There are countless stories out there about celebrities behaving badly — acting like spoiled brats, divas, and jerks because they’re rich, famous, and have been elevated to first-class status in a society that worships actors and pop stars. But not all celebrities are bad people — they’re mostly just artists who get paid obscene amounts of money to do what they love. Most are very appreciative of the fans who got them to where they are, and stars are more than happy to give back and show their thanks. Some will even go the extra mile, granting huge asks and outlandish requests from super-fans they don’t actually know all that well. Even the biggest celebrities seem inclined to help a regular person cross an item off their life’s to-do list if it’s the last thing on that list.
Sometimes through the aid of an organization or charity whose mission it is to grant requests to people with a terminal or life-threatening illness, such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation, celebrities will make a dream come true in the nick of time. Here are some famous folks who brought a lot of light and happiness to a fan’s final days.
Helen Mirren proved she's a queen
Oliver Burton of Leicester, England, according to The Sun, was diagnosed with leukemia for the third time In late 2012, with doctors, finding the disease in his spine and bone marrow and judging it to be inoperable and terminal. The ten-year-old, who also lived with Down’s syndrome, spent the weeks he had left with his family at home, excepting the occasional wish-granting jaunt provided by the National Children’s Tumor Leukaemia Cancer Trust of the U.K., which, try as it did, was unable to arrange a one-on-one meeting with Queen Elizabeth II. But the NCTLCT was able to connect Burton with the next best thing: Helen Mirren, who won an Academy Award for playing Elizabeth in The Queen.
In May 2013, Mirren sent a limousine to pick up Burton and his family, and then she met him backstage at a theater in London’s West End, where she was once again portraying the Queen in the play The Audience. Mirren then hung out with Burton, who was convinced Mirren was the actual monarch, a ruse all the more realistic because she stayed in character all the while, and employed the use of a butler and some of the queen’s signature Corgi dogs, too. Mirren also used her temporary royal powers to grant a knighthood to “Sir Oliver.” “She was really lovely,” Burton’s father told The Sun.
Mark Hamill spent hours in character as Luke Skywalker for a dying child
No matter what he does or did after the late 1970s through the early 1980s, Mark Hamill will forever be known — and beloved — for his role as Luke Skywalker in the first trilogy of Star Wars movies. Hamill takes this status, and his fans’ appreciation for him and his work, very seriously, and one time provided both thrills and comfort to a dying fan. Ed Solomon, a screenwriter best known for his work on Men in Black and the Bill & Ted trilogy, revealed this little-known story about Hamill on Twitter in 2017. The son of a friend of Solomon’s had been diagnosed with a fatal illness, and he had one wish: “to meet Luke Skywalker.” Not Mark Hamill, but rather Luke Skywalker, the fictional character and heroic space warrior from “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
Solomon didn’t know Hamill, but he called the actor’s agent and explained that the child’s mental state had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer differentiate fiction from reality. About a minute later, Hamill called Solomon and said he’d meet the fan. “He not only met with the boy, but spent hours answering question after question,” Solomon wrote, “AS ‘Luke.'”
Lady Gaga canceled a tour, but not a meet-and-greet with an important fan
Lady Gaga is one of the biggest music stars in the world, and that’s due in part to her prodigious talents, elaborate stage shows, and fabulous-glamorous alien queen persona. That status may also come in no small part from Gaga’s reputation as a star whose fan engagement is earnest, authentic, and generous.
In 2013, according to CNN, the “Shallow” singer postponed many dates on her “Born This Way Ball” tour because she was in terrible pain. Tour operators said that she’d suffered a tear in her right hip due to “strenuous repetitive moments,” or dancing complicated choreography every night on stage for months on end, in other words. She required surgery and recovery time, leading to many concerts not happening, including a date in Chicago. That threatened a planned meeting with five-year-old Kayleigh Gurzynski of Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, who, according to the Pierce County Herald, was supposed to meet Gaga when she played in the nearby Illinois metropolis. The pop singer could reportedly barely walk over her hip issue and joint inflammation, and despite cancelling the concert, she made a special trip to Chicago anyway, specifically to hang out with Gurzynski, who had a rare and fatal heart defect. (Gurzynski died three months later.)
Gilligan's Island's Bob Denver allowed himself to be rescued
By the early 1990s, Gilligan’s Island was still a big deal on TV. Reruns of the 1964–1967 sitcom had aired endlessly on local stations and cable TV networks, proving to be a hit with kids. The goofy, family-friendly sitcom was set on a remote, uncharted island where seven castaways had been stuck after a “three-hour tour” of a bart ride went horribly off-course. Bob Denver starred as the innocent, immature, and bumbling Gilligan, First Mate of the S.S. Minnow, who got up to mischief while the others tried to find ways to escape their island.
In 1992, according to the Point Pleasant Register, a bunch of kids working with the Southern West Virginia chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation pooled their requests to make one giant request: to rescue Gilligan from his island. The organization put it together. They employed the service of a ship called the West Virginia Belle and rechristened it the S.S. Minnow. With all of the wish-making kids aboard and made honorary commanders of the vessel, the ship set sail for a small island, where Bob Denver, in character as Gilligan, awaited his rescue. (After the mission, Denver signed autographs, talked with the kids, and embarked on a real “three-hour tour.”)
Beyoncé frequently does right by her most vulnerable fans
In late 2013, Beyoncé shared a video about a 12-year-old girl named Taylon Davis who had an inoperable brain tumor. In the clip, Ivy McGregor of Philanthropy Program Partnerships said Davis’s “dying wish was to dance with Beyoncé.” Make-a-Wish and Beyoncé made what might seem like a far-fetched dream to most come true at a Las Vegas concert. At one point during the show, the Grammy winner descended from the rafters and landed right in front of Davis and joined her in the crowd. The two hugged, duetted on “Love On Top,” and danced to “Survivor.” The three-minute video pulls at every last heartstring imaginable.
In March 2021, per HuffPost, Beyoncé got word that Lyric “Yhung” Chanel died at age 13 two years after a brain cancer diagnosis. Before she died, Chanel shared a sweet correspondence with Beyoncé: In September 2020, Chanel posted a video from 2011 where she’s singing along to “Love On Top,” and that video made its way to the pop star. Bey sent over flowers and a note to let the young girl know she was “moved” by the clip.
To pay tribute to Chanel, the Destiny’s Child alum made a YouTube memorial video. It consisted of a slideshow of pictures of Chanel under an a cappella medley of “Brown Skin Girl,” “Halo,” and “Love on Top,” with the young fan’s name replacing “baby” in the lyrics of the latter.
The Muppets created a Muppet for an ailing young fans
Yes, the Muppets are a group of fictional characters — sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but the lifelike, hilarious, and poignant Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Rowlf, and company are actually just intricately crafted collections of felt and plastic controlled by highly trained puppeteers. “The Muppets” is also an umbrella term for The Jim Henson Company, the studio and production facility that makes Muppet content like Sesame Street, Muppets Now, and a slew of Muppet movies, including the 1999 epic Muppets from Space.
An 11-year-old named Kristina Donnelly worked as a puppeteer on the film, making her one of the youngest Muppet staff members ever. According to Muppet Central, that represented the fulfillment of a grand last wish — Donnelly had been diagnosed with a fatal case of Ewing’s Sarcoma (bone cancer), and she wanted to visit the set of Muppets from Space and be in the movie in some way. Rather than appear as herself, Donnelly accepted the unbelievable offer to operate a Muppet, and she controlled Baab the Sheep, a puppet made just for the movie and just for her. Donnelly died in November 1999, shortly after the release of Muppets from Space.
The Breaking Bad cast and crew rallied around a super-fan
Around 2007, according to The Hollywood Reporter, ten-year-old Kevin Cordasco was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that affects the nervous system. During his prolonged illness, Cordasco enjoyed Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan’s Emmy-winning series about New Mexico science teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) who becomes a meth kingpin to pay for his cancer treatments and provide for his family after he dies. “There was something about the Walter White character, the way he took control of his illness, and his life, that really resonated with Kevin,” his father said.
Cordasco’s godmother happened to have a Breaking Bad connection, that connection asked Cranston if he could meet Cordasco — and several others stepped up. “Bryan and his wife sat with Kevin for hours at the hospital. And then Vince came to our house, along with some of the cast,” Byrd said. Gilligan invited Cordasco and his family for a visit to the Breaking Bad set in Albuquerque, but he was too sick to make the trip.
Nevertheless, Cordasco changed the trajectory of the series. Gilligan mentioned on the Breaking Bad Insider podcast (via Forbes) that when he asked Cordasco if there was anything he’d like the show to cover, the teenager said he wanted “to know more about Gretchen and Elliott,” the couple who formed the company Gray Matter with Walter, although they got rich and he didn’t. Because of Cordasco’s suggestion, Gretchen and Elliot appear in season five and make peace with Walter.
A woman left all her money to a receptive Charles Bronson
Audrey Knauer of Louisville, Kentucky, died in 1997 at age 55, according to the AP. One of the things she loved most in this world was Charles Bronson, the stern, mustached, tough-guy actor best known for his string of ultra-violent and ultra-popular Death Wish movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Knauer so appreciated the films of Bronson that in April 1996, according to E! News, she wrote a de facto will on the back of a grocery list bequeathing her entire estate go to Bronson, whom she had never met or even contacted. (Knauer also requested that anything Bronson didn’t care to inherit should go to Louisville’s public library system.)
And then things got complicated. As the AP reported, Knauer’s financial accounts were “worth nearly $300,000,” far more than the $20,000 her relatives initially estimated she’d left behind. Also, Bronson went ahead and claimed the money, receiving about half of Knauer’s estate by late 1998, which is when the deceased’s sister, Nancy Koeper, filed a lawsuit contesting the will, wanting Bronson to return the money that she felt rightfully belonged to her, and not the charitable organizations to which the actor planned on donating the hefty sum. Koeper and Bronson ultimately reached a settlement in April 1999.
Tyler Perry bought a house for a dying gospel singer's family
According to Forbes, Tyler Perry is a billionaire. The Atlanta-based entertainment tycoon started out making stage plays in the 1990s, which mixed moral conundrums with broad physical comedy, exemplified by his wildly popular Madea character. Perry also frequently gives back to the people and city who made him a rich man. In 2018, according to CNN, he paid off more than $400,000 worth of layaway bills at two Atlanta Walmart stores, and that was just a couple of months after he made a dying wish come true for the mother of a professional associate.
According to Tennessee station WBIR, Perry met gospel singer LaShun Price in the late ’90s, when she worked on one of the future mogul’s plays. They stayed close over the years, and in 2018, Perry met Price’s mother, 80-year-old Betty Ann Pace, when the latter was diagnosed with stage V kidney failure and given a grim prognosis of “four days to a week to live.” Pace shared her one last wish with Perry: She wanted to own her own home, one where she could live with her daughters. Perry made it happen, purchasing a well-appointed Atlanta-area home for the Pace family. “To me, it’s like a mansion in the sky,” LaShun Pace said. “We grew up in a three bedroom, one bathroom with 12 people. We’ve struggled all our life.”
Maroon 5 helped turned a child into a pop star
When Lincoln, Nebraska, kid Cayden Hubbard was in kindergarten, according to KLKN-TV, doctors identified “a tumor on the base of his brain.” That’s a tricky place to treat and operate on, and Hubbard spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals enduring six childhood surgeries to remove the tumor and treat the cancer, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
In 2012, when he was in the fifth grade, the Make-a-Wish Foundation came through for Hubbard, helping him live out his one true fantasy of becoming a pop sensation. Students and staff at his elementary school, along with members of the community, helped Make-a-Wish pull off an elaborate, day-long, cross-continental dream come true. Members of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team played bodyguards who escorted Hubbard from his classroom to a limousine, which took him to a local radio station to record an on-air promo, which was, as KLKN-TV reported, “followed by a flight to Los Angeles to record a song at a studio, a makeover, and a meeting with Extra star Mario Lopez.”
One more surprise was in store: Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine happens to be from Lincoln, and he and bandmate Adam Levine performed a song with Hubbard and then gave him an autographed guitar. (This story has a happy twist: After several surgeries, Hubbard graduated high school in 2018.)
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