And help donate. A hundred percent of those donations go to the foundation.

You stay tuned because we will return in just a moment with more CNN HEROES: SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT.



HAMMER: After his father left, R&B star Ne-Yo spent his childhood channeling his feelings into words. Paving his way to platinum music and Grammy gold. Since becoming a star, he is sharing his success with thousands of youth by creating the Compound Foundation in 2007. The nonprofit teaches foster kids life skills throughout the year but every holiday season, Ne-Yo does a multicity giving tour, bringing presents to more than 2,000 children in foster care and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The Boys and Girls Club, a huge part of who you have become as a person.

NE-YO: Absolutely. See, I'm -- Boys and Girls Club alumni.

HAMMER: Right.

NE-YO: We partner up and we give toys and bikes and clothes and just -- to these kids who honestly might not have such a good Christmas otherwise. So that's just to make sure that these kids understand that you're not counted out.

HAMMER: And you appear on a poster with the words "Be a Gentleman."


Pretty simple.

NE-YO: Indeed. Indeed. The importance of being a gentleman was something that was brought to my attention about the age that I was in that picture, the importance of being courteous, the importance of being chivalrous. The importance of outward appearance. And I felt like that's definitely a lesson that today's generation needs learn.

HAMMER: You didn't ask to be a role model, but I see that you take it very seriously.

NE-YO: One of the great lines in the first "Spider-man" movie was --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With great power comes great responsibility.

NE-YO: Some of the truest words that were spoken.

HAMMER: I get the impression as a kid you were particularly into superheroes?

NE-YO: Yes.

HAMMER: Was part of it because of that lack of a male force in your life, do you think?

NE-YO: Now that I long back on it maybe that -- maybe that did play a part.

HAMMER: Did you have a guy growing up who was that role model to you that you are to so many?

NE-YO: Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. My mom taught me how to be a man. As odd as that sounds.

HAMMER: And I'm sure it has informed your philanthropy? NE-YO: Well, my mom said that, if it hurts, cry. If it feels good, laugh, smile and never be afraid do either one. So I will say that definitely taught me to not be afraid of my emotions. It taught me to think with this, you know? I mean definitely think here but think with this as well, you know?

HAMMER: You will know that there are hardcore performers who might specifically avoid getting involved with something philanthropic because of how it could impact their street cred.

NE-YO: That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my life. There's, you know, a handful of entertainers that, you know, want to do whatever it is they want to do whenever it is they want to do it and face no consequences to their action. And then there are a handful of entertainers that understand there are people, kids, emulating what it is that I'm doing, so maybe I should give them a more positive thing to look at, a more positive thing to emulate.

HAMMER: But have you at all found that, as a performer, people don't take you as seriously with your philanthropy?

NE-YO: In the beginning. You know? It was up to me to show all of the naysayer that no, this is not about vanity. This is not about selling the albums. This is not about money. For me, this is about helping these kids that need this help.

HAMMER: And perhaps as a father? You have a very special -- I just saw your face light up.

NE-YO: Yes.

HAMMER: You're a proud dad. I know you are.

NE-YO: Definitely. From the second I saw my kids, it was -- there's nothing that I won't do to make sure that you're OK, literally. Legal, illegal, whatever, as long as you're all right, I'm all for it.

HAMMER: So did actually becoming a dad make you work that much harder at giving these kids a better life, perhaps giving them a father figure?

NE-YO: I can honestly say, yes, I almost see my kids' faces as I look at these kids. So it heightens your hustle, so to speak.

HAMMER: Yes. We're obviously very thrilled that you're part of CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE. Why did you want to be a part of this show?

NE-YO: Because the negative is celebrated so much more than the positive these days. You know, the people that are truly doing positive things for the right reason, it needs to be celebrated and recognized. And this show is celebrating them, so how could I not be a part of this?

HAMMER: We can't wait to see you get up on stage and perform. What are you going to be singing? NE-YO: There is a song that I wrote called "Heroes," which basically speaks on the fact that even heroes need heroes at some point, you know, that person that is the lifesaver, you know, who saves his life when he gets in trouble? You know, it's just -- just people helping people helping people.

HAMMER: I imagine you have people looking to you for what can I do for you, Ne-Yo?

NE-YO: Absolutely. Absolutely. What can I do for you, Ne-Yo? What do you need? What do you need? I got everything I need. It's time for me to turn that around and ask everybody else what it is they need, because I have been blessed with more than I could have ever asked for through this music. Now it's time to turn it around and give it back.

HAMMER: Coming up, Ben Stiller takes funny seriously for Haiti's school children.



TURNER: Hello, everyone, I'm Nischelle Turner at the Shrine Auditorium, in the CNN HEROES social media suite. We are gearing up for "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE 2012."

And if you look behind me, here we've got our Twitter board. Join the conversation with us at #CNNheroes or @CNNheroes and tell us what you like most about tonight. And I've also got Holly Robinson Peete and Oscar winner Adrian Brody here in the social media suite. They are on the live blog,, and you can talk and join the conversation.

Do it with them. They may talk back to you. Now return to CNN HEROES: SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT.


COOPER: Hollywood writer, producer, actor and director, for nearly two decades, Ben Stiller's star has skyrocketed, beating the odds, smashing box office records year after hilarious year. With more than five billion in ticket sales, he's been called the world's biggest comic movie star. In fact, he is the only actor with $3 billion franchises to his name.

It's a name he shares with his famous father, Jerry Stiller, who along with wife and legendary comic partner, Anne Meara, introduced his son to show business early on. Ben wasted no time trying to break into the business, though he aspired to a serious film career, it was a 1987 spoof video he called "The Hustler of Money" that grabbed Hollywood's attention.

STILLER: Come on, who's next? You want to bowl?

COOPER: It led to a big break performing on "Saturday Night Live" in 1989.


COOPER: And an Emmy for "The Ben Stiller Show" in 1993.

STILLER: I know I miss you but I don't -- I know it was you, and it breaks my heart.

COOPER: His extraordinary comedic success has come as something of a surprise, an ironic twist in his quest to be a serious filmmaker, but in Hollywood, funny is serious money and in recent years, Ben has used his comedic gifts to tackle some of the most sobering human crises we face.

I recently caught up with Ben to find out how he turned into a philanthropist.

(on camera): How did you start doing philanthropic work?

STILLER: Got asked to do a photo for Save the Children, but it's a rewrite for future campaign they were doing and I've never gone to developing world countries and they asked, they said, hey, do you want to go? And I was at a point in my life where I was kind of just wanting to figure out a way to get involved somehow. So I went to Uganda and from that trip, you know, saw a lot of stuff that I previously really only seen on television.

And then after that, they invited me to go to Haiti. And that was about six months before the quake. Seeing this huge need that was there, and there's a huge, you know, domestic poverty issue here but to go there and to see that level of poverty so close to the United States, which reminded me of what I had just seen in Africa, it was very affecting.

COOPER: Were you wary as a celebrity to get involved? Because I mean it's such a -- you can be mocked. You can --


COOPER: I heard you used to -- used to kind of be skeptical of celebrities who got involved in stuff?

STILLER: Yes. I mean I think I was pretty cynical for a long time, you know, because I think charity work in itself sometimes can have this opposite effect of, like -- of people drawing attention to themselves for it. It's very easy to satirize because a lot of ego in show business is related to saying, hey, you know, taking yourself very seriously.

COOPER (voice-over): Few would have accused Ben of taking celebrity philanthropy too seriously in 2001 when his on-screen persona, model of the moment, Derek Zoolander, used fame and fortune to raise funds for the Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good.

STILLER: And here at the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good, and who want to learn to do other stuff good, too, we teach students of all ages everything they need to know to learn to be a professional model and a professional human being.

As an actor it is hard because you don't want to be doing it to draw attention to yourself but yet the reason that people will, you know, listen to you on any level is because they, you know, they know who you are.

COOPER (on camera): Right.


Yes, it's a strange position to be in.

STILLER: Yes. And it doesn't make you an expert on anything just to be someone who's, you know, famous who -- but you can still have a point of view to try to shine some light on issues that can help -- somehow help, not just by having the attention put on it.

COOPER: I guess when I heard Sean Penn was going down there, I didn't really know him, I met him a couple of times.


COOPER: And I was very skeptical, you know, of him down there and then when you actually see what he's done, it's really extraordinary.

STILLER: I remember seeing him when Katrina happened, and seeing him -- that picture of him like in a row boat, and I remember thinking, of course we all want to help, but like, Sean Penn, what's he doing in a row boat? And no, he's in a row boat because he's trying to help. I guess the change in thinking for me was like, is he kooky? No, he's not kooky, he's actually trying to help people. He doesn't care how he does it.

And I thought well, that's actually a really good example and I shouldn't worry about what people are going to say and whether or not, you know, they have an opinion about that. He just wants to do something.

COOPER: I think Sean would say he's kind of kooky, too, but he still does that.

STILLER: Well, Sean is kooky. There's nothing to do with that.


COOPER: He goes ahead and does it anyway.


COOPER: Being known for comedy, was it harder to be taken seriously? In this world? No?

STILLER: Well, I don't think I really wanted to take myself too seriously about it. I think people want to help and people are looking for ways to help. So when somebody takes the lead and say, hey, I'm going to do this, I mean, for me, I got inspired with Sean, and you know, saying like, wow, I suck, I should be doing something, I should be trying to at least do some little part to help.

So I feel like it's not about having to be taken seriously. It's really just about doing something, I think people see that and inspires them to want to do something.

COOPER (voice-over): That's exactly what Ben did, focusing his efforts on educating Haiti's children, he launched Stiller Strong in 2009. The campaign's series of videos starring Ben celebrated friends including Bill Clinton, Owen Wilson, Ryan Seacrest and Robert De Niro, were a viral hit.

Raising nearly $300,000 to help Save the Children refurbish a school in Haiti.

(on camera): Asides from the location of it, is there something about Haiti itself that kind of -- a relief worker in Haiti once said to me that Haiti gets to you, and once it gets to you, it kind of --


COOPER: It never leaves you.

STILLER: Yes. It's a special place. I mean there's a creative energy there that's really strong in terms of music and art and amidst all of, you know, dichotomy of this incredible poverty there. It's also a very beautiful place. I was like, more people should come here, you know, and just see what it is because there's so many great things here.


STILLER: Then the earthquake happened and that changed or changed everything.

COOPER (voice-over): Coming up, disaster strikes and Ben commits to helping Haiti rebuild.



TURNER: Hello, I'm Nischelle Turner backstage at the Shrine Auditorium. We are just minutes away from the start of "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE."

Now there are certain ways that you can get involved and talk back with us. Join the conversation for our show tonight. First of all, you can talk on our live blog,, and talk us to.

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You've only got a little bit of time to get ready. So now let's send you back to CNN HEROES: SHARING THE SPOTLIGHT.


COOPER: Just months after Ben Stiller was inspired to help educate Haiti's youth, the devastating earthquake of 2010 shook the country to its core. With hundreds of thousands dead and injured, among the casualties were thousands of Haiti's teachers, students and schools. In response, Ben redoubled his commitment to the island nation and its children, helping to raise millions of dollars for non-profit partners working in Haiti to rebuild nine schools and counting.

(on camera): You created the Stiller Foundation? Right?

STILLER: Yes. Though I feel very uncomfortable with the names to a foundation. I just feel like it's -- it's just feel like, like LeBron James should have a foundation. You know what I mean? I wanted to call it the Jennifer Aniston Foundation because I thought we'd get more attention.


STILLER: I wanted to call it the "See Jennifer Aniston Naked Foundation," just to get more hits on but --

COOPER: That was probably taken already.

STILLER: She did not want to do that. Yes.


COOPER: How do you make sure that, you know, the money goes where it's supposed to go and you get the impact that you want to have?

STILLER: That's the stuff you learn about as you get more involved and just realize how complicated it is, especially in the whole world of organizations that are out there trying to do good. You try to be really aware of transparency and accountability. It's a real issue.

COOPER: And for you that's what you look for for an -- because your foundation partners with other --

STILLER: Yes -- yes, I mean, I didn't want to start another NGO because I first felt like I'm not qualified to do that.


STILLER: I don't really --


I don't have any great, you know, ideas on how to get clean water or to really solve education issues. I'm not an expert on that. I just wanted to be able to help people that I thought were doing good work and actually getting things done.

COOPER: How tough is it actually to get stuff done, like in Haiti?

STILLER: I think it's hard, it's very hard. Something like 9,000 or 10,000 NGOs in Haiti for a -- population of nine or 10 million people so it's a huge amount of organizations that most of the time aren't really coordinated. And so it's really about, I think, patience and just knowing that if you -- if you stick with it and work with people who you believe are doing the right thing, I think that's all you can really do.

COOPER: Is it strange to go to a place like Haiti and to see the things you see there and do the work you're doing there and then come back and be on the red carpet and, you know --

STILLER: It is strange, but you also have to then say OK -- show business is weird and ridiculous. So why not use that ridiculous platform for something try to help people?

COOPER: Does help?

STILLER: You know, once the earthquake is over, you know, people move on to the next thing and that's the reality of the world so to be able to keep talking about something that's not in the forefront of people's minds I think can be helpful.

COOPER: Do you get recognized, like in Port-au-Prince?

STILLER: Not -- a little. You know, not too much. It's kind of depressing. No.


No, the reality is --

COOPER: That's what this is really about, isn't it?

STILLER: Yes, I know. No, you know, look, it's a country that doesn't have -- they don't have a single movie theater right now. You see what the reality of these people are dealing with, show business is not one of the priorities.

COOPER: Yes. They got to get their priorities straight?

STILLER: They should get their priorities straight and I can talk to my agent about making sure I get more exposure.

COOPER: There's actually some cool, like, old art deco theaters in around the presidential palace.

STILLER: There are. And they are --

COOPER: They're all closed down.

STILLER: Yes. But they are -- they are in the process of getting some theaters going.

COOPER: Are they?

STILLER: Yes, and one of the projects that we are funding is the Cine Institute, which is Haiti's film school. COOPER: Really?

STILLER: Down in Jacmel. Yes.

COOPER: Well, that's interesting.

STILLER: Yes. It is interesting. And it was -- probably I did like a Q&A with some of the students about a movie I directed, made some really hard-hitting questions.

COOPER: They did?


COOPER: Like what?


STILLER: Well, it was about "Tropic Thunder" and --


STILLER: They asked me, like, if I thought it was really funny to make fun of war and I was trying to explain to them that it was making fun of actors.

I'm sorry, can we cut?

And -- but it's funny just to, you know, re-engage with something like a movie, because like four years ago, the movie came out.

COOPER: Right.

STILLER: I thought I had taken all the tough questions already.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The explosion of the director in "Tropic Thunder," what does it mean to you and what message did you want to convey?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go and make the greatest war movie ever.




STILLER: Sometimes as an actor you want to blow up the director.


So we thought it might be interesting, funny and surprising to have a character all of a sudden disappear, you know, very early in the movie that you weren't expecting.

COOPER: That's a genius move. Did they get it? STILLER: No, they did get it. And they were amazing. I mean they -- it was amazing to see the movies that they're working on. And they're so uniquely Haitians. Really fascinating.

COOPER: Do you think about Haiti a lot when you're here? I mean, do you -- does it -- does it stay with you?

STILLER: For sure. I mean, once you see the reality that's going on there, both the good and the bad, it's part of your life and there's no way to not be living our life right here, right now, knowing how people are living down there and what they're having to deal with. And the people there are very resilient, they've been through so much and our history so interconnected with Haiti, too, because it is so close to us.

I look forward to going back because the people I know down there and the spirit there it makes you want to come back.

COOPER: Thank you.

STILLER: Thanks, man, nice talking to you.

COOPER (voice-over): During the past hour, we have seen three stars using their fame to fight the causes they believe in. They're proof that anyone can be inspired to get involved and there are many ways to lend a hand. Ultimately, their stories remind us that giving back is its own reward. That's what CNN HEROES is all about.