February 18, 2014 at 8:40 am

Society

Rosie O'Donnell sees red at Heart Association luncheon

Co-chairwomen Leesa Smith, left, Janice Cosby and Sharyl Smith, and AHA executive director Catherine Smith, flank keynote speaker Rosie O'Donnell. (Elaina Lancaster)

Don’t operate a cellphone while Rosie O’Donnell is speaking. This columnist learned that lesson the hard way.

The award-winning actress, comedian and author was in town Friday as the keynote speaker for the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women Luncheon,” which took place at MGM Grand Detroit. The event kicked off with a health expo and silent auction. The 600 guests — mostly women, mostly dressed in red — were seated for a noon lunch, a heart-healthy bento box with a duo entree of pretzel-crusted chicken and zucchini and thyme-crusted salmon.

After remarks from Fox 2 anchor/health reporter Deena Centofanti and event chair Sharyl Smith of McLaren Medical Macomb, and an introduction by Ascension Health vice president Janice Cosby, a feisty but compassionate O’Donnell took the stage. Wearing a black top and pants with a red scarf, she immediately asked if anybody would mind if she took off her scarf.

“I’m already warm, but I wanted you to see that I did wear red,” she said, eyes darting around the audience. “Besides, I’m still representing in red. I’m wearing a red bra.”

At that moment, she gave everyone a peek. This columnist decided this was great fodder for social media and began to tweet. Like an eagle, O’Donnell spotted the admittedly rude behavior. “Hey, what are you doing?” she yelled. “I’m standing here about to pour my heart out and you’re on the phone? Bring me the (bleeping) phone now!”

The columnist reluctantly obliged. When he came to the stage, she asked his name. From that point on, Chuck Bennett became a part of the keynote speech, mostly as the butt of some of her best jokes.

She captivated the audience with stories, fun-natured jabs at this columnist, songs, anecdotes and profound statements that made everyone go hmmm: “My mother died of breast cancer, so I was looking both ways for the breast cancer taxi when I got hit by the heart attack bus. Sadly, I had to learn from my own heart attack that the symptoms I always heard about and looked for are really those for men. Women’s symptoms could not be more different.”

Taking guests on a roller coaster ride of emotions, O’Donnell revealed for the first time publicly that she has lost 40 pounds since having vertical gastric sleeve surgery. She also drove home the point that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, killing more women than all forms of cancer combined.

The talk ended with a question and answer session when O’Donnell tried to dodge questions about having another TV talk show soon (her publicist subtly shook her head no as O’Donnell looked at her to see if it was OK to reveal); she also talked at length about her children and wife, Michelle Rounds.

Leena Smith, president of Freudenberg North America, was a co-chair along with Sharyl Smith and Cosby. Tickets to the luncheon were $250, and more than $600,000 was raised.

After a roaring standing ovation, O’Donnell announced she would return the money to the American Heart Association that she was paid to speak, reportedly tens of thousands of dollars. But before leaving the stage, she shot one more comment to this columnist: “Hey, Bennett, meet me in the room, sweetheart. You know the number. Don’t forget your whip.”

Chuck Bennett is the Fox 2 News Style Ambassador and the creator of The Social D, a website that represents the social side of Metropolitan Detroit. thesociald.com

Nicole Beaudoin of Novi, David C. McKnight of Northville and Elizabeth ... (Martin LeFlore)