'CNN Heroes' 2012: Anderson Cooper returns for 'an event unlike any other'

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Anderson Cooper is grateful that the world has no shortage of heroes, for a number of reasons.

One is "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which the cable news network anchor-reporter has hosted annually since it began in 2007. He presides over the special's sixth edition Sunday, Dec. 2, at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium as 10 selected "Heroes" are introduced by celebrities and receive a $50,000 grant each for their respective efforts. Then one will be declared "CNN Hero of the Year" from online and social media voting (which ended several days earlier) and get an additional $250,000 grant.

"It's an event unlike any other," Cooper tells Zap2it. "It's so satisfying to be able to focus the spotlight on really deserving people who don't often get attention and work in ways -- sometimes large, sometimes small -- in their communities to make a difference.

"There's always a moment when you sort of find your throat catching," Cooper adds, "especially during some of the films we show of the work. What really strikes me is that these are people who don't have access to power or money. They just see a need in their community and decide to roll up their sleeves and start doing something about it."

Among the 10 "CNN Heroes" chosen this year: a Toledo, Ohio, woman who lost her son in a drowning accident and founded an initiative to help minorities learn to swim; a Kliptown, South Africa, man dedicated to improving the lives of children in his slum area post-apartheid; and a Butte, Mont., resident who provides college scholarships to youths who abstain from alcohol, after an underage drunken driver caused his daughter's death.

Their awards also include training by the Annenberg Foundation to help each advance his or her work, through guidance in such areas as fundraising and strategic planning.

In some cases, Cooper has seen the results of what "CNN Heroes" do firsthand.

"For 20-some-odd years now, I've been traveling to some of the most difficult places on the planet," he reflects. "So many times as a reporter, you think, 'I wish more people knew about what those here are going through.' Or you meet an individual and think, 'I wish there was more I could do.'

"Not that I'm selecting these heroes, because the viewers do, but it's so satisfying to know that there's an outlet for people to see this heroic work like I do out in the field ... and where there's the potential for [the 'Heroes'] to get exposure and funds."

Stars' involvement in the special isn't just lip service, as Cooper knows. "A lot of times, these are celebrities who are very passionate about projects as well, often very similar to what the 'Hero' they're introducing is working on." Among the 2012 participants are Susan Sarandon, Jane Lynch ( "Glee") and Viola Davis ( "The Help").

"CNN Heroes" is part of the very full plate Cooper has these days. In addition to his Emmy-winning CNN weeknight program "Anderson Cooper 360," he's a contributor to CBS' iconic newsmagazine "60 Minutes." And for now, he's also the host of the syndicated weekday series "Anderson Live," though that will end after its current second season.

"I'm surely disappointed that it's not continuing," Cooper says, "but you know, that's the way things go. I love doing the jobs at CNN and '60 Minutes,' and I'm looking forward to focusing on those."