Yasmin Aga Khan, a Southampton summer resident since the early 1960’s, is a real princess, but her life is not the stuff of fairytales. Real life rarely is and nothing is quite what it seems. Born in Lausanne, Switzerland Yasmin is a modern day Princess, the second child of the American film icon Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan of Pakistan, a United Nations ambassador from that country. Her father, once the Vice President of the UN general assembly, died in an automobile accident when Yasmin was just 11.
Yasmin attended Buxton School, a small boarding school in Massachusetts, where they had an organic farm and along with her studies she learned to milk cows. On every vacation she would visit her mother, one of the greatest movie stars of all time, who she made clear “was very nurturing.” When Yasmin graduated from Bennington College in 1973 with what she describes as “a passion for opera,” she intended on a career singing.
Shortly after turning 50 in the early 1960’s when Yasmin was still just a teenager, her screen goddess mother began deteriorating from an extremely early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. At the time no one knew what to make of her mother’s unpredictable manner characterized by bizarre behavior and temperamental outbursts. Although Hayworth didn’t drink heavily, alcohol was thought to be the culprit to her progressively strange manner. However, it would be more than two decades before her mother’s disease would be diagnosed in the early 1980’s only a few years before the actress passed away in 1987 at the age of 69.
Profoundly affected by her mother’s suffering and ultimate death from the disease Princess Yasmin Aga Khan made a commitment to raise awareness about the misconceptions of her fatal illness. She decided to channel her passion for oprea into the fight against Alzheimer’s and to use her influence to raise money for research by joining forces with the relatively new Alzheimer’s Association, which Yasmin described as “ a sort of mom and pop organization back in 1979.” With her help the first ever Alzheimer’s Association Rita Hayworth Gala was held in 1984. Today the annual gala, which she chairs, has become one of the most anticipated fundraising events of the New York fall social season.
“While there is still no cure,” Yasmin said, “early detection is vital to forestalling the devastating effects of the disease.” Yasmin elaborated on some of the symptoms to look for like “Unnecessary shouting, rude comments said in anger or inappropriate aggressive behavior.” “Often the victims are unaware of what they are doing and may accuse people of stealing objects they may have uncharacteristically hidden.” Yasmin realized something was not right with her mother by her personality shifts. Hayworth began having hallucinations while living in Beverly Hills and reported hearing things and becoming easily frightened. The process is usually slow and onset can be as early as 28, which is rare. The disease more commonly affects individuals after 65 and alcohol can exasperate the effects of the illness. Today there is a neurological test that can quickly determine if a loved one is afflicted. The progression can be slowed with early detection and is vital to implementing lasting treatment.
This year the Rita Hayworth Gala promises to be one of the most glamorous ever. Billed as the 25th Sparkling Silver Celebration the Princess is thrilled that Daryl Hall will be the featured entertainer. The team of Daryl Hall and John Oates recorded six consecutive multi-platinum albums from the mid-‘70s to the mid- ‘80s. They are recognized as the number one selling duo in music history and Hall’s presence is truly an exciting addition giving a casual air to all the glamour.
The gala recognizes individuals and corporations each year with the Rita Hayworth Award. On Tuesday October 28 Lily Safra will be honored along with Hearst Corporation vice chairman and CEO Frank A Bennack, Jr. in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel, where the event is traditionally held.
Mrs. Safra, who has been a lifelong friend to the Princess, chairs the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, which was established by her husband to support humanitarian relief projects related to education and science. She has funded research into neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, at numerous hospitals and universities. In addition she has provided thousands of university scholarships for deserving students. Her humanitarian efforts in multiple arenas are well documented.
The Hearst Corporation is one of the nation’s largest private companies with a broad range of activities including publishing, broadcasting, cable networking and other communications fields. Bennack is in his second tenure as CEO. Prior to this he served as Hearst’s CEO for more than 23 years increasing revenues astronomically and spreading the wealth to all sorts of diverse areas. His industry awards are numerous as well including amongst many others the Gold Medal from the International Radio & Television Society in 1991, and the Trustee’s award (Emmy) from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Ironically just the past Friday on October 17, the date of Rita Hayworth’s birth, the U. S. Postal Service issued the 42-cent Alzheimer’s Awareness stamp that depicts a victim of the disease in profile with the loving hand of a caregiver resting on her shoulder. The image was created by Matt Mahurin, a California artist known for his moody edgy works that include an album cover for Metallica. He was a surprise choice, but Art Director Ethel Kessler, who surprised many with Mahurin’s selection, feels the hand is “the essence of the care giving” so necessary to the stricken.
Princess Yasmin, an immensely likable and intelligent woman, established the Gala in memory of her mother, with a mission to find a cure. But the gala is only a small part of the work she does. She serves on the Board of Directors, as Vice Chairman, of the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Association. She is also President of Alzheimer’s Disease International and a spokesperson for the Boston University School of Medicine.
Her life has been a balancing act known to the caregivers of this sad disease and she has extended her love for her mother to all the victims of the dreaded illness by drawing attention to the disease and the importance of their caregivers with her unwavering devotion to the cause.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers