Photo Credit: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages
Where does one begin about a night that started with chardonnay on the grounds of Barbra Streisand's Malibu estate and taking in breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and ended with the legendary singer giving a rare live performance, singing four magical songs, including fan favorite "Evergreen." All I could think was "Pinch me now!" Streisand's voice sounded as pure and perfect as it did when she first broke into show business 50 years ago.
This was to be a celebration, the 70-year-old star told the crowd of nearly 200, which included actress Diane Lane, fashion designer Donna Karan, Dr. Dean Ornish, comedian Martin Short, singer/songwriter Josh Groban, studio chief Ron Meyer and special guest, former President Clinton. And there was plenty to celebrate. More than $20 million was raised for the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, which, as of Thursday, has a new name -- The Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center.
"It's kind of a selfish thing because it's actually very fulfilling, to do something that is larger than me or my career so I'm very, very honored," Streisand said, as she accepted a plaque bearing the new name of the facility she's been working with since 2007. That's around when, she says, she was "shocked" to learn that even as heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined and kills more women than men every year, most of the research about the disease is done on men. "The only message that this sends to me is that even in scientific research, women are still treated as second class citizens and to me that's just unacceptable," she said.
Watch Streisand's special video on women's heart disease, which was shown at her fundraiser:
Comedian Martin Short served as special guest host, playfully teasing the soiree's hostess throughout the night. "Actually Barbra's a little nervous this evening," said Short. "She always gets that way whenever she removes the plastic from all the couches."
We dined on "heart healthy" selections, including a salad of watermelon and heirloom tomatoes, tuscan kale, and pan-roasted wild-caught barramundi filet, plus vegan choices including a quinoa pasta.
"In honor of President Clinton, we have a vegan option for dinner," said Streisand, referring to how the former president changed his diet after his battle with heart disease. "And I know what many of you are thinking? You are charging how much?," she joked. "If you are still hungry, there's a "Jack in the Box" on your way home."
The former president, looking trim and youthful in a sports jacket and khakis, saluted Streisand for her dogged determination to fight heart disease in women. "If she were a member of Congress and I were still president, she would be among what I would call our 'Just Say Yes List," said the president. "When they call you for something, just go and tell them yes because you are going to do it sooner or later. They're like a dog with a bone, they won't let you go, they'll make your life miserable so just go ahead and tell them yes."
Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, a prominent cardiologist and director of the Women's Heart Center, feels like she hit the jackpot having Streisand as a champion for more women-centric research and treatment options for women's heart disease. "This is the beauty of working with an icon...people do listen to Barbra Streisand."
But that doesn't mean the pitch has always been easy or successful. Streisand revealed that when she first started her fundraising drive, she reached out to women with means. “The first calls I made were to billionaire women figuring that I would get money from the billionaire women," she said. "Not one cent. I had to call the men." She ended up getting eight $1 million donors, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, designer Ralph Lauren, Ron Perelman, and Barry Diller and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg. Streisand contributed $10 million.
One of the most amusing parts of the evening was a performance by self-described mentalist Lior Suchard, who dazzled the crowd -- even skeptics like Ron Meyer -- by reading people's minds. He would guess the exact number someone had written down far away from him on a piece of paper so there was no chance he could see what they wrote and even guessed the name of the first boy one woman kissed as a teenager. Clinton joked that the Israeli born Suchard should never have been allowed to leave his home country, and should have been kept behind to use his magic to serve as a menace to Iran.
Throughout the night, I have to admit, I felt like I was at a warm family wedding, but then I kept reminding myself, "This is Barbra Streisand's house!" It was really intimate at times, especially when Streisand and Clinton expressed their deep friendship for each other. Clinton told the audience that Streisand called his mother every week for the 50 weeks she was alive after his first inauguration. "She owned me for life because of the way she treated my mother," the former president said.
If that weren't intimate enough, Josh Groban sang "Starry, Starry Night" melting many women's hearts along the way, and peformed a duet with Streisand herself. And then, the legendary songstress brought the crowd to its feet with her four piece selection, including new lyrics to one of her old tunes.
"Yes, a woman's heart beats well tonight because of you, a woman's future looking bright and it gets even brighter with every check you write," sang Streisand to barrels of laughter. "So thanks with all my heart."
Share this story with your friends, your family and your followers to help raise awareness about how heart disease kills too many women -- too many moms, wives, sisters, daughters and friends -- and how gender-specific research is needed to treat the disease.
"Take what you've learned... and tell someone about it," said Dr. Merz. "In fact, tell as many people as you can about it."
WATCH: Why Barbra Streisand Wants You to Follow Your Heart