CAP D'ANTIBES, France (AP) -- With an apt rendition of "Gold-finger," singing legend Shirley Bassey roused celebrity-revelers to dig deep into their pockets at the 20th amfAR gala in the Cap D'Antibes Thursday, helping to raise an estimated $25 million for AIDS research.
The British-born singer was one of several performers including Duran Duran who sang at the gold-themed auction event nearby the Cannes Film Festival, hosted by actress Sharon Stone, and held at the French Riviera's exclusive Hotel Du Cap over-looking the sea. The annual amfAR gala has for two decades attracted the film and fashion industries' rich and powerful -- and this year was no exception, with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein -- perhaps the Hollywood equivalent of the Midas touch -- Leonardo DiCaprio, Jessica Chastain, Janet Jackson, Milla Jovovich and Goldie Hawn sitting side by side. Stone, a pushy but charismatic host, is started to earn herself a legendary status presiding over the amfAR event, since the passing of its founder Elizabeth Taylor in 2011.
"I heard that somebody might go into outer space tonight. Maybe a rumor, maybe not," said Weinstein before the auction.
He was not wrong. Items sold under the hammer did indeed include a trip to space, but also more terrestrial items such as an Andy Warhol lithograph of Taylor, a chance to have a family portrait taken by iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz, a week in fashion designer's Donna Karan's Caribbean hide-away and a shimmering 53-carat diamond necklace.
The gala's excess remained just a front to one of the world's biggest fundraisers in the fight against AIDS, a disease that amfAR says still affect some 34 million people worldwide.
"Yes, you can think it's a silly little dinner, you can deride it as full of celebrities dressed up," said Leibovitz, whose photo of Niagara Falls also sold at auction. "But that's missing the point. 80 million dollars amfAR has raised since it began. That's the point. It has saved lives."
Harvey Weinstein took the mike several times to praise the film industry's commitment to AIDS stressing that while two decades ago the illness was a "looming plague," now a cure might well be seen within "our lifetime."
Reminders of the serious nature of the event didn't manage to stop the fun, however.
For the second time in amfAR's history, the event's penchant for excess translated rather well into a glimmering catwalk show -- curated by stylist Carine Roitfeld. It featured some 38 gold and black looks from designers such as Dior, Chanel, Lanvin and Prada worn by models such as Karlie Kloss Karolina Kurkova, Angela Lindvall and Alessandra Ambrosio Models who strutted on a catwalk between dining tables. The standout dresses were a custom gold embroidered long sleeve gown courtesy of Valentino, and a custom gold pleated mini dress from Givenchy. All the dresses went under the hammer to a single bidder, selling in just a couple of minutes for a staggering $1.56 million.
Thought celebrities were in a generous mood, news that thieves outsmarted 80 security guards and made off with a necklace that creators say is worth a staggering 2 million euros ($2.6 million) -- the second such jewelry heist during this year's Cannes Film Festival -- had celebrities clinging more closely onto their jewels.
"Well yeah, I'm going to be watching how much champagne I drink," said Jovovich, smiling. "Because you never know somebody might come up and just shwoop, take it off."
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.