Tony Orlando is a living legend in music, but what you might not know is that he's part of some pretty legendary charitable efforts, too. With Mother's Day just around the corner, BFTV spoke with Tony on Wednesday to discuss his work with the organization that founded the holiday, the Fraternal Order of Eagles - and the great new project they've been working on to help those with diabetes.
"Mother's Day was created by an organization that I have been part of for the last 12 years, called the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Believe it or not, they founded Mother's Day," explained Tony.
Indeed, it was the Eagles who made the first public plea for such a holiday way back in 1904, and campaigned for it until then President Woodrow Wilson made it an actual holiday in 1914. Now we're celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Mother's Day this Sunday.
The logic for recognizing such a day is pretty simple, after all. As Tony points out, "The first person to give a helping hand - and that's the Eagles' motto, people helping people - is your mother."
The Eagles' helping hands have touched a lot of people since the organization was founded in 1898. They raise millions of dollars annually for many different causes, and a hundred percent of the money that they raise goes directly to those causes. Some 800,000 people nationwide are members, including seven past Presidents. And they've accomplished some other great things you probably don't know about, either. "Danny Thomas, they give him the first dollars to start St. Jude's [Children's Research Hospital]," Tony told us.
The Eagles' latest project has been the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at the University of Iowa. "They raised 25 million dollars to put a diabetic center at the University of Iowa," Tony explained. "And on August 23, that facility will be opened...They are going to do some of the greatest scientific work in treating diabetes. And the Eagles are responsible for bringing up that first 25 million and I was part of that, of raising that money. This diabetic center is important to me, because diabetes is making this explosive return, especially among children."
To learn more about the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at the University of Iowa, you can visit the center's website (medicine.uiowa.edu/diabetes).
Yet Tony's not stopping there. The entertainer who's given us countless memories over decades is still working tirelessly in 2014, both in his charitable efforts and his career. "There's a lot going on right now," he told us. "I'm going to Israel in June to both perform and visit Israel. Then I come back and I go on the road. Then I go to Asia on an Asia trip.
"When I come back home, I open at the South Point in Las Vegas. I go from there from the Borgata in Atlantic City. Then I do my Christmas show at the Sands in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and I'm excited about that. We finish up at the Borgata doing their New Year's Eve show." To check out Tony's packed tour schedule and see if he's performing near you, you can visit his website, which we've listed at the end of this article.
There's no doubt that Tony has reached a certain status in his career; he's been mentioned on Sports Night, in The Simpsons (which then led to a song called "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House"), and was his own category on Jeopardy! What's it like for him to be part of the pop-culture conversation? "I get a kick out of that. I love stuff like that," he laughed, telling us, "It's been an unbelievable journey for me, to be honest with you. It's been more than you can imagine.
"I've tasted the foods of about 40 different countries, I've had my own TV show, I've had the chance to work on Broadway twice, I recently made a movie with Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg. I've done everything possible that you can think of. Anything that comes off of those years like that is all part of it, and I look back on it and say what a great journey and I'm continuing that journey."
What is and has been most important to him, though, is not his tremendous personal success but the impact that he's able to leave on the lives of others through working with organizations like the Fraternal Order of Eagles. And they're not the only cause that he's supported over his career. "I was Vice President for MDA [Muscular Dystrophy Association] and I co-hosted the Jerry Lewis telethon for 33 years," he said. "I was also Chairman for the National Association of Retarded Citizens...[It's been] over 40 years that I've been working with military and raising money for our veterans.
"And the reason I do that is because my sister with cerebral palsy, she died when she was 21, and as a kid growing up I understood what it was like to live with someone with health issues," he explained, telling us his own experiences made him decide that if he should ever become famous, "The most important part of that career should be giving back to charities that are important to me and important to be people. And to be honest with me, it's been more important than the awards I've received and the gold records and platinum records that I have. You can take 'em all."
Ladies and gentlemen, Tony Orlando - not only a legendary entertainer, but also a gentleman who deserves to be admired off the stage just as much as he is on it.