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Phil Collen to give $20,000 check to the 25 year-old Gerson Institute

English guitar star Phil Collen’s most recent San Diego concert with his hard-rocking band, Def Leppard, was at the nearly 20,000-capacity Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre in late 2009. When he performs a few songs here today at a private event at the nonprofit Gerson Institute in Normal Heights, his audience will number closer to 100.

But that suits Collen, whose band has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, just fine. His goal is to lend support to the Gerson Institute, in the form of a $20,000 donation, and to bring wider attention to its work.

Founded here in 1977 by Charlotte Gerson, the holistic health institute is devoted to providing nutritional-based treatment for chronic degenerative diseases. This approach was pioneered in Germany by Charlotte Gerson's father, Max, in the 1920s. He died in 1959, after moving his family to New York to avoid religious persecution during World War II.

The institute has a staff of 30 at its San Diego headquarters and has licensed clinics in Tijuana and Budapest, Hungary. Charlotte Gerson, now 90 and still active on the institute's board of directors, will be on hand to accept the $20,000 check from Collen Thursday.

“I wanted to create a bit of awareness about Gerson,” said Collen, speaking from his home in Orange County, wherehas lived for the past 20 years.

“I researched Gerson and they really do great work. I think they were a little surprised when this guy from a rock band wanted to support that.”

Make that very surprised.

“We’ve never received a donation from a rock star before,” said Mika Payden-Travers, the institute’s development coordinator.

“When Def Leppard’s representative contacted me, I wondered which one of my friends was prank-calling me! It really says something about how far the movement for nutrition is coming, even within rock ‘n’ roll, and about the growing realization that what we put into our bodies is so connected to how we feel.”

Collen, 54, has been a vegetarian since 1982. He is now a vegan and is devoted to keeping fit, on and off the road.

Earlier this year, Collen found himself consoling his friend, Oklahoma guitar-maker and dealer Jake Willoughby, whose mother had recently died of cancer. Collen's father died of pancreatic cancer 8 years ago.

"Jake was very (distraught)," Collen recalled. "He said: 'If I get a guitar and we auction it off, will you play it (first on tour)?'

"I was definitely up for it. Then I did some research (to find a beneficiary). I found out about Gerson from the wife of (former Sex Pistols') drummer Paul Cook, who I play with in a band called the Manraze. She's a raw foods chef and spoke highly of Gerson.

"I thought working with Gerson would make an impact. Otherwise, it's like giving money to the Titanic, where all this money goes into research and then disappears."

The guitar Collen auctioned off was a custom designed Jackson PC1. (The "PC" stands for Phil Collen, not "politically correct.") He played the guitar, which is named "Wings" and prominently features a painting of an angel, nightly on Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” tour this summer.

"That is unusual," he acknowledged. "So many times in the past, we've signed guitars for charity and had no connection with them whatsoever. This is the first time I've been involved 100 percent."

Collen's "Wings" guitar was put up for auction online on eBay. When the winning bid of $20,000 turned out to be phony, the guitar went to the second highest bidder, New Zealand guitar fan Murray Bolton.

On Oct. 21. Bolton collected the guitar in person, after he flew to Southern California with his grandchildren for a visit to Disneyland.

"He's a great fan," Collen said. "He's not a guitar player, he just loves them and the idea of (collecting) ones that have been really played.

"I thought it was pretty fraudulent that someone would make a (phony) bid. I had told the Gerson Institute they'd be getting $20,000. Since Murray ended up getting the guitar for $15,000, I topped it off (with another $5,000) for the institute."

"It's unusual for us to get a donation of this size from anyone," said Payden-Travers, the Gerson Iinstitute's development director.

"It's exciting to see Gerson and some of its therapies be accepted and become better known. We're still far away from being (in the) mainstream, but the more people learn about our approaches, the more people become interested in them."

Payden-Travers laughed when asked if anyone at the institute was a Def Leppard fan.

"We really practice what we preach," she said. "We don't have health insurance for our workers, we have health assurance. We have a staff of about 30 and a chef who makes a fresh Gerson meal for us each day. Four or five days before Phil's representative called me about his donation, Jen Engeran, our chef wore a Def Leppard T-shirt to work!"

Read the story at utsandiego.com




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