The Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala Raises Alzheimer’s Awareness

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Though Rita Hayworth’s legacy to the world will forever be her beauty, the famous life-size poster of the Hollywood “love goddess” is now an image of awareness. Like a scene out of an old black and white movie, this past weekend the Chicago Hilton welcomed the Who’s Who of the city, draped in elegance, glamour, beautiful ball gowns, and tuxedos in honor of the 28th Annual Alzheimer’s Association. With Hayworth’s image standing tall over 900 guests, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan paid homage to her mother as well as to the pioneer who helped her through one of the toughest challenges of her life.

Alzheimer’s disease is a mysterious ailment that has brought those who have lived a rich life full of love and success to a dark point of tragically remembering none of it. Loved ones and the most treasured milestones become unfamiliar, distant strangers. When Hollywood royalty Rita Hayworth, who dominated the silver screen in the 1940s with such box office hits as Gilda, succumbed to the disease in 1987, it was devastating for her daughter Princess Yasmin to witness her mother not only lose memory of her own children and successful career but to no longer even recognized her own reflection in the mirror. The deterioration of her mother led Princess Yasmin to desperately seek information.

Founder of the Alzheimer’s Association, the late Jerome H. Stone was one of the first to set out on a mission to bring awareness, educating families around the country with loved ones suffering from the disease. After losing his wife to Alzheimer’s disease, Stone’s fight to bring together a team of doctors, caregivers, and researchers to find a cure received recognition from around the country. Former President Ronald Reagan awarded Stone with the 1986 prestigious President’s Volunteer Award. One year before Hayworth’s passing, Stone recognized the symptoms of the disease in the starlet’s behavior in the media. He reached out to Princess Yasmin out of concern. Though Stone’s efforts did not save Hayworth, Princess Yasmin and Stone started the Rita Hayworth Gala together to spark consciousness and support in hopes of saving a life. Raising over $65 million over the years, the Rita Hayworth Gala has served and provided for families around the country.

In speaking with Princess Yasmin, her humble spirit demonstrated gratitude to her guests for helping the Rita Hayworth Gala grow to 28 years old. She graciously thanked the Alzheimer’s Association for locking arms for another successful night of awareness with the theme The Best Is Yet To Come. On Mother’s Day weekend every year, Princess Yasmin not only pays her respects to the late, great Rita Hayworth, but her heart goes out to millions who have lost loved ones to Alzheimer’s.

Irene and Princess YasminWhile a cure for Alzheimer’s has yet to be discovered, many question the cause of the disease. Studying the many triumphs, tribulations, disappointments in love, and the brutal cold of Hollywood throughout Hayworth’s life, many admired her strength to have remained as emotionally strong as she did, raising two daughters. The looming question is how did Alzheimer’s disease happen to such an extraordinary woman. Millions of families ask the same question of their loved ones suffering from the disease. Though $65 million might not get the answer, thanks to humanitarians such as Princess Yasmin and the Alzheimer’s Association, we’re getting closer each year. 

Gallery photos by Bill Richert Photography

About Meleika Gardner

Recognizing that people are struggling in life, Meleika Gardner provides inspiration and a welcoming distraction that goes beyond the glitz and glamour of the rich and powerful to fearlessly report…the real. Prior to branching off on her own as an independent writer, she held a staff editorial position for The Guardian Liberty Voice online news publication. Having been immersed in the good, the bad, and the ugly of the business world as well as the Hollywood music, film, and television scene for many years, readers look forward to Meleika's fresh perspective. Read more from this author.