Leading Man Collects Cash for 9-11 Victims
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 26, 2002 On Sept. 11, actor Michael Nouri and the cast of the musical "South Pacific" witnessed the horror of the World Trade Center attack. The veteran actor of Broadway, movies and television, decided he had to do something to help.
Veteran actor Michael Nouri (left) prepares to present a check for $181,041.01 to Defense Comptroller Dov S. Zakheim (center), at the Pentagon on June 26, 2002. Zakheim then turned the check over to retired Adm. Jerry Johnson (right) of the Navy and Marine Corps Relief society and retired Army Col. Gregory W. Mason (not shown) of Army Emergency Relief. Nouri, leading the cast of a traveling production of the musical "South Pacific," raised the money at theaters across the country for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That something ended up as a grass-roots fundraising effort that raised $362,082.02 for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The actor traveled to the Pentagon Wednesday and presented a check for half that amount, $181,041.01, to Defense Comptroller Dov S. Zakheim. Nouri plans to present a second check for the same amount to former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani for the victims of the World Trade Center attack.
"This is the culmination of a dream," Nouri said, "the dream of literally hundreds of thousands of Americans who I and the cast members had the pleasure of greeting after eight performances a week for six months."
Nouri collected the money following performances of a traveling production of South Pacific, in which he had the leading role. His previous credits include being Julie Andrews' co-star in the 1995 Broadway version of "Victor/Victoria" and Jennifer Beals' boyfriend in the hit 1983 film "Flashdance."
During South Pacific curtain calls, he told audiences how affected he was by the events of Sept. 11 and asked for donations to help the victims and their families.
After leading the audiences in singing "God Bless America" at the close of each show, Nouri and other cast members appeared in theater lobbies to personally collect contributions. Children emptied their pockets of change and folks in wheelchairs waited to put something in the duffel bag.
The money was given "with love and gratitude," Nouri said. "People of every ethnic variety -- they are all part of the healing force of our wonderful land."
The South Pacific cast was only 10 blocks from the World Trade Center when terrorists crashed two hijacked planes into the Twin Towers.
"We felt compelled to do something to help out," Nouri said. "We were all slack-jawed with shock at the time of the event. Then we felt mobilized. There was this amazing feeling of needing to connect as human beings, to connect on a level of sanity and humanity."
From New York, the cast took their show on the road on Sept. 15, riding in an otherwise empty plane to their first location. Nouri said it was a "no-brainer" to initiate the fundraising.
The donation, he said, represents a humble offering of healing, compassion and love "from human beings of every description across the country. As I was reviewing the amounts of money that we'd collect every week, the pennies reflected the offerings of kids -- children, babysitters who'd walk up and say, 'Is it OK if I put my babysitting money in?'"
At the Pentagon, Zakheim described Nouri's effort as an act of true generosity. "It's not just the money," the comptroller said. "It's the heart you put behind it."
On behalf of the civilians and military at the Pentagon, Zakheim thanked the actor for "making us feel proud that we do what we do." The comptroller said the donation was "truly a presentation from Americans from all over" to those who defend the nation and "are willing to lay down their lives, sometimes in the most unexpected ways and most unexpected times."
Zakheim turned the money over to representatives of Army Emergency Relief and the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society. Retired Adm. Jerry Johnson of the relief society said he was deeply grateful for Nouri's personal commitment and patriotism and for dedicating his time and energy to the fund-raising effort.
The admiral noted that the society over the past few months has received over 4,000 donations. Some have come from small school classes, individuals, cities that held raffles, picnics or bake sales.
"We've received over $5 million," Johnson said. "We've already used some of this money. We have relocated families. We have widows who have completed college training and now rejoined the work force. We have children of deceased who are attending college with all expenses paid."
Every penny of the money, Johnson said, will go to the families of the attack victims and combat casualties in Afghanistan.
Retired Army Col. Gregory W. Mason of Army Emergency Relief thanked Nouri on behalf of the Army's soldiers and their families. He said his agency is helping 45 victims' families. "We've got 44 children who we're going to make sure have a college education available to them," he said.