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Cannes glitterati step up for AIDS charity gala

By Alexandria Sage

CANNES France (Reuters) - Sharon Stone showed up in a daring dress, John Travolta flew in on his plane, and even Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst made an appearance to support the Cannes film festival's largest charity ball to raise money for AIDS research.

At the 21st annual event organized by amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, the film world's glitterati assembled on Thursday night to raise $38 million for charity, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein announced.

The amfAR gala, held at the luxurious five-star Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, perched over the blue water of the French Riviera not far from Cannes, is the biggest fundraising event at the world's largest and most prestigious film festival. The benefit was first hosted by Elizabeth Taylor.

With celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Kylie Minogue, Dita Von Teese, Adrien Brody, Paris Hilton and even Catherine Deneuve in attendance, the event was the place to be as the prestigious film festival began to wind down, with top prizes to be awarded on May 25.

AmfAR has raised some $120 million (71.17 million pounds) in the 20 years it has thrown the gala during the Cannes film festival. The go-to event relies on celebrity power and high-profile donations, and the 900-person guest list on Thursday included models, actors and the who's-who of the film world.

Champagne, a Pablo Picasso sketch, a motorcycle and a trip on a yacht were auctioned at the high-profile event, as DiCaprio puffed on an electronic cigarette, surrounded by two bodyguards, and Lana Del Rey and Robin Thicke performed to the crowd.

Raising the most money, at 11 million euros (8.89 million pounds), was the auction of a gilded skeleton of a woolly mammoth in a steel and glass box, by artist Damien Hirst.

The winning bidder, Ukrainian businessman Leonard Blavatnik told Reuters he was not sure where he would put the massive beast.

"I don't know yet. It was unexpected," said Blavatnik, who sat next to Cannes jury president Jane Campion at the event and was congratulated by Justin Bieber after his win.

A Picasso sketch went for 380,000 euros, an Andy Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe was sold for 350,000 euros, a cellar of champagne found its winning bid at 150,000 euros, and a pair of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld gloves found a bidder at 10,000 euros.

"Ladies, ladies, ladies, look at my necklace," cooed Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, ex-supermodel and former first lady of France, introducing a Bulgari serpentine necklace, which ultimately was auctioned for 400,000 euros.

A bevy of designers donated dresses they had created in red for the event - from Gucci and Lanvin to Louis Vuitton and Roberto Cavalli. The 42 designer dresses were auctioned for 3.5 million euros.

"It's not expensive, believe me," said the winning bidder in a thick Russian accent, who did not want to give his name.

The event drew the tried and true of Hollywood, as well as new faces like Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian winner of Eurovision Song Contest.

"It's really lovely," said Wurst of the event. "This is the life I always wanted."

Burlesque star Dita Von Teese wore a black dress dotted with pink roses, and socialite Paris Hilton walked through the cocktail party before the event dragging an enormous long pink train that tripped up many a tuxedoed guest.

Travolta, in a blue tuxedo and attending with wife Kelly Preston, said he had just arrived by plane.

"I have a Challenger jet. I fly five times a week," said the "Pulp Fiction" star.

Stone, who at one point admonished the noisy crowd to "stop doing deals" during the auction, nevertheless thanked them for supporting AIDS research for the past 20 years.

"I know all of you have lost someone to AIDS," she said. "Now we are at the beginning of the end of AIDS."

(Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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