Paul Rudd honored by Topeka Capital-Journal as Kansan of the Year
Hollywood star supports Children's Mercy as Big Slick host, Inside Pediatrics narrator
As the vice president of story development for St. Louis-based Coolfire Studios, Tim Breitbach has worked with a number of celebrities — not always the easiest people to deal with.
“Most are at least professional and polite,” he said. “Then there are those who treat you like a best friend.”
Actor Paul Rudd, The Topeka Capital-Journal’s 2015 Kansan of the Year, is firmly entrenched in the latter group, Breitbach said.
“Paul makes you feel like you live in the same world,” he said. “He’s funny, he’s great to be around, his heart is in the right place. He seems to care deeply about where he’s from. He’s chosen (Kansas City’s) Children’s Mercy Hospital as a place where he can outwardly show that, but I think he has that same feeling for a lot of things involving Kansas and Kansas City.”
An example: In 2014, in his fifth year of working on behalf of Children’s Mercy Hospital, Rudd agreed to do the narration for “Inside Pediatrics,” an eventual Emmy Award-winning Coolfire TV series depicting the lives of the physicians and the young patients and their parents at the hospital.
“Their impact is profound. They touch these kids' lives in ways they don't understand and may never know. It's immeasurable.”
In the media
Rudd was as busy as he could possibly be at the time. He was in Atlanta on the set of “Ant-Man,” the Marvel Studios super-hero action movie. The role would be the biggest in his 20-plus-year career of mostly supporting comedic roles and stage performances on both Broadway and London’s West End.
“It was hard to get a place on his schedule, yet Paul made it happen,” Breitbach said.
A whirlwind time
2015 has been a special year for Rudd.
“Ant-Man,” which premiered on June 29 and generated more than $500 million in worldwide sales within six months, moved Rudd out of what he jokingly calls his “I know that guy” supporting role in successful movies such as “Anchorman” (the original and sequel) and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Starring with veteran actor Michael Douglas in “Ant-Man,” Rudd has a vehicle — his ex-thief character accomplishes great deeds after stealing a special suit that gives him super-human strength after shape-shifting into an ant-sized body — that leaves room for his wisecracking style in an action-hero role.
“I'm Ant-Man,” he tells Falcon, an Avengers member who looks with disdain on the new arrival's special suit. “I know, this wasn't my idea.”
2015 saw Rudd get his star placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It also was the year the former Overland Park resident — a graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School before attending the University of Kansas — got doused in champagne in the clubhouse of his beloved Kansas City Royals after they won the World Series against the New York Mets in New York City, where Rudd now resides.
Though better known as Ant-Man — or perhaps Mike Hannigan, Phoebe Buffay’s love interest and eventual husband over 18 episodes of “Friends” — Rudd is admired for his work with the comedians of Big Slick on behalf of Children’s Mercy Hospital.
It was in 2010 when Rob Riggle, a Shawnee Mission South High School and KU grad with a background on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” approached Johnson County friends Rudd and Jason Sudeikis, a Shawnee Mission West High School graduate who was featured on “SNL,” with the idea of hosting a celebrity poker tournament to raise funds for the hospital.
Their invited guests that first year included actor and “SNL” alum Will Ferrell, and they stunned themselves by raising about $50,000.
“We love our hometown,” Riggle said of the founding of Big Slick, a poker term that refers to a hand that can easily lose a fortune for its holder. “I’ve always thought of Children’s Mercy as a Kansas City treasure, and we’ve got to take care of it.”
Their campaign exploded from there, both in celebrity participation and donations. A celebrity wiffle ball game was added at the Little K kid’s field at Kauffman Stadium, along with a live auction and gala. In 2014, the original trio was joined by KC-area comedians Eric Stonestreet — a Piper High School and Kansas State University graduate with a two-time Emmy Award-winning role on ABC’s “Modern Family” — and David Koechner, of Tipton, Mo., an “Anchorman” staple and lead character in NBC’s “The Office.”
At the end of this year’s event, which attracted singer Selena Gomez, actress Olivia Wilde (Sudeikis’ wife), actors James Van Der Beek, George Wendt and Johnny Knoxville and a host of other celebrities, Big Slick announced a weekend fundraising total of $1.1 million, bringing its net contribution to Children’s Mercy Hospital to $3.3 million.
Many of the celebrities initially come for the party — and there is a good one — but quickly find their hearts stolen by the pediatric patients they visit each year.
“They love coming to KC. They love eating barbecue and they love all the events,” Rudd, who was unavailable for an interview for this story, said at a pre-event news conference. “And yet all of them say the best part of the weekend is visiting the hospital and spending time with the kids. That’s why we’re here. That’s why they ask to come back."