Celebrity Fight Night Shines a Spotlight on Giving Back
Writer Shoshana Leon
Photography Courtesy of Getty Images and John Medina/WireImage
Celebrity Fight Night brings Hollywood’s brightest stars to the Valley, but the spotlight is on the cause. Since the event began 25 years ago, more than $86 million has been given to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Alzheimer’s and Cognitive Disorders Program at Barrow Neurological Institute, among several other charities.
Celebrity Fight Night did not start out as a glamorous red carpet event. In 1994, local businessman Jimmy Walker had a vision for a celebrity event to raise money for charity. He asked Phoenix Suns basketball stars Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle to participate in a charity event billed as a comedy fight night with celebrities in oversized boxing gloves to raise money for Valley boxer Michael Carbajal’s 9th Street Gym.
A few years later, Walker met boxing legend Muhammad Ali while serving on the Barrow Neurological Foundation board, which had a significant impact on Celebrity Fight Night. With Ali as the featured guest, the event evolved to become a star-studded soiree in support of his fight against Parkinson’s disease. The event continues to honor Ali’s legacy since his passing in 2016.
Celebrity Fight Night has become known for stunning performances from world-renowned artists, including Jennifer Lopez, Garth Brooks, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. The Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night Awards were established to honor athletes, actors and business leaders who best represent the qualities associated with the Champ and his fight to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Past honorees include Halle Berry, Harrison Ford, Larry Fitzgerald, Jerry Colangelo and Michael J. Fox.
Many of the stars have been coming to Celebrity Fight Night for many years, and they are a big draw. Grammy-winner David Foster has been the event’s musical director for 20 years, and country legend Reba McEntire has hosted the event for the past 15 years.
“I’ve developed great friendships over the years,” said Walker. “People enjoy meeting the celebrities, and they enjoy talking to the people. It’s an entertaining and spontaneous evening for the celebrities and guests.”
One of the highlights of the 25th annual event will be a performance by Barry Manilow, who entertained at one of the very first Celebrity Fight Night events. Other entertainers scheduled to perform this year include contemporary Christian artist Michael W. Smith, actress and performer Rita Wilson, Pia Toscano from “American Idol” and Angelica Hale from “America’s Got Talent.”
Celebrity Fight Night Award honorees at the 2019 event include music producer and 27-time Grammy Award-winner Quincy Jones, Arizona State University PresidentDr. Michael Crow, and Dr. Abraham Lieberman, medical director of the Movement Disorders Clinic at Barrow Neurological Institute.
Celebrity Fight Night features a red carpet, cocktail reception, silent auction, dinner and a live auction with one-of-a-kind luxury experiences. Past auction items have included dinner with Reba McEntire in Nashville, golf and lunch with Jack Nicklaus, and five days at Steven Tyler’s Maui home.
Walker has a lot of great memories from Celebrity Fight Night events, especially the spontaneous moments. “I remember Jim Carrey jumping on a table, Tom Hanks breaking into song and so many funny moments with Robin Williams,” he recalls. “I also remember David Foster introducing me to a young Michael Buble and a young Josh Groban.”
In 2013, Celebrity Fight Night went global when Walker and acclaimed Italian singer Andrea Bocelli brought the event to Italy with proceeds benefitting the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. Italian Celebrity Fight Night celebrated its fifth year in 2018. It is the trip of a lifetime for attendees who are joined by Celebrity Fight Night favorites including David Foster and Reba McEntire, as well as other global superstars including Sir Elton John, John Legend, George Clooney and more.
A native of Illinois, Walker attended Central High School in Phoenix and played basketball at Arizona State University. In addition to Celebrity Fight Night, Walker is involved in several charities. The Walker family started Bicycles for Kids in 1982 which provides bicycles to inner city children. Walker has been a longtime supporter of St. Vincent de Paul and founded a program called Never Give Up, in which he speaks to homeless men and women.
While Celebrity Fight Night has a lot of glitz and glamour, the meaning is much deeper for Walker.
“I am so appreciative of the support and I get a lot of joy from giving back,” he said. “There are so many needs in our community and I’m honored to help.”
Celebrity Fight Night XV
Saturday March 23, 2019 | JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, Phoenix | $1,500 to $10,000 | http://celebrityfightnight.org