Actor G.W. Bailey shared the spotlight Sunday as celebrity king of the Bacchus parade — one the biggest in the run-up to Mardi Gras — with more than two dozen child cancer patients from across the country.
Bailey suited up in his Bacchus tunic and cape and rode with 28 teens and children being treated for cancer. Their route through New Orleans allowed them to toss Mardi Gras beads and trinkets to throngs of crowds well into the night.
Bailey — known as the co-star of "Major Crimes" on TNT and for roles in the "Police Academy" movies and the series "The Closer" — said New Orleans at Mardi Gras is a great place to escape, especially for teenagers needing a break from cancer treatments and doctor appointments.
"I've had the opportunity to travel a good deal of the world, and I am not just saying this, there is no question I am in my favorite city in the world," he said. "I mean, the color, the sounds, the smells, the energy, the people, the food and obviously the music, how can you not love it?"
Bailey grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, near the Louisiana border, and says he has fond memories of visiting "that magical place" where he would walk the French Quarter, catch beads at Mardi Gras and eat some of the best food he's ever tasted. He said this weekend he relished the opportunity to share those experiences with young cancer patients.
As executive director for the Sunshine Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the mission of bringing joy to children being treated for cancer, Bailey arranged for 28 patients known as "Sunshine kids" to join him in New Orleans for his Bacchus reign. The group arrived Tuesday to a packed schedule that included trips to the Aquarium of the Americas, Audubon Zoo and French Quarter.
The group also took a south Louisiana swamp tour and attended Saturday's Endymion parade.
Bailey said he's been involved with the Sunshine Foundation for 27 years and has been executive director for 12. He said the foundation regularly organizes trips for young cancer patients to major U.S. cities.
He said that for years, patients would ride in suburban parades or downtown New Orleans parades in the weeks before Mardi Gras. But Bailey's reign as Bacchus thrust the actor and kids into the city's biggest Carnival weekend and atop floats on one of its biggest parades.
The revelry continues Monday, the eve of Mardi Gras known locally as Lundi Gras. That's when actor Gary Sinise and New Orleans musicians Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Harry Connick Jr. will ride in the Krewe of Orpheus parade. Joining them will be Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress Mariska Hargitay, the Imagination Movers family-friendly rock band, and Animal Planet's Tillman, the skateboarding bulldog.
Carnival season culminates Tuesday with the pageantry of the Rex and Zulu parades and as many as 1 million people reveling in the streets.
The parade routes were packed with revelers by early Sunday, despite the threat of rain and a shooting on Bourbon Street the night before. Some had set up tents, folding chairs, even barbecue pits. Ladders were set up with seats at the top for kids to get a good view of the revelry.
"The show must go on," said William Daviss, donning a black and white striped costume and yellow face mask as he boarded a float in the Krewe of Thoth parade, one of several that rolled Sunday.
"This is what Mardi Gras is all about right here," said Patrick Browne of New Orleans, hugging his 1-year-old son Patrick Browne IV. The younger Patrick had a birds-eye view of the parade from the top of a ladder, which his dad had equipped with a small seat and handle bar.
The rain appeared to be a minor concern. Most had arrived at the parade route prepared.
"We have ponchos. We have our jackets. We have umbrellas. We have everything. We are set," said Janell Weber of Baton Rouge, La., wearing a hat boasting long purple, green and gold streamers.
The previous night's shooting was on the minds of revelers.
"It was very disappointing," said New Orleans resident Carol Redmann-Bailey as she watched Thoth roll by. "I was disappointed and sad, but it seems like Bourbon Street stayed open. Laissez les bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll."