TORONTO — He’s driven Miss Daisy, helped outfit Batman, played “Red,” the man who knew how to locate certain items from time to time in the fictional Shawshank state penitentiary, and was everybody’s favourite film version of God incarnate in Bruce Almighty.
Now, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman is coming to Toronto to be honoured for his work and philanthropy by the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU) on May 6 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. He will be presented with the charity’s Key of Knowledge Award for his dedication to combating racism and “promoting knowledge and education worldwide,” according to CFHU.
And yes, the 75-year-old actor is also scheduled to speak with his inimitable dulcet tones to those in attendance at the organization’s Celebration of Excellence soirée.
Rami Kleinmann, CFHU’s president and CEO, told The CJN that his charity became interested in honouring Freeman while researching candidates for its award this year because the septuagenarian actor is a huge proponent of higher learning and study of science to benefit all humanity.
As such, CFHU wanted to bring in a guest honoree who was from “outside” the Jewish community, yet who could appreciate the work being done by scientists and researchers in Israel.
“We heard about all the philanthropic work [Freeman] does in the areas of science and advancement of knowledge, and decided to approach him,” he said.
In his private life, Freeman is involved with multiple charities across a spectrum of causes including Plan!t Now, a disaster relief fund; Earth Biofuels, a non-profit that promotes the use of clean-burning fuels in America, and the Campaign for Female Education.
While early attempts to woo the film star were gently rebuffed, the CFHU eventually hit a soft spot for the actor.
One CFHU staffer had a relationship with renowned movie producer and director Jake Eberts – a prior honoree and also a friend of Freeman’s from their work together on Driving Miss Daisy.
The same staff member also is a friend of documentary film director and producer Paul Saltzman, with whom Freeman worked on Prom Night in Mississippi in 2009.
This information, plus the fact that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was co-founded by Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, and has produced medicines such as the cancer-fighting Doxil pill and Alzheimer’s medication, Exelon, to name just two innovations of benefit to humanity – convinced Freeman to accept the honour, Kleinmann said.
In a statement, Freeman said he’s looking forward to attending the gala.
“There is a saying: ‘He who opens a school door, closes a prison.’ Some of the greatest problems in our world today, from racism, to the environment, health, malnutrition and disease, are caused due to a lack of education and knowledge.
“This is why I have dedicated so much of my time to promoting education around the world, and it is why I am proud to receive the Key of Knowledge Award from Canadian Friends of The Hebrew University – an organization that celebrates learning and academic excellence.”
Proceeds from the event will go toward funding the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC), which conducts research into cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and related brain disorders through joint research between Hebrew U and Canadian partner institutions such as McGill University, the Rick Hansen Foundation and the University of Toronto.
The Morgan Freeman Scholarship Fund will also be established by Hebrew U to help international students studying in its public health and community medicine program.
Graduates of the program go on to become “leaders and educators in their home countries on areas such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis prevention and control, prevention and treatment of heart disease, malnutrition, and mother and child health,” according to CFHU.
One such graduate, Dr. Josephine Ojiambo, is now Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations. She will also be honoured at the event. Other honourees for the evening include Saltzman; Fiona Eberts, international philanthropist and widow of Jake Eberts; Amir Amedi, a Hebrew U brain scientist working on restoring sight to the blind via technology, and Menahem Ben-Sasson, Hebrew U’s president. Emceeing the evening will be Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC’s Q talk-radio program, musician and writer.
For more information about the event, visit www.cfhu.org or call 416-485-8000, ext. 112.