Two-time Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks was feted last month by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for his consistent record of philanthropic endeavors. Hanks, 56, and his wife Rita Wilson attended the gala at the New York Public Library on Oct. 17.
“We work very hard in a business that deserves and earns every bit of ridicule that we heap upon it,” Hanks said. “But at the end of the day you got to wake up in the morning and try to make the world a better place.”
“I’ve always been proud of the work Tom does,” Wilson said. “He’s very discreet, he doesn’t make a big deal about it, and he’s very consistent about his passions and the charities or the people that we give to… We have our personal favorites and I am in awe of how he handles it.”
Hanks is not Jewish, although he is remembered for a now classic skit from Saturday Night Live called “Jew or Not a Jew,” in which he hosted a game show where contestants had to guess if various celebrities were Jewish.
The 1980s sitcom Bosom Buddies, about two male friends who dress as women in order to live in a females-only apartment building, made Hanks famous, but he soon became a bona fide movie star with a series of successful big-screen comedies, culminating in 1988’s Big, which earned him his first Oscar nomination. Hanks soon turned to dramatic roles and cemented his reputation as one of America’s finest serious actors, winning back-to-back Academy Awards for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994).
Hanks has a reputation for being among the nicest and most approachable actors in Hollywood, always willing to chat with fans and lend his name to a good cause.
“I believe any form of government, particularly ours in the United States of America, has been over and over again this engine for social change in a magnificent way when it gets around to doing the right thing,” Hanks said. “And right now, I think we’re putting a lot of emphasis on the idea that philanthropy can take care of everything, which is not the case.”
Among the charities Hanks and Wilson support are the Children’s Health Fund, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, K9 Connection, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, the Rainforest Foundation, and UNICEF.
Elie Wiesel and his wife Marion established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity soon after he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. The Foundation’s mission, rooted in the memory of the Holocaust, is to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality. The Foundation runs multiple programs both domestically and internationally.
Hanks can currently be seen in Cloud Atlas, which opened Oct. 26. He will be making his Broadway debut next spring in the play Lucky Guy, written by the late Nora Ephron, about the late New York Daily News reporter Mike McAlary.