A gilded Cage

There are few people more gifted at the art of phony moral preening than your average Hollywood movie star. Most of them know next to nothing about anything, but a remarkable number of them are quick to weigh in on political issues and say whatever they think will make them look like pillars of virtue.

And yet one after another of these stars, who are already extremely well paid, are also quick to sell their services, for the right price, to any brutal dictator who comes down the pike.

Will Smith

We’ve seen, for example, that Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, have gone all-out to promote Dubai, which, of course, is one of the United Arab Emirates, where gays are executed and where straight tourists who engage in even the tamest public displays of affection are subject to long prison terms. We’ve discovered how Sting took a million or two dollars to perform for the daughter of murderous Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov and how Nicki Minaj cashed a $2 million check from the Angolan dictator José Eduardo dos Santos for a similar gig.

Sharon Stone with Putin and unidentified girl

We’ve listed the names of several celebrities – among them Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, Mickey Rourke, and Sharon Stone – who’ve taken money from Vladimir Putin to turn up at official events in Russia, and other luminaries – including Seal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Hilary Swank – who’ve accepted payments to entertain Putin’s puppet leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Now it’s time to add another Tinseltown name to this roster of shame: Nicolas Cage. Born Nicolas Coppola, a nephew of filmland’s master of nepotism, Francis Ford Coppola, Cage, now 53, has been one of the luckiest men in the business, reaping great rewards in exchange for a very modest talent. He gets millions of dollars per picture and is reportedly worth about $25 million.

Nicolas Cage in Kazakhstan with an official of the Eurasia Film Festival

In short, he is not a man in drastic financial need. Nonetheless, in exchange for an unknown but presumably hefty sum, he recently attended the Eurasia Film Festival in Kazakhstan, a country that has been ruled for over a quarter of a century by the tyrannical Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Some people will do anything for a buck. Cage, who invariably comes off on talk shows as something of a self-important jerk and all-around dimbulb, was willing to don a native Kazakh outfit that earned him widespread mockery online. “I would be pleased to participate in some film project on the territory of Kazakhstan,” Cage told local journalists during his lucrative visit. “I enjoyed the architecture of your capital. What I saw reminded me of an old black-and-white film that depicted the future.” These stars often make such dopey, ingratiating statements in these situations. It’s hard not to believe they are reading from a script. In any event, one thing is clear: Nicolas Cage didn’t go to Kazakhstan for his health.

Entertaining Qaddafi

Yesterday we remembered Sting‘s ignominious 2009 performance in Uzbekistan. Today we’re going to look at a few other megarich celebrities who sold out their ethics to the late, unlamented Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi for a mess of pottage.

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Muammar Qaddafi

First, let’s back to 2006, when Lionel Richie flew to Libya to perform for over 1000 officials. The price tag? A cool $5 million. The occasion? The 20th anniversary of U.S. air strikes in which dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s daughter Hana was one of 40 people killed. The event was billed as “Hana Peace Day.” “Hana would be happy tonight!” said Richie during his performance. “This night is a wonderful honor for Hana, whose name is linked to peace.”

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Lionel Richie (left) performing in Libya

Richie’s arrival, according to one account, “was greeted with the rapture befitting a visiting deity. His hands had been washed in rosewater, he’d been accorded the honorific ‘Brother.’” He told a press conference in Tripoli that his presence in Libya was a ‘historic event,’” and that he’d decided to take part in the event “because ‘music unites people.’” At the concert, he introduced his set by telling the audience he was honored to be in Libya, by thanking them for their “unbelievable” hospitality, and by sending out a message to the world that he recommended a visit to “this beautiful world in Libya.”

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Aisha Qaddafi

The Tripoli Post quoted at length from comments made by Qaddafi’s daughter Aisha at the beginning of the concert. After calling for a moment of silence for “our martyrs who were killed at the hands of the enemies of peace,” Aisha recalled that on the day of the U.S. bombing she’d awakened “to the sound of bombs and rockets and the cries of my brothers. My memory [will] never forget, nor history will ever erase it. But today we try to heal our wounds and shake hands with those who are here with us tonight. Yes for peace, no for destruction.”

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José Carreras

The concert, noted the Post, “ended with a group of children dressed as angels standing on a balcony of the house and waving candles as they sang along to a recording of the US humanitarian pop anthem ‘We are the world.’”

Richie wasn’t alone in accepting the Qaddafi regime’s invitation. Appearing on the same stage that night were Spanish opera singers José Carreras and Ofelia Sala.

The next year, the Qaddafis continued to shell out sizable sums for top-drawer showbiz figures. Singer Nelly Furtado got $1 million from the regime for putting on a private 45-minute show at a hotel in Italy; in 2011, after this gig was exposed in the media, she tweeted “I am going to donate the $.”

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Usher

In the same year, Wikileaks cables revealed that several other stars had raked in impressive sums for entertaining the Qaddafi family. Beyonce responded by announcing that she’d be contributing to Haitian earthquake relief the fee she’d earned for a New Year’s Day 2009 bash on St. Bart’s. Mariah Carey, who’d received $1 million to sing four songs for the Qaddafis around the same time, said she’d been “naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for” and pronounced herself “embarrassed to have participated in this mess.” Other names on the infamous list included Usher and 50 Cent – neither of whom publicly expressed remorse or promised to give away their ill-gotten gains.

Sting’s Uzbekistan sellout

Our recent coverage of Nicki Minaj‘s nauseating performance for Angola’s thug-in-chief reminded us that there are other celebrities who belong to the same club but to whom we hadn’t yet accorded the attention we gave to Minaj.

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Sting

Take Sting, aka Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner CBE. The British musician and songwriter, formerly of The Police, has won 16 Grammys, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, three Oscar nominations for Best Song, and is said to be worth several hundred million dollars. For many years, moreover, he’s presented himself as a world-class champion of humanitarian causes, associated himself with groups like Amnesty International, and made himself the face of such high-profile environmental causes as saving the Brazilian rain forests.

Nonetheless, in October 2009 he decided he couldn’t do without an additional million or two dollars. That’s the sum he accepted to perform in a show arranged by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Islam Karimov, the monster who runs Uzbekistan. If you don’t know about Karimov, here’s a fun fact, courtesy of Fox News: Karimov “burst upon the international scene in 2005 when his troops opened fire on protesters in the city of Andijan,” killing up to 5000 people, largely women and children.  

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Sting with Gulnara Karimova

Sting managed to keep his Uzbek deal from blowing up in the British media – but only for a few months. When Marina Hyde reported on it in the Guardian the following February – noting that Karimov had been accused of “boiling his enemies, slaughtering his poverty-stricken people when they protest, and conscripting armies of children for slave labour” – Sting felt obliged to issue a statement. Acknowledging that he’d given the concert, he added that “I believe [it was] sponsored by Unicef.” The Guardian checked out this claim; Unicef, it turned out, had had no connection whatsoever with the event.

Sting went on to say that, while “well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment,” he’d chosen to accept Karimova’s invitation because “I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular.” Ka-ching! 

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Islam Karimov

The Guardian had a good answer to Sting’s apologia: “Even if you accept Sting’s live performances as ‘ideas and art,’ you can’t really help but question this notion of ‘open commerce,’ considering the tickets for his concert cost more than 45 times the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan.” Craig Murray, former U.K. Ambassador to Uzbekistan, called Sting’s response “transparent bollocks,” adding:

He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?…I agree with him that cultural isolation does not help. I am often asked about the morality of going to Uzbekistan, and I always answer – go, mix with ordinary people, tell them about other ways of life, avoid state owned establishments and official tours. What Sting did was the opposite. To invoke Unicef as a cover, s[i]t next to a woman who has made hundreds of millions from state forced child labour in the cotton fields, is pretty sick.

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Karimov with Putin

Writing in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson asked: “Does Sting really think that the President of Uzbekistan doesn’t care what or who his daughter spends two million dollars on?” Karimova, Davidson pointed out, is “not just some apolitical fashionista but is also a member of the government” and her father’s presumed successor, and thus “deeply, deeply implicated” in his evildoing. 

Musician Sting performs on the opening night of his Symphonicity Tour, which features the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Steven Mercurio, in Vancouver, British Columbia June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Andy Clark (CANADA - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

In Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein weighed in: “I’m not going to pretend pop-music fame is easy, but here’s a handy maxim for future crooners to keep in mind: Don’t do private concerts for tyrannical rulers who reportedly boil people alive. Just sayin’.” Weinstein also pointed out that, Karimov’s brutality aside, Gulnara Karimova is “a piece of work in her own right,” who “reportedly runs several state-owned business concerns cobbled together from Western assets seized in Uzbekistan, which are occasionally backed by shadowy military contractors who might be involved in assassinations. She’s also listed as one of the 10 richest women in Switzerland. Let that sink in for a minute.”

Does it even take a minute? Clearly, Sting knew exactly what he was getting into – and didn’t care, not for a second.