EXITS Time to say goodbye to the donuts. Fred the Baker (actor Michael Vale) is hanging up his apron after starring in more than 80 Dunkin’ Donuts commercials over the last 15 years. Fred’s last spot will air Sept. 28. Says Vale, ”’Time to make the donuts’ has become the battle cry of the working man.”
SENTENCED Police-blotter staple Martin Lawrence, 32, to two years of probation and 240 hours of community service, after pleading no contest to battery charges, Sept. 17, in L.A. In March, the comedian was arrested for hitting an unidentified man who says he bumped into Lawrence on a nightclub dance floor. Lawrence must pay a yet-to-be-determined amount to his victim.
DEALS On Sept. 22, Seagram’s Universal Studios announced it will acquire Viacom’s 50 percent interest in the USA Networks — including USA and the Sci-Fi Channel — for $1.7 billion in cash. The deal ends long-running litigation over control of the cable nets and gives Universal an outlet for its films and TV programs.
DEATHS Musician Nicholas Traina, 19, reportedly of an accidental heroin overdose, Sept. 20, in San Francisco. Traina, lead singer of the punk-rock band Knowledge and son of author Danielle Steel, had allegedly struggled with drug problems for years. Steel’s spokesman says she is in seclusion and has no comment…. Contemporary Christian singer Rich Mullins, 41, in a car accident, Sept. 19, in LaSalle County, Ill. Mullins’ 1989 single ”Awesome God” reached No. 1 on the Contemporary Christian Music magazine chart. ”He was creative and passionate,” says Amy Grant, for whom Mullins wrote several songs. ”He struggled with faith and found human ways to put that into song.”… Blues legend Jimmy Witherspoon, 74, of natural causes, Sept. 18, in L.A. ‘Spoon, as he was known, made at least 200 jazz, blues, and R&B recordings, including 1949’s No. 1 ”Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” His Live at the Mint was nominated for a 1997 Best Traditional Blues Recording Grammy…. Comedian Red Skelton, 84, of pneumonia, Sept. 17, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The son of a circus clown, Skelton began on radio in the ’40s and made the transition to TV a decade later with The Red Skelton Show, which ran for 20 years on NBC and CBS. On his TV show he introduced characters like the Mean Widdle Kid and Freddie the Freeloader. ”Red’s kind of comedy doesn’t exist today,” saysJamie Farr (M*A*S*H), who was on Skelton’s variety show. ”He’d do a pantomime and have the audience in hysterics.”