“Wasn’t that gorgeous?” G.W. Bailey took time out from filming the first season of Major Crimes, TNT’s followup to The Closer, to talk about a cause near and dear to his heart, The Sunshine Kids Foundation. On July 27, more than two dozen Sunshine Kids from all over the U.S. and Canada traveled to New York where they appeared live on Good Morning America, meeting Robin Roberts and the show’s other hosts. Later that day interviewed by phone from Los Angeles, G.W. could barely contain his enthusiasm, praising the foundations’ staff for “making the magic happen.”
That New York trip was one of many arranged by the foundation whose mission, according to Bailey, is to “put smiles on the faces” of children battling cancer. “We make sure they’re in the front of the line at any ride at any amusement park,” he said. In New York, the children were scheduled to see a Broadway play, then meet the cast, and have a backstage tour.
The Sunshine Kids Foundation is 30 years old and G.W. has been involved for 27 years, serving as executive director since 2001. He credits his goddaughter, Brandy Aldridge, for introducing him to the group when it was only three years-old. “I was in the midst of Police Academy movies, so I was her B-minus movie star, quasi well-known godfather,” he said with a laugh. “But the kids knew me because they knew the movies. And so she got me to come on [one of the trips] and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Brandy was 12 when she was diagnosed with leukemia. “Like all kids, it just came out of nowhere,” he said. Although Brandy had been feeling tired and lethargic, the doctors attributed her symptoms to age and hormones. A doctor at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas ran further tests. “They literally rushed her to the hospital and had to transfuse her; she was very dangerously ill,” he said. “She fought it for the next five years. We lost her at 17.” G.W. dedicates everything he does at the foundation to the memory of his goddaughter. “She was a great young lady,” he said. “She got a bad roll of the dice.”
G.W., who plays Lt. Louie Provenza on The Closer and Major Crimes, said his time with the Sunshine Foundation has been an “extraordinary and joyful journey,” introducing him to an inspiring group of children, parents, and supporters. “It changed my life,” he said. “It’s where I felt I belonged. I wish that I could talk about all the great sacrifices that I’ve made, both financially and emotionally and all that, but I haven’t. That frightening, horrible world of treatment is full of just amazing, adorable, sometimes exasperating people, wonderful friends, and I’ve been able to be a part of their lives for the last 27 years.” (Photo above: Andy Sacks and G.W. with Sunshine Kids).
Are there children that stand out in his mind? “Oh, goodness,” he said. “There are so many.” He mentioned a young woman, Doreen Rodriquez, who visited his family in California. “We became very close to her family,” he said. Doreen died when she was 19.
He also singled out a 15 year-old boy who lived in a small town in Oklahoma’s panhandle, was kept in isolation for a year, and traveled to Oklahoma City every two weeks for treatment. The town had one main street and one school that housed students from kindergarten through high school. G.W. had just finished filming Police Academy 5 in Miami and, at the boy’s request, stopped in Oklahoma for a visit. “Every two weeks they would dismiss school and as he drove down the main street, the streets were lined on both sides with all the students from his school carrying signs—we love you, we miss you,” G.W. said. “He used to joke—after the fact—that every two weeks he cried all the way to Oklahoma City and then when he finished his treatment, they turned around and he vomited all the way back.” The young man is a cancer survivor and now has three children.
G.W. is proud that his son, Martin, and his daughter, Teri, volunteer for the organization. He has two grandchildren, Matt, 14, and Hannah, 17. “My granddaughter will do her first full-time trip this September,” he said. “She’s very, very excited about that and I’m very, very happy that it excites her.”
The foundation’s home office is in Houston with a northeast office in Hartford, Connecticut. Plans to open an office in New Orleans were put on hold when Bailey realized that The Closer was a hit and his commitment to the show would keep him in Los Angeles. The show’s production company donated office space on the studio property where both The Closer and Major Crimes are filmed. The foundation has since rented additional space next door.
Bailey is also pleased that his TV family is involved in the foundation. Brooks Tomb, who was head of set lighting for The Closer, now serves as the foundation’s director of regional offices. Andy Sacks, The Closer’s producer, is a member of the foundation’s board of directors. “What Andy has accomplished for us absolutely is amazing,” he said. The trio—G.W., Brooks, and Andy—began to get others involved. “I don’t mean to infer that we had to browbeat anybody,” he said. “It was just the opposite. Everybody wanted to participate.” The Sunshine Kids began to visit the set, some serving as extras. (Photo above, G.W. and the Sunshine Kids sitting on Provenza’s desk on The Closer set).
In 2007, when the foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary, the entire Closer cast and much of the crew flew to Houston to participate. “Kyra [Sedgwick] acted as the MC and host for the evening,” he said, accompanied by her husband, Kevin Bacon, and their daughter, Sosi Bacon, who had appeared in several episodes of The Closer. The real stars of the evening, however, were the Sunshine Kids, one representing each year of the foundation’s existence. “Some of them were in their 40s, they were married and had kids,” he said. “And then the newer kids, the more recent ones, were still in treatment.” One of the Sunshine Stars, Akara Forsythe, attended her first event in 1990 in Aspen, Colorado. “She is now a doctor, an anesthesiologist in Baltimore, and she is chairperson of the board of directors of the Sunshine Kids,” G.W. said. “It’s fantastic.” (Photo above: Phillip Keene, one of the Sunshine Kids, Jon Tenney, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck, Tony Denison, G.W.).
The adults involved with the Sunshine Foundation never ask the children about their cancer. “We treat them with tremendous deference and respect, “ said Bailey. However, when the children are together they do share with each other, something Brenna Huckaby, above, one of the foundation’s spokes kids, confirmed. “We just talk about our whole lives, serious conversations,” said Brenna. “It’s not a pity party. Usually there’s a lot of tears but they are happy tears.”
G.W. praised the parents of the children for the confidence they have in the foundation. “For 30 years, parents all over the U.S. and Canada have sent their kids [on our trips] when they are at their most vulnerable, their health is very precarious, their very existence is being threatened,” he said. “We have some kids from Seattle who go to Florida.” The foundation has relationships with hospitals around the country, including Sloan Kettering in New York, to handle any emergencies that come up and pediatric oncology nurses always travel with the group.
He recalled one year when a “rambunctious little kid,” waiting with the group in a Florida airport, couldn’t stop jumping around and slipped and broke his leg. “You think that was a tough phone call for me to make?” he said. “And his father said, ‘oh, that doesn’t surprise me. I bet he’s jumping around.’ We had [his leg] set and put him in a wheelchair and he stayed the whole week. His dad wanted him to have the experience.”
Does he have down moments? “Right now we have 25 kids that were just on a national show and they’re going to a Broadway show tonight and they’re seeing the city that’s the capital of the world and they’re in a beautiful hotel, the Westin Times Square.” he said.”Every employee in that hotel, by the way, is wearing a yellow Sunshine Kid sun on their lapel, just like they wore on television.” Daily reports are sent to G.W. and other foundation officials and pictures are posted all the time on Facebook and Twitter. “If you get a little down, you just go look at them having a good time,” he said.
We couldn’t let G.W. get away without asking him about the mole who is sabotaging Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) on The Closer. “I don’t think people will be outraged by the solution; I think it’s a very clever solution,” he said. “It’s been made into such a big thing. What I fear that it’s going to be a little like, who shot J.R. You think you know and then you come back and find out it was all a dream.”
He did offer a clue: “I can give you a movie to go watch that has nothing whatsoever to do with The Closer, and this movie is at least 20 years old or older. You would know instantly who the mole is.”
To contribute to The Sunshine Kids Foundation in honor of The Closer’s last season, click here.
On Facebook: The Closer Fans Thank You to Benefit The Sunshine Kids
Read Charlene Giannetti’s interview with G.W.’s co-star, Tony Denison, who plays Lt. Andy Flynn.