Amy Poehler's Moving Speech on the Loss of Her Parks and Rec Co-Executive Producer Harris Wittels
An hour before the start of the second annual unite4: humanity event, word made way throughout the Beverly Hilton that Harris Wittels, 30, a co-executive producer and writer on Parks and Recreation, was found dead in his home of an apparent overdose, according to TMZ. The sitcom, which stars, Amy Poehler, is due to have its series finale next week on NBC, and on this night, Amy was due to receive the Unity Award for her work with World Wide Orphans. Understandably, Amy didn't want to do much press, but graciously posed for photographers, while greeting fellow honorees and guests.
When Amy took the stage at the event, which recognizes and honors celebs for their philanthropic commitment, she opened up about the loss of her colleague and friend, calling him a "dear, young man." Amy also used the opportunity to talk about the power of healing, and how she's learning to cope.
"I didn’t prepare this very well, and so this speech will be brief and rambling. Thank you Variety and unite4: good. I like what you guys talk about and creating generosity as a core value and about encouraging change and openheartedness in your daily life. So, here’s my daily life—today, I lost a friend. I lost a dear, young man in my life who was struggling with addiction and died, just a few hours before we came. Jane [Aronson] and I sat and talked about it. I’m sharing it with you because life and death live so close together, and we walk that fine line everyday and at the end of the day when things happen in our lives, we turn to people that we love, and we look to our family and our community for support, and we lean on people in a hope that they will ease our pain. And so I don’t feel like telling any jokes, I’m kind of sad, and it’s been really great to be here tonight and listening to all of you, to be inspired by all the work that you do, to be reminded of why we live in this bizarre planet called Hollywood. It’s very strange. I feel like talking WWO, I feel like talking about the good work that they do, how they focus on trauma and loss, how they encourage children through play and sport and creative arts. I feel like talking about the toy libraries that they’re creating, which if you get the chance to google WWO, World Wide Orphans, at any point tonight, it’s just such a genius idea of these amazing libraries focused on the developmental ages of children…3, 4, 5, 6, 7 year-old children get to go in and play with toys like it’s a library. These toys teach them motor skills and encourage their development, and these children don’t have any toys. Zero. No shirts, no toys, no homes, no parents. And WWO is creating these toy libraries all over the world, and hopefully all over the U.S. because every child in every country deserves safety, food, clothing, and family. I feel not like telling jokes, but celebrating with you all tonight, and everyone who works at WWO and who keeps reminding me of this one basic thing: that we’re all connected. Many people tonight have talked about how we all feel spiritually connected, and what I found to be the running theme throughout this room, is that there’s these things that feel incredibly big to handle, and you just kind of get paralyzed by them. And as I said about Jane and about WWO, the orphan crisis seems insane. It seems like a tsunami. It seems unbearable and unfixable. And what Jane does and what WWO does, and what you’ve all done for me tonight, is remind me that when something feels really big, too big to handle, just go really small. Just go real small. Look at the person next to you, meet them, find out their name, change one person’s life, make one call, write one letter, give one dollar. Whatever small thing feels like, it changes the course of the ship. That’s all that it is."
Josh Hutcherson was also honored at the event with the Young Humanitarian Award for his work with Straight but Not Narrow to support the LGBTQ community. I'll let you read Josh's speech below, but I loved this one particular line: "My friend just wrote this, and it goes like this, ‘No matter if you’re L, G, B, T, or Q, the most important letter to be is U.’"
"The fight for equality has been something that has been important to me my whole life. I’m someone who believes that everyone deserves the chance to find love, and I think a lot of us know how hard that can be without having the added pressure of not knowing if you’re going to be accepted by your community or if you’re going to be exiled for being whoever you are, and it’s really unfortunate. I was brought up in a family who was very accepting of me, and very much allowed me to become whoever I wanted to be. The thing to really focus on is respect, and respect is really only about just accepting and acknowledging that everyone else’s existence is just as valid and important as your own. And the way you do that is through understanding, and sharing your story, and by sharing your acceptance of your fellow humans, then really you’re leading by example and impacting the lives of LGBTQ people all over the world. We’re all in this world together and going through the same stuff and trying to navigate it all and be happy and have a family and love, and be loved, and all these things."
Other honorees included Halle Berry (Creative Conscience Award), P!nk (Music Visionary Award), Aaron & Lauren Paul (Unite2gether Award), Ewan McGregor (International Humanitarian Award), Christina Applegate (Saint Vintage Love Cures Award), and Zendaya (Young Luminary Award). The event was presented by ALCATEL ONETOUCH and sponsored by unite4:good Group, Saint Vintage, Piper-Hiedsieck (the official champagne of the Academy Awards) and Jet Edge International.