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67 FOR 93: As the lunch rush arrived at the Four Seasons on Monday, an unusual greeter was working the door at the Pool Room. Morgan Freeman was playing host at the back room, where he welcomed each guest with a handshake and a smile. It was Nelson Mandela’s 93rd birthday, or Mandela Day. Freeman, who portrayed the former South African president in 2009’s “Invictus,” had organized a luncheon to promote one of the main aims of the day: to encourage people to dedicate 67 minutes (one for each year of Mandela’s years of public service) back to the community.
The cause attracted a power lunch crowd that included Barbara Walters, Billie Jean King, Tory Burch, Christiane Amanpour, Mandela biographer Rick Stengel and the Al Roker and Ann Curry thirds of the “Today” show. U2 sang “Happy Birthday” to Mandela via video. Asked about his 67-minute-worthy cause, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said the Police Athletic League. Actor Anthony Mackie said he hadn’t settled on one yet. New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. declined to bestow any of his 67 minutes on the party reporter set, turning down a brief chat.
“They are all interested in Madiba, what he stands for,” Freeman said of the diners, using Mandela’s nickname. “All these people know and love him. They all want to be part of something that’s going to promote him and his beliefs, theories, his life. So I think that’s why they’re here. They’re not here because I asked them to come.”
Freeman said it had been about a year since he’d seen Mandela, when he’d driven from Johannesburg to Cape Town, stopping at different towns along the way to put in his 67 minutes.
“I guess arriving in Cape Town,” he said when asked of his favorite leg. He gave a very familiar laugh. “It was winter,” he said.