updated 12/04/2008 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 12/04/2008 AT 12:10 PM ET
Lucy Liu has received a special 40th birthday present: a Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award from UNICEF.
“I feel overwhelmed and incredibly happy,” the Dirty Sexy Money star said at the UNICEF Snowflake Ball in New York Wednesday night, where guests included Téa Leoni, first daughter Barbara Bush, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Liu’s birthday was actually Tuesday, but that didn’t stop the many guests at the event from wishing her well.
She also got a special birthday tribute from Oscar-nominated songwriter Jon McLaughlin, who sang “Happy Birthday” to her before performing his single “Beating My Heart.”
The actress lost her voice before the event, but still participated in the evening’s auction. She donated $10,000 for a raft to carry supplies over water.
Another star who had auction fever: Leoni, who made one of her first public appearances since her October announcement that she had separated from husband David Duchovny. (The Californication star entered treatment for sex addiction in August.)
Leoni (who has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2003) convinced her father, UNICEF Board Chair Tony Pantaleoni, to donate $25,000 for a new car to transport supplies. Then, when Chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Charlie Trotter offered to make dinner for 10 people, the actress kicked off bidding at $10,000. But after some back and forth, Leoni surrendered at $27,500.
The event drew a crowd of over 500 people and raised $1.7 million. But for Liu, her contribution has only just begun.
“I feel like there’s so much more to be done,” she told the crowd when she accepted the award for her work as a UNICEF ambassador. “When they called me about the award, I didn’t call them back. I kind of felt like, I still have many years to go.”
Don’t expect the actress to stop working any time soon. When asked how she relaxes, she said, “I haven’t, that’s why I lost my voice.”