The year in gossip

You pretended you didn't care about Paris, Star, Lindsay and Martha. And who did you think you were fooling?

Published December 30, 2004 6:13PM (EST)

Like everyone else, gossip lovers spent much of 2004 parsing the lives of politicians: Which formerly apolitical celebrity was backing which presidential candidate? Which candidate's offspring was partying maybe a bit too hard or wearing an altogether too revealing outfit? Which was too orange or had better hair? And which candidate's campaign will go down in history in part because of an unforgettable blundered headline in the New York Post?

But does that mean we had no time for Britney and Jessica, for Donald and Howard? For Lindsay and Star and Paris and Liza? Or even for Kobe and Michael and Scott Peterson? Perish the thought.

Nope. We dutifully kept up with news of Michael Jackson's hidden porn collection, the swabbing of his mouth for DNA, his courthouse car-top dance and the investigation into his allegations that police manhandled him and locked him in a feces-smeared bathroom.

We marveled at the "secret" transcripts of Kobe Bryant's interviews with Colorado police detectives, somehow leaked to the press, in which he told cops that grasping his sexual partners in a stranglehold from behind was his "thing" and that he regretted not doing "what Shaq does," which was to pay women he screwed around with "up to $1 million" to stay mum. And we weren't the least bit surprised when Shaquille O'Neal angrily denied Bryant's allegations.

We devoured every detail of the Peterson trial, particularly those transcripts of his conversations with Amber Frey: the phone call in which he expressed a deep desire to kill a dog barking outside his hotel room "in Brussels"; his confounding request that Frey rent and watch "Love Affair," starring Annette Bening and his "hero" Warren Beatty; his New Year's Eve call from "near the Eiffel Tower," where, he said, the celebration was "unreal."

But lest we forget, 2004 was a year that began with the media hoopla over Britney Spears' quickie, panty-free Vegas wedding to husband (no matter how briefly) No. 1, Jason Alexander, who later sold his story to a British tab, sharing that Britney "was an animal in bed" -- and a year that's wrapping up with rumors that she has a bun in the oven with husband (three months and counting) No. 2, Kevin Federline.

Yes, 2004 was a year particularly rich in celebrity shamelessness. And gossip lovers love nothing as shamelessly as rooting around in celebrity trash. So here, fresh from the gossip garbage heap of the past year, are a few steaming highlights:

Janet Jackson's right breast comes out of hiding, sets off a cultural revolution!
Let's face it, if you blinked, you probably missed Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during her horrifying-for-other-reasons Super Bowl halftime number last January. But that one split-second mammary sighting has had the sort of long-term effects other celebrity body-part flashings (intentional or otherwise) can only dream of. After all, the Federal Communications Commission made a federal case out of the incident, using it to bolster its campaign against indecency on the airwaves, which only recently has been revealed to have been orchestrated by a single conservative group, the Parents Television Council.

Who can forget the FCC's Michael Powell expressing his shock and outrage that children -- yes, children! -- would be forced to see even a millisecond of the very thing that nourished most of them for months, in the midst of enjoying that wholesome American pastime in which humongous grown men hurl themselves at each other in a fashion calibrated to do as much damage to the other guy as possible? Or Jackson's subsequent banishment from the Grammys while her partner in malfunction crime, Justin Timberlake, was welcomed with open arms -- after a public apology?

Not Bono, or Howard Stern. Thanks to a single star-accessorized nip slip -- and, OK, a little oral/anal sex chatter of his own -- Stern is now set to turn the radio world on its head by abandoning the conventional airwaves for the uncharted territory of satellite radio. TV stations have seen the airing of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" as pure perniciousness. And the pointer fingers of award show producers are doomed to spend eternity hovering anxiously over a delay button. Thank God for Fox, which really doesn't seem to be too bothered by the FCC's scold and slap for its airing of pixilated naked ladies on all fours during the show "Married by America." (Wait, did I just thank God for Fox? Janet's boob flash, the money shot heard 'round the world, continues to affect us all in startling, mysterious ways.)

Star Jones gets married, pushes the boundaries of decency in ways the FCC, alas, can't touch!
What is it about Star Jones' love of the freebie that so fascinates us? I mean, what celebrity doesn't like a goody bag? Yet, truly, is there any celebrity in recent memory who has loved a freebie so deeply, so passionately and so fiercely as this big-boned bridezilla? The brazen shamelessness with which Jones went about soliciting vendors to donate their goods and services to her gala nuptials last month was far more astonishing than her groom's past (or maybe not so past) on the gay club scene -- or even his bachelor party, which featured no naked women but lots and lots of somber-faced, shivering naked men.

Less shocking still was Jones' post-wedding, pre-honeymoon scuffle with her "View" costars for daring to switch seats at their assigned table so as to sit next to one another and for -- gasp! -- trying to snap a photo of the happy couple. At last, just this month, a gardener who was promised free publicity in return for work he did on Jones' roof has filed a lawsuit against her for failing to hold up her end of the freebie bargain. Perhaps his experience will serve as a cautionary tale to other vendors considering hitching their wagons to this immensely opportunistic Star.

Paris Hilton's second, more damning porn video leaks out, proving once and for all that she's all bucks, no brains.
Way back in November 2003, the world got its first grainy view of Paris Hilton preening, pouting and getting it on with one of her many, many boyfriends. But just this past September, another Hilton video -- this one 12 hours of fun, apparently filmed after that Hilton classic now known as "One Night in Paris," and possibly stolen from Hilton's Hollywood home -- made its way into the hands of a Los Angeles-based reporter for Britain's News of the World, who promptly began giving interviews describing its contents.

There's Paris "making love" in the back of a car with Nick Carter, greeting previous beau Jason Shaw clad in nothing but her birthday suit and a smile, and rolling a joint. And then there's something far worse: Hilton using the N-word to describe two African-American men she meets along the way: "Dumb n-----s" is what she's said to have called them.

Hilton issued a statement denying that she would use such a word, saying, "I am not a person who discriminates against anyone -- ever." But her "former friend" and fellow person of privilege Brandon Davis told the National Enquirer that Hilton did use the N-word ... regularly.

All told, it was a year of ups (the safe return of her lost Chihuahua Tinkerbell; the publication of her book, "Confessions of an Heiress") and downs (the embarrassing disclosure that her dog may not have been lost at all but, rather, forgotten at the home of her grandparents; the big-time belly-flopping of said book) for Paris. But at least she caught most of it on tape. Could someone remind me why we care about this woman? And is there a better metaphor for her mysterious rise than her ballyhooed modeling gig with jeans-maker Guess? -- when she has virtually no booty to speak of?

Liza Minnelli's disintegration continues. And David Gest's not doing so well either.
What's that? You thought things couldn't get any worse for Liza Minnelli (who was rushed to the hospital this week after falling out of bed and hitting her head) once her scarily plastic, control-freak husband David Gest hit the highway, leaving behind a trail of allegations of bad behavior on her part (drinking, verbally abusing him, beating him "about his head")? How wrong you were. In October, she discomfited her fellow revelers at the wrap party for Outkast's movie musical "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" by downing a couple of shots of bourbon and performing an "incoherent and rambling" solo onstage until she was rescued by the band Fishbone. Then -- and really, who could have seen this one coming? -- Liza's longtime chauffeur and bodyguard filed a $100 million lawsuit against her, claiming that she not only beat him, spat on him and cheated him out of $89,000 in back wages after wrongly terminating him but also "hit and assaulted" him and forced him to have sex with her during his 10 years in her employ.

Minnelli insists that the chauffeur and Gest are plotting together to "destroy" her. And frankly, Gest could probably use a little settlement cash these days. Not only is celeb after celeb dropping out of his upcoming holiday charity concert in Memphis (Al Green, for one, says he never agreed to appear in the first place, and that Gest used his name to promote the concert without his permission), but the state of Tennessee is also questioning the legitimacy of Gest's fundraising intentions, given that he has failed to register to legally collect money for charity. If he does not register pronto, Gest could face criminal charges. And wouldn't that be a lovely way to end the year?

Bill O'Reilly shares alleged fantasies about loofah-enhanced love, and women everywhere cross their legs.
There's so much that could be said about the allegations of sexual harassment made by former "O'Reilly Factor" associate producer Andrea Mackris and the surrounding scandal -- O'Reilly's bullyish "preemptive strike" in filing an extortion suit against Mackris before she even filed her harassment suit, the stories impugning Mackris' rep that ran in Fox's print sibling the New York Post, the quiet settlement for an undisclosed sum and O'Reilly's subsequent vow never to discuss the case again -- but, really, wouldn't it be way more fun just to reread the section of Mackris' suit in which she quotes O'Reilly trying to woo her with a sexual fantasy about a Caribbean vacation? Click here to relive your fondest loofah/falafel memories.

Courtney Love stands accused again, and again, and again. Does no one hear this woman's cry for help?
Does it seem to you that Courtney Love was in court, like, every week this past year? That's because she pretty much was. She recently pleaded not guilty of felony assault with a deadly weapon in an incident in which she allegedly broke into her ex-boyfriend's home, found another woman sleeping on his couch and attacked her with a bottle of whiskey, a flashlight and a lighted candle, among other things. The alleged victim also claims that Love sat on her, yanked her hair, gouged fingernails into her arm, punched her mouth and gave her left breast "the worst pinch I have ever had." (Love's lawyer says his client was "grossly overcharged.")

Love appeared before a different judge to face felony drug charges related to that case. And in October she pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct brought after that prickly incident back in March in which she chucked a microphone stand from the stage during a performance in New York and hit an unsuspecting fan smack-dab in the noggin. (The poor guy had to have three staples put into his head to close the wound.)

The judge in that case reduced the charges of reckless endangerment and third-degree assault to mere disorderly conduct and ordered Love to pay the victim's medical expenses ($2,236) and to join a drug treatment program. Despite the sentence reduction and relatively light punishment, Love was dissatisfied with the outcome. "I played a rock show. I didn't do anything. I wasn't on drugs. Playing a rock show had nothing to do with drugs," she said.

The singer-actor is also being sued by her former lawyers over unpaid legal fees (the two sides are working toward a settlement) and by a travel agent who says she owes $50,000 in unpaid plane fares, and a lien was recently put on her New York condo because of her failure to pay her common charges. But Love didn't spend all her time in court this past year. Nope, she also spent a few days in a New York hospital, where she was admitted on her 40th birthday for what her lawyer called a "gynecological medical condition," not surprisingly missing a court date along the way.

The Olsen twins turn 18, go to college, deny drug addiction.
They grow up so fast, don't they? Within days of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's 18th birthday this past June -- a date that stopped countdown clocks across the Web cold in their tracks -- the twins' spokesman, Michael Pagnotta, announced that Mary-Kate (the brunet) had checked herself into an unnamed institution for treatment for an eating disorder. And no sooner had Mary-Kate checked herself in than the rumor mill cranked and sputtered and coughed up speculation that the young actor was actually fighting an addiction to drugs -- cocaine, to be precise. And no sooner had that rumor begun to take flight, despite the twins' spokesman's firm denial, than the Olsens found themselves dropped from MilkPEP's "Got Milk" campaign. (That white stuff on the upper lip started to seem a tad too suggestive, we suppose.) And no sooner had Mary-Kate returned to college at New York University than she was rumored to have been spotted smoking a cigarette. Puff, puff.

Fun and fisticuffs at the Lohan family picnic? Lindsay distances herself from her dad, proves she's a party girl par excellence.
Leaving behind -- at least for a time -- that ongoing feud with fellow teen queen Hilary Duff (they both dated Aaron Carter), Lindsay Lohan spent much of the year dealing with troubles brewed in her very own family.

Back in May, after a family party celebrating Lohan's little brother's first Communion, her dad, Michael, got into a scuffle with his brother-in-law and ended up brutally attacking him with his shoe. Lindsay's mother, Dina, has since taken out a restraining order against her husband, which he recently violated. Charged with criminal contempt and driving under the influence, Michael Lohan is currently cooling his heels in rehab.

But despite the fact that he has become a favorite whipping boy of the tabloids, he hasn't stopped talking to the press. When Lindsay was sick in the hospital with an undisclosed illness, he blabbed that drugs might be to blame (she says she was just exhausted) -- and struck out at her handlers for not allowing him near Lindsay's side. Talk about a parent trap.

Meanwhile, the New York tabloid gossips have kept their eyes trained on the underage actress as she parties all over town. Not that she minds all that much: "The good part of it is people are taking the time to make things up about me. It's very flattering," she recently told Rolling Stone. "Also, you know, when it comes to this business, you aspire to have that recognition and be in those tabloids."

Martha Stewart: The good things just keep coming.
Just because Martha Stewart's in lockup doesn't mean we haven't been treated to a steady diet of tidbits about Martha's life. Quite the contrary. We've heard in great detail about how Martha has spent her time at West Virginia's Alderson Federal Prison Camp, whom she has made friends with, who has visited her, what she's wearing and what she's eating. For Thanksgiving, for instance, Stewart dug into the usual prison holiday grub of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing and pumpkin pie, prepared by inmates in the camp kitchen -- nothing fancy or Martha-esue. ("We have an established menu already in place that goes through an examination by a dietician and we don't let the inmates have input into how we run our menu," said a prison spokeswoman.) What did Martha have for Christmas dinner? Stay tuned.

Dave Matthews' bus driver drops sewage on tourists' heads, then takes a lot of crap for it.
It's the gossip story of 2004 most likely to make you say "Eeeeew!" Tourists enjoying a popular architectural cruise on the Chicago River in early August were treated to what the Illinois attorney general estimates was "at least 800 pounds of liquid human waste" raining down on their upturned faces as they examined the underside of a grated bridge. Photos taken at the scene linked the sewage dump to Dave Matthews' tour bus. The band, which was not aboard the bus at the time, insisted that its driver was wrongly accused of emptying the bus' septic tank in an unlawful, unsanitary and truly repulsive manner, saying, "Our driver has stated that he was not involved in this incident."

But though the state of Illinois is still investigating the matter, the Dave Matthews Band decided in October that they had had enough bad publicity and donated $68,000 to the Chicago Park District and a nonprofit group that protects the Chicago River. "We know we cannot erase what happened that day," the band said in a message posted on its official Web site, "but we hope by reaching out and helping now this will help demonstrate our commitment to step up if we are found to be the responsible party." Come to think of it, maybe Matthews wasn't quite so shameless after all.

By Amy Reiter

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