A Night of Heroes

By Chris Ariens 

Actor Jimmy Smits with CNN Hero Pablo Fajardo.

Where else can you see Christiane Amanpour dancing with an African nun under a mounted whale? It happened last night at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

The CNN correspondent was enjoying the moment with a hero. Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe was one of 10 CNN Heroes honored during an awards show broadcast on CNN and CNN International last night. (The show will be rebroadcast tonight at 8pmET.) Sr. Rosemary received the Community Crusader award for her work rescuing and educating Ugandan girls caught up in war. All the heroes were feted at a reception in the museum’s “Hall of Ocean Life.”

The event
, co-hosted by Anderson Cooper and Amanpour, featured an all-star list of presenters including Glenn Close, Jimmy Smits, Kyra Sedgwick, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Harry Connick Jr (who told the assembled press his hero is Sen. Barack Obama. “He’s doing some heroic things,” Connick said.)


But the stars were overshadowed by the honorees: a teenager who invented a teaching tool to help her autistic cousin; a man who jumped on the subway tracks to save another man’s life; a Virginia Tech student who risked his own life to save others. Producers skillfully intertwined global challenges with topical news that CNN covers everyday.

In an emotional introduction to the story of Virgina Tech student Zach Petkewicz, presenter Mira Sorvino honored the memory of those killed in the shooting spree in Omaha just a day before.

The awards show itself was more moving than any you’ll see over the next few months; with powerful writing, compelling storytelling and heart-felt acceptance speeches that would make any Hollywood-type blush. The show ran 45 minutes longer than planned. No problem CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein tells TVNewser. It’s cable after all.

After the awards, Cooper anchored an abbreviated AC360 from the stage, before joining guests at the post-show reception.

More than a year in the making, Heroes began with 7,000 entries, from 93 countries before being narrowed to 18 finalists. Klein says Heroes will be a winner no matter what the ratings are. Klein’s boss, CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton told him, “make it big.” Plans are already in the works for next year.

The culmination of the event, the Heroes’ Hero award, was presented to Christopher and Dana Reeve for their tireless work for spinal cord research. The award was accepted by Reeve’s adult children Alexandra and Matthew.

All 18 finalists received a $10,000 cash grant from CNN and the six Heroes selected will each receive an additional $25,000. CNN went one better, donating $250,000 to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Kelly Flynn, senior EP for the CNN Heroes initiative and NPR’s Alison Stewart (friends from MTV days). Stewart shared with TVNewser the news of her pregnancy. Due: April. Craving: Vanilla Ice Cream. Sex: Not going to find out.

Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe, a Heroes honoree, dances at the post-awards reception.

Alexandra and Matthew (right) Reeve accepted the Heroes’ Hero award in memory of their father, Christopher Reeve.

Anderson Cooper anchors an abbreviated AC360 after co-hosting CNN Heroes: All-Star Tribute.