Barbra Streisand’s New Cause: Women’s Heart Disease

September 22nd, 2012


Barbra Streisand, Ronald O. Perelman and Christine Quinn at a luncheon in New York on Thursday held to raise awareness of women’s heart disease.

IT’S as if she never went away.

This week, Barbra Streisand — a Brooklyn native but a California resident most of her adult life — was back in New York, headlining two high-profile events.

On Tuesday night, at a memorial service for Marvin Hamlisch at Juilliard, Ms. Streisand wowed a crowd of notables (Diane Sawyer, Mike Nichols, Joe Torre) with a moving rendition of “The Way We Were,” written by Mr. Hamlisch for the movie of the same name. On Thursday afternoon, she was the featured guest at an intimate lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant, where fellow attendees included Catherine Zeta-Jones, Debra Messing, Donna Karan, Gayle King and Christine Quinn.

And, of course, there’s more to come. On Oct. 12 and 13, the singer will perform at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the first major concert appearance for Ms. Streisand since her European tour in 2007 and reportedly the first time she has performed in her home borough since graduating from Erasmus Hall High School in 1959.

On Thursday, Ms. Zeta-Jones, chatting with fellow guests before the Four Seasons lunch, said she had just seen Ms. Streisand at the Hamlisch memorial. “She was wonderful, just wonderful,” she said. “It was a magical evening.”

And what brought her to the Four Seasons event? “Barbra, of course,” she said. “And Ron.”

“Ron” was Ronald O. Perelman, an organizer of the event, which was designed to heighten awareness of women’s heart disease, a cause he and Ms. Streisand share. Mr. Perelman is the main benefactor of the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and she of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. (It was announced at the lunch that Mr. Perelman had just donated $ 1 million to the Streisand Center, a gift that organizers later said had been matched by Ralph Lauren, Sumner Redstone, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg.)

In introducing her, Mr. Perelman called Ms. Streisand “talented, beautiful, generous” and a pain in the posterior (though he used a more colorful term) — “just like me.” That quality, he explained after the laughter subsided, was why she was so adamant about raising both awareness and money for heart disease, an illness that Ms. Streisand later told the crowd was “the No. 1 killer of women in the world.”

“In the past, it was thought of as an older man’s disease,” she said, adding that there had been comparatively less research done on its effect on women and how the symptoms are often much different than the classic chest pains felt by men.

That had to change, she said. “I have always been outspoken on issues of equality,” she added. “And gender does matter when it comes to medical science.”

After she spoke, much of the talk was not only of the startling numbers of women affected by heart disease, but also of the excitement of seeing Ms. Streisand in person (looking great in a draped black Donna Karan ensemble and shoulder-length honey-blond hair) and of her concert in Brooklyn.

“Am I going to see her? Of course I’m going to see her,” said Grace Hightower De Niro. “She’s one of those people you just don’t miss, like Bruce Springsteen or Stevie Wonder. She’s an institution.”

The television personality Star Jones, too, professed her interest in seeing Ms. Streisand, but had to cut short her time at the lunch to catch the Acela to Washington. Ms. Jones, who said she had a heart bypass operation two years ago, was scheduled to lead a panel discussion at a gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus. “It’s called ‘When Fat Is Not Phat,’ ” she said. “Got that? F-a-t is not P-h-a-t.”

A few minutes later, she took the last bites of her Dover sole (sauce on the side), and headed for the exit, her form-fitting leopard-print dress and trim figure a seeming testament to what she had earlier called her new life as a “heart disease survivor.”

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