Fans of “The Closer” raising funds for kids with cancer

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Photo courtesy TNT

“The Closer,” cable television’s popular, award-winning show about a tough, female LA police captain who does what she must to get confessions from brutal killers, is coming to an end this summer.

As a fan, I am looking forward to the final six episodes with two hearts: I want to know how everything ends, and I am excited about the new “Major Crimes” show to spin off from it, but I will really, really miss Brenda Leigh Johnson, played to perfection by Kyra Sedgwick.

Jon Tenney as Fritz Howard, with Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda Leigh Johnson/Photo courtesy TNT.

I will also miss Brenda Leigh’s wonderful husband, Fritz Howard, played by Jon Tenney. I wrote about it here.

After that post ran, I received a call from someone on the west coast who read my piece. Dee Dee Roe, who does some volunteer work for Sunshine Kids, pitched me a story about the charity and the current fan effort under way to raise funds for it as a way to celebrate “The Closer” as it ends.

The charity, which provides trips and activities for young cancer patients, has close ties to “The Closer”; in fact, it has become a huge part of the show’s culture.

G.W. Baily, left, who portrays Lt. Louis Provenza, is executive director of Sunshine Kids; Tony Denison, who plays Lt. Andy Flynn, volunteers for the chairty/Photo courtesy TNT.

G.W. Bailey, who plays Lt. Louis Provenza on “The Closer,” serves as executive director of Sunshine Kids.

Bailey’s association with the organization began 20-some years ago, when his goddaughter got involved with the group while battling cancer.

All it took to hook Bailey was seeing his goddaughter with a group of young cancer patients in a Colorado fire station. The kids — dressed in firefighting gear and playing with fire hoses, laughing, spraying each other, enjoying the moment — weren’t “kids with cancer”; for that moment, they were just kids.

G. W. Bailey/Photo courtesy TNT

The second Bailey came upon the merriment, his life changed.

“I had seen one kid with cancer. I’d seen a couple kids with cancer,” Bailey said. “But I had never seen 30 kids with cancer … having this exuberant celebration of their lives.”

The scene reduced the veteran actor to tears.

“I cried for (my goddaughter). I cried for all of them,” Bailey said. “I started (with Sunshine Kids) as a volunteer and now I’m the executive director.”

You can see an interview with Bailey talking about becoming involved with Sunshine Kids by clicking here.

"The Closer" star Kyra Sedgwick poses for a photo with a cancer patient.

Bailey shared a sobering statistic: The Center for Disease Control estimates that 47 kids every 24 hours are diagnosed with cancer.

“Kids get cancer for no reason,” he said. “Their lives are changed forever.”

Helping these kids celebrate their lives is what makes Bailey so very passionate about his work with Sunshine Kids.

“It’s a life job,” he explained. “We get to as many kids as we can reach with these positive experiences. We give them tiny slivers of their childhood back.”

The “high level of camaraderie” on the set of “The Closer” spills over onto the charity, Bailey said, and the strong support for Sunshine Kids runs through the entire production to the studio itself. Members of “The Closer” cast and crew contribute money, time and energy to the charity.

"The Closer" producer Andy Sacks, right, with a cancer patient

The show’s producer, Andy Sacks, serves on the charity’s board. Michael Paul Chan, who plays Lt. Mike Tao, takes the kids surfing. Tony Denison, who plays Lt. Andy Flynn on “The Closer,” is a familiar face on Sunshine Kids trips.

“It really makes you be grateful for your health,” Denison said. “It’s uplifting. It teaches you that life is valuable, that you can live your dreams.”

Sunshine Kids trips run the gamut, from daylong events around the country to multi-day journeys to places like New Orleans and Florida. Some of the trips are for the young cancer patients alone; others include their families.

As involved as “The Closer” cast and production members are, it makes sense that the show itself is a popular Sunshine Kids stop, regularly welcoming the young cancer patients on set.

“The kids get to help with lights and the like,” Bailey said. “It’s like one of their homes.”

As loyal fans of “The Closer” await the final six episodes of the series in July and the story arc of Brenda Leigh Johnson ending, the show is morphing into “Major Crimes” with most of the cast and crew intact.

Members of The Closer Fans Thank You To Benefit The Sunshine Kids group present G.W. Bailey and other cast members with a check for funds they raised.

To mark the end of one of cable television’s most-popular shows, its fan group is mounting a fund-raiser for Sunshine Kids. You can read about it by clicking here.

Medical facilities in Michigan whose patients participate in the Sunshine Kids program include Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, and Rose Cancer Treatment Center in Royal Oak. One of the Sunshine Kids’ national spokeskids for 2005 was Lena Hicks, a cancer patient, Detroit native and Eastern Michigan University student.

To learn more about Sunshine Kids, click here. You can make a donation by clicking here.

On Facebook, click here.

Etc …

If you’re not a fan of the show, you probably won’t understand much of this, so consider yourself warned:

I did my best Brenda Leigh Johnson to eke out a bit of information about the new “Major Crimes,” which spins off from “The Closer.”

Here’s what I learned:

• Viewers will be surprised as to which member of the Major Crimes unit is the leak, Denison said. (For the record, I think the leak is Detective David Gabriel, while the other fan of “The Closer” in my house thinks it’s Chief Will Pope. We’ll have to wait until later this summer to find out.)

• “Major Crimes,” will see some cast members depart and some new ones come on board.

“We have a couple new characters that are wonderful,” Bailey said.

• While “The Closer” cases almost always ended with Brenda Leigh Johnson extracting confessions from killers, “Major Crimes” will follow cases winding up in a more “legal sense,” Bailey said.

“‘The Closer’ was all about the confession,” he said. “’Major Crimes’ is more about the art of the deal.”

• Bailey thinks die-hard fans of “The Closer” will like “Major Crimes” very much.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” he said.

• The on-show friendship between Lt. Provenza and Lt. Flynn extends off-screen between G.W. Bailey and Tony Denison.

• Facebook fans of “The Closer” voted “Dial M for Provenza” as their favorite episode. It’s one of mine, too, and it stars the wonderful Jennifer Coolidge as a woman who hires a hit man (who turns out to be Lt. Provenza, working undercover) to kill her husband. It’s a funny, funny episode.

• Perhaps the best news of all to Fritz Howard fans like this writer, Jon Tenney will have a recurring role on “Major Crimes.”

 The final six episodes of “The Closer” begin at 9 p.m. Monday, July 9, on TNT.

About Maria Stuart 211 Articles

Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.