Healing came from helping others. Stone points to her father for inspiring her philanthropic instincts. "My dad always wanted to make sure people were cared for," Stone says. Before flying to Los Angeles for cancer treatments 10 years ago, he shoveled the snow off several of his neighbors' driveways. (Later he and Dorothy moved into Stone's guesthouse in the Hollywood Hills, where Joseph died two years ago, his daughter by his bedside.) "I was lucky to have my dad in my life," Stone says quietly. "As crazy as things got, I always had him to put his hand on my shoulder."
Personal experience also fueled Stone's passion for causes. In the mid-'80s, as a young actress, she traveled to Zimbabwe to appear in a pair of films, and witnessed utter poverty for the first time. "I'm certain that's why I have this understanding of what aid workers face," she says. "I understand what it's like to go to hospitals and there's no medicine, and the best thing you have to give the patients is compassion."
In 1993, after Stone's acting coach Roy London died of AIDS-related causes, her drive to make a difference became even more heartfelt, and she signed on as chair for amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, in 1995. She has used her fame and a knack for auctioning off ingenious items, including kisses from herself and George Clooney, to raise $300 million for the organization. "She's probably one of the greatest fund-raisers that ever was," says her Basic Instinct costar, Michael Douglas. "This lady can raise money. She's very dedicated, speaks very well on her feet, and, hey, God knows she can be seductive. I'm sure a few gazillionaires have coughed up more than they expected to a charity for the chance to cozy up to her."
Stone is critical of nonprofit leaders who "rotate in and out and blow their ego all over the place while you're really trying to get money allocated. I've stayed for a very long time because the mission was more important to me than the headaches."
Sometimes her activism has caused headaches, as when China banned her films after she suggested the 2008 Sichuan earthquake might have been "karma" for the government's policies against Tibet. Still, she soldiers on, working to bring clean drinking water to third world countries. For that charity, called Drop in the Bucket, she traveled to Uganda. "I went to refugee camps where there's no food, no water, nothing," she says. "I saw 4-year-olds with babies on their backs, and no parents. You take those kids home in your heart."
Lately Stone is focusing her charity work on the military, creating a Facebook page to support returning veterans. "She's always got her heart open," says Dr. Charles J. Sophy, medical director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and a longtime friend. "She's been all over the world and seen close up what it means to be homeless, or dying of AIDS, or to need water. And she's just relentless. She'll call me up and say, 'I know this kid — can you try to get him into a [drug-] treatment center and I'll pay for it?' She's an amazing person."
"I've made humanitarian causes and my children much more my priority than the Hollywood scene, being liked and getting movie parts," says Stone, who's had more than 40 film roles. "Besides, I haven't always been good in my roles. And I don't think I had a well-directed career."
Because she was so inordinately good-looking (and at times reputed to be a diva), Stone risked being typecast early in her career. "Sharon doesn't suffer fools gladly," says Michael Douglas. "That's intimidating for some people. And it's not her fault that she's so beautiful."