Awards Celebrate Longevity, Music, and the Mind

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Photo by Margie Barron

Michele Lee.

“Tonight honors those who help us live better longer. But this is L.A. so we all lie about our age. I was 14 when I did Knots Landing,” the gorgeous Michele Lee kidded the crowd at the UCLA Longevity Center’s Icon Awards. The fun-loving actress-singer, who I adored in the big screen musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, is 70 — no way — talk about looking better longer! With that face and vitality she was the best emcee for the night, putting the spotlight on the organization dedicated to enhancing productive and healthy lives through research and education.

Michele kept the gala lively as homage was paid to award-winning lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman (“The Way We Were”), for “Artistic Excellence.” Also for “Visionary Leadership” in their fields, attorney Patric Hooper, civic leaders Vicki Reynolds Pepper and Murray Pepper, and Dr. Gerald Levey were honored.

“True to the goals of the Icon Award, each of our honorees has made outstanding contributions to society,” said Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center. He’s also a best-selling author who promotes healthy aging lifestyles, and has appeared on Dr. Oz as a world-renowned memory and Alzheimer’s disease expert.

Soulful virtuoso Lee England, Jr. performed at the Beverly Hills Hotel event, produced by Scott Mauro, and co-chaired by Dr. Louise Horvitz and Nancy Levitt. “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” was exquisitely sung by jazz singer Tierney Sutton to honor the songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

The Bergmans’ very good friend comedian Paul Reiser (Mad About You) paid tribute to them saying they “make the world better. Their songs make up the songbook of our lives.” Marilyn had taken ill prior to the event, so just Alan accepted the honor and assured she was okay, “and told me to come and do this.” So being a good husband (for 55 years!) he did.

Alan explained that longevity is “what we all hope for, to do what we love. We love to write songs, and we get to do it with someone we love.” Then the 87-year-old music icon performed two songs, “That Face” and “What Matters Most,” dedicated to his wife.

Representing the best of UCLA, endeavoring to improve lives every day, the Longevity Center is an essential component of the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. And last month both Alan and Marilyn Bergman were on hand for a gala for the Friends of the Semel Institute at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

That night Alan performed one of their most famous songs, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” which was appropriate since “Music and the mind, a symphony of art and science” was the theme of the event. Sounding like a philosopher, Alan explained the vital connection between the mind and music, which was confirmed by the director of the Semel Institute Dr. Peter Whybrow.

The Semel Institute’s founder Vicky Goodman, the faculty, researchers, and supporters enjoyed seeing actor Eric McCormack honored with the Award of Courage. McCormack spoke about portraying a brilliant neuroscientist living with paranoid schizophrenia on the TNT series Perception. And he is proud that his role is helping with awareness of disorders of the mind. Honors also went to Renee and Meyer Luskin, accepting the Humanitarian Award, and Dr. Andrew Leuchter, receiving the Visionary Award.

The academic crowd enjoyed the entertainment from the Belmont High School Choir, Asiatica Quartet, singer Tierney Sutton, and Los Angeles philharmonic violinist Robert Gupta. Plus comedienne Ruby Wax was the ideal emcee, since she bragged about her psychotherapy diploma and did a hysterical routine from her one woman show “What’s So Funny About Mental Illness?” Dare I say that everyone went nuts over her?

More music notes: Among the notable at the event were Cherna and Gary Gitnick, MD, co-founders of the Fulfillment Fund dedicated to helping underserved students overcome obstacles to get into college and earn their degrees. To raise funds for that noble cause the Gitnicks join forces with songwriter Charles Fox to put on the annual “Songs of Our Lives” benefit concert (fulfillment.org). It’s always a heartwarming songwriters’ salute. This year it’s at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on June 17 with special guests Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., along with Steve Karmen, Allan Rich, and Alan Bergman. Hey, that fellow gets around!

The “Songs of Our Lives” concert once again validates the power of music.

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