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'Dead' Celebrities in New York Pull for Children's Lives

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

If Twitter had one of those churchy, black-lettered signs in front of it, it might read: “Narcissism: Over 65 Million Served Daily.” Like reality television before it, Twitter is the thing that people love to hate for the unabashed navel-gazing it seems to purport. But on Wednesday, in honor of World AIDS Day, narcissism goes selfless as more than two dozen celebrities with some 30 million followers participate in a "Digital Death Campaign" intended to raise money for the Keep a Child Alive foundation, which benefits AIDS efforts in Africa and India.

Twenty nine celebrities including humungo-New York stars like Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats are planning their "cyber deaths" on December 1. The stars will stay silent on their Twitter and Facebook accounts until $1 million is collectively donated by their fans, who are encouraged to send a text message that sets aside $10 to Keep a Child Alive. After the $1 million is reached, the celebrities will be free to come back online, or to "life," as it were.

To drum up support for the campaign, several of the celebrities taking part, including Keys, Elijah Wood and Serena Williams, were photographed serenely holding their cell phones in coffins. "Some of the celebrities didn't want to do it," says Leigh Blake, a transplanted New Yorker who co-founded the organization with Keys. "I'm sure Lady Gaga would have loved being photographed in a coffin, but she was on tour."

Though the online fundraising may seem like a bizarre and slightly macabre way of getting people involved, Blake believes there's irony built into the campaign. "There's a wink in the background that says 'Why are we so fascinated by the minutiae of the lives of a celebrity instead of the things that are really important, like the AIDS pandemic?'"

Blake expects that the $1 million in donations will arrive before Wednesday is out, and even hopes to exceed that goal. The of-the-moment existential crisis of what it means to be "dead" online--while alive in real life--is something that might best be worked out, you know, on Twitter.

Update 12/1 3:30 P.M.: $60,783 donated. Celebrities still dead.

Update 12/3 9:00 A.M.: $183,098 donated. Celebrities still dead.

Update 12/06 6:00 P.M.: $1 million donated. Donations from the public as well as the participating artists covered $500,000. Brooklyn philanthropist and pharmaceutical professional Stewart Rahr matched the donation to bring the celebrities back to life.

If you want to get involved, check out these World AIDS Day events happening around New York City:

- In City Hall Park: Activisits, volunteers and people living with HIV/AIDS will read the names of people felled by HIV/AIDS as a memorial.

- At the LGBT Center in Manhattan: A screening of the film "Last Address," which remembers artists like Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS.

- At the Brooklyn Central Library: A day-long memorial for those who died of AIDS along with free HIV testing and the release of red and white balloons.

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