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Jazz singer Mel Torme is dead

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SOUR NOTE Jazz singer Mel Torme died Saturday in Los Angeles of complications from a stroke he suffered in 1996. Torme, 73, had made his name singing with such groups as the Artie Shaw Orchestra and had hit the charts with numerous songs including ”Careless Hands,” ”Again,” and ”Blue Moon,” which became his signature tune. Torme, who received a lifetime achievement award at February’s Grammys, is survived by his fourth wife, Ali, and his five children.

CASTING Talk about your celebrity deathmatches: Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt are all reportedly salivating over the lead in Anthony Minghella’s (”The English Patient”) adaptation of the best-selling novel ”Cold Mountain,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. It’s premature for auditions, though, because Minghella is just starting to write the script based on the National Book Award winner…. Chris O’Donnell is taking his career to new heights with the mountain-climbing action film ”Vertical Limit.” He’ll star as a master scaler who shuns mountains after his father dies in a climbing accident, but in a ”Cliffhanger”-esque twist he has to strap on the crampons again to rescue his sister, stranded on a peak…. Camryn Manheim (”The Practice”) will play the coach of a record-setting Special Olympian (”Beloved”’s Kimberly Elise) in ”The Loretta Claiborne Story,” a fact-based TV movie for ABC’s ”The Wonderful World of Disney.”

OUTSPOKEN Gary Cherone didn’t make much noise in his singing debut with Van Halen, so he’s trying another outlet: He posted an open letter criticizing Eddie Vedder‘s pro-choice views on the anti-abortion Rock for Life website. The site has previously attacked Lilith Fair and R.E.M. for supporting pro-choice groups. Neither Vedder nor Van Halen’s spokespeople had any comment, according to MTV News…. Lauryn Hill used a London press conference Tuesday night to make a public call to her fellow songwriters to stop using profanity and violent lyrics. She told the assembled reporters that ever since she had her own kids, she’s realized how children can be influenced by what they hear.

IN A JAM Rock and roll injuries just ain’t what they used to be: Dave Matthews broke two ribs last week when he and a friend were tossing grapes into each other’s mouths, and he fell over a chair and onto his guitar. It hasn’t impeded his tour, however, and he’s been playing even while on the casualty list. ”He was in pain, but he totally rocked,” said his publicist, who is paid to say such things. ”He would never let something like this get in his way.”

HEALTHY OUTLOOK Michael Jackson‘s son’s doctor has confirmed that reports of Prince Jackson dying have been greatly exaggerated. Dr. Allan Metzger says that the 2-year-old has a viral infection, and the seizures he experienced aren’t rare: They occur in 5-to-10 percent of young children with high temperatures.

RECORD SETTING ”Saving Private Ryan” has won the battle AND the war at the video store: In the six days since its video release on May 25, it generated $9.6 million in rental fees, beating the record of $9.08 million set by ”There’s Something About Mary” earlier this year.

LAWSUIT Not even Judge Wapner ever had to deal with something like this: Milton Berle emerged the winner in court Thursday when a jury dismissed a lawsuit against him by a bellhop who claimed he was permanently injured when the comedian gave him a good-natured sock in the genitals (are there any other kind?) in 1994. A witness said that Berle only threatened the punch when Trump Taj Mahal bellhop Brian Cooke joked he looked pretty good for an 86-year-old man, according to the Associated Press. Berle, 91, testified for the Atlantic City court via videotape that he didn’t remember the incident.

REEL DEAL Director Tom Shadyac (”The Nutty Professor,” ”Patch Adams”) is heading to TV, having signed a three-year development deal with Touchstone TV to develop comedies and dramas. Although he’ll continue to make films, he says he’ll stay involved with any of his shows that make it to air by directing the pilots and writing a few episodes.

CENSORSHIP WATCH Wal-mart and Kmart are purging their shelves again: This time the chains are removing the top-selling eponymous Godsmack CD from their shelves after Cleveland parents complained that the lyrics on the record contain profanity and references to suicide. Both stores have pledged not to sell music with controversial subject matter, and have previously yanked records by Marilyn Manson and Prodigy.

LAWSUIT Stevie Nicks, along with her brother and mother, are being sued by a man who claims that they endorsed a woman to whom he had lent nearly $400,000 to build an animal shelter, but who ended up spending the money on herself, according to the Associated Press. The accuser, Dale Lumb, claims that the Nicks knew about the previous fraud convictions against shelter ”builder” Britney Marx (who now faces fraud and theft charges). But Barbara Nicks (the singer’s mother) says that they had no idea Marx was raising money. ”It just kills me to think she borrowed money from people and didn’t pay it back,” she said.

COMING CLEAN David Lander — who will always be known as Squiggy to ”Laverne & Shirley” fans — has announced that in 1984, a year after the hit sitcom went off the air, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He says he has been in remission for the last 13 years but wanted to come forward now to show people the disease doesn’t have to stop you from working. Lander is about to star in the musical ”Once Upon a Mattress” in Utah.

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