Dinners of Champions are fundraising events for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which began in 1972 when Gulf+Western (now Paramount Communications) chairman Martin Davis and ABC sportscaster Frank Gifford organized such an event for the New York City Chapter. Now, more than 38 years later they are held annually in more than thirty chapters around the country. The Southern California & Nevada Chapter’s Dinner of Champions is one of the leading and most prestigious fundraising events for the Society.
The format is essentially the same in each case: a high-ticket dinner in the city's premier hotel, with a tribute journal to provide additional fundraising opportunities. The honoree is someone who epitomizes a commitment to excellence in his or her professional and personal life, and who understands and is willing to support the Chapter's purpose in holding the dinner.
The Southern California & Nevada Chapter held its first dinner in 1973 when, under the chairmanship of Merlin Olsen, it roasted Howard Cosell. Because of the Olsen connection, the dinners featured athletes as entertainers as well as honorees.
In 1980, the Chapter changed its format somewhat and honored entertainer Andy Williams on the occasion of his silver anniversary in television. Honorees since have included such distinguished individuals as: Steven Hilton; Peter Chernin; Joe Roth; Bill Mechanic; Amy Pascal; Jim Gianopulos; Sir Howard Stringer; Bob & Harvey Weinstein; Tom Rothman; Michael Lynton; Rob Moore and Adam Fogelson.
Entertainment for these events is always donated and has been provided by many of the top names in the industry - Bob Hope, Andy Williams, Paul Anka, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Wayne Newton, Luciano Pavarotti, Paul Reiser, Rosie O'Donnell, Sinbad, Whitney Houston, Jon Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Heart, The Bangles, Reba McEntire, Charlotte Church, Mya, John Williams and his Orchestra, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Pointer Sisters, James Blunt, Donny Osmond and Michael Bolton. The guest list includes many of Los Angeles’ top corporate and entertainment industry names.
From 1993-2012, the Dinner of Champions was chaired by the late Tom Sherak, former National MS Society Trustee and President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and supported heavily by the entertainment, legal and financial industries. Under Tom’s leadership nearly $50 million was raised for MS research and programs. This Dinner of Champions is ranked the most successful dinner ever held by any chapter in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s history!
Funds from the Dinner support direct chapter-based programs including counseling, equipment assistance, transportation, respite care, employment education, physical activity programs, direct financial assistance, as well as the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center at UCLA.
A substantial percentage of funds also support local, national and global MS research. The Society spends $50 million annually– with nearly $9-10 million in force locally at UCLA and the Brentwood Biomedical Research Center - to support more than 350 new and ongoing research projects to speed our progress in finding more and better treatments and ultimately a cure!