Worried about Whitney

Natalie Cole pipes up: Houston will pull through; writer of the new "Survivor" tell-all gets cagey about conspiracy. Plus: Posh Spice wears her own underwear and judge rejects Anna Nicole Smith's dumbbell excuse.

By Amy Reiter

Published October 30, 2000 2:46PM (EST)

Attention, Whitney Houston. Natalie Cole feels your pain.

Cole -- who in her new book, "Angel on My Shoulder," sheds light on such unforgettable difficulties as her addiction to heroin, her stint working as a "come-on" girl for a pimp back in the early '70s and her ex-husband's abusive behavior -- says she's concerned about her friend's alleged drug problem.

Although Cole, whose "best of" album hits stores Nov. 7, says she hasn't spoken to Houston for months, she's been tracking her dissolution in the papers.

"I can't tell you how hard it is to see it," Cole tells USA Today. "I'm on the other side of what people are going through -- my drug problem was all in the media. Now I'm on the other side. It's not a fun thing. But she's going to pull through."

How does she know? "Whitney's got a purpose," Cole says. "She has such a gift. She's a survivor."

I think I feel a song coming on.

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Achy Breaky description

"It's very much a 'McCloud' meets 'ER' meets 'Touched by an Angel' meets 'Mayberry.' Throw a little bit of 'Crocodile Dundee' in there just for fun."

-- Billy Ray Cyrus on his role as a Montana physician in New York in the TV film "Doc."

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Survive this

Did anyone out there get excited about recent reports that the author of a new book about Richard Hatch has promised to reveal that the producers of "Survivor" had a hand in orchestrating his win? If so, I have disappointing news. Not only is CBS denying the charge, the author himself, Peter Lance, is calling those reports "patently untrue."

"Whew! Now I know what it feels like to be the victim of a media drive-by," Lance, who was at one point engaged by Hatch to write a tell-all about "Survivor" but is now publishing his own book about the blurry-bootied winner, tells me. "I was wildly misquoted about the revelations in my upcoming book, 'The Stingray: Lethal Tactics of the Sole Survivor.'"

But while Lance contends he "never told" New York Daily News columnist Mitchell Fink "that 'I will prove manipulation on the part of the producers to affect the outcome of the game,'" he claims he did make "some startling discoveries about 'manipulation' of the series by its producers -- not just selective editing and 'time shifting' of scenes, but direct intervention that could have affected the outcome."

What's the difference? Got me. But Lance takes it one step further, saying, "The book contains a particularly startling charge from one of the castaways that a key Tribal Council vote had been influenced."

No, I have no idea if Lance is insinuating that Sue really wanted Kelly the rat to win all along -- and he refuses to go into any more detail. And yes, we can move on now.

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Gore's getting at least one vote

"I don't believe in it. I have no interest in it. I find it incredibly boring."

-- Paul Simon (the singer, not the politician) on charisma.

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Juicy bits

Wheep boom, take II. Dick Van Dyke says he was joking -- joking -- when he told AP Radio that he was planning to retire from TV land next year. "I've been talking about retiring for years," Dyke explained. "It's my standard answer to the question, 'What are your future plans?' The truth is I'll always be interested in things that are worthwhile and fun." Like television.

David Beckham would like to make one thing perfectly clear: He does not wear his wife Posh Spice's panties, no matter what she says. "I can actually say I have not worn Victoria's knickers -- not in public anyway," the British soccer star said in a U.K. TV interview. "It will be a bit worrying if I did because she is smaller than me." So why'd she say it? Beckham suspects she couldn't help herself. "When Victoria starts talking sometimes she can't stop," he explains. "She says things that get a bit of coverage, but I love her still so it doesn't matter." Geez, what does it take to make this guy mad?

Nearly Headless Nick: nailed to his perch? In a stroke of perfect casting, John Cleese is set to play Gryffindor ghost Nearly Headless Nick in the upcoming Harry Potter film. Stay tuned for J.K. Rowling's next book: Harry Potter and the Really Funny Comedian.

And in ickier casting news, Catherine Zeta Jones has reportedly signed on to play Julia Roberts' sister in the upcoming comedy "American Sweetheart." Zeta Jones' role casts opposite John Cusack. The two play a big-name Hollywood couple who split up but pretend to be together for PR purposes. No word yet on whether the script includes armpit sniffing.

Anna Nicole Smith's move to get a Houston judge to declare a mistrial in her lawsuit seeking her late husband's megabuckage was turned down last week. Although Smith's lawyers contend her weightlifting injury will get in the way of her receiving a fair trial, the judge said that if Smith fails to attend the trial, it's "her choice." "I think she's able to be here," he said. "I can't declare a mistrial based on this evidence." Smith insists she's in great pain after dropping a dumbbell on her hand. But the judge apparently had no sympathy for dumb belles.

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Miss something? Read yesterday's Nothing Personal.

Amy Reiter

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Celebrity Survivor Whitney Houston