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Author Joseph Heller dies at 76

Plus, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lopez, Rage Against the Machine, Naomi Campbell, Sarah McLachlan, and more

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OBITUARIES Joseph Heller, who coined the phrase ”Catch-22” with his 1961 novel of the same name, died Sunday night of a heart attack at the age of 76. It took Heller eight years to write ”Catch,” his first novel, and the wartime satire was not a hit until the following year, when S.J. Perelman praised it in the New York Herald Tribune, spurring other critics to laud it; it went on to sell 10 million copies in the U.S. He wrote five other novels and one nonfiction book afterward…. Shirley Hemphill, who played the smart-ass waitress on ”What’s Happening,” died of natural causes this weekend at 52. (This just a month after Mabel King, who played ”Mama” on the sitcom, passed away.) Hemphill was returning to stand-up comedy, where she made her name before being cast on ”Happening.”

CASTING Matthew McConaughey will play the groom-to-be for whom Jennifer Lopez falls in ”The Wedding Planner”: The main problem is she is the titular organizer of his nuptials, which falls under the category of ”conflict of interest.”

BAND TROUBLE Because of a Dec. 2 concert in Philadelphia by Rage Against the Machine — a band which publicly supports a retrial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, now on death row for murdering a Philly cop in 1981 — the city’s branch of the Fraternal Order of Police is asking its 14,000 members to boycott the concert venue, the First Union Complex, and the First Union Bank, which sponsors the stadium. Live Daily reports that the FOP said Rage is ”a hate group” that ”advocates violence and supports the killer of a Philadelphia police officer.” (The order is also asking all residents of the Delaware Valley to join its boycott.) First Union does not actually own the venue, and the president of Comcast-Spectacor Facilities (which does own it) said he was ”disappointed” by the move and that the Complex was ”apolitical.” ”The [concert] was not a political event,” he said. ”But rather part of a national tour of arenas throughout the United States.”

AWARDED There must not be a lot of smokers in the L.A. Film Critics Assn., considering the group gave ”The Insider” four of its end-of-year awards: The association named it best picture, as well as voted Russell Crowe best actor and Christopher Plummer best supporting actor and gave Dante Spinotti cinematography honors. ”American Beauty”’s Sam Mendes was dubbed best director, and ”Boys Don’t Cry” had the two female acting winners: Hilary Swank (actress) and Chloe Sevigny (supporting actress). Sadly, ”Deuce Bigalow” still remains unheralded.

YOUNG TV Just because the teen craze seems to be burning itself out doesn’t mean networks have to accept it: The WB is planning a new hot-teen-packed drama, ”Young Americans,” to possibly debut this summer. The network will get viewers hooked by weaving one of the characters into ”Dawson’s Creek”’s last three episodes of its season. (Fox did a similar stunt on ”Beverly Hills, 90210” when launching ”Melrose Place.”) In order to make this new series less financially risky, the WB is working out a deal with Coke where the soda company would help pay for production in exchange for promotional opportunities on the show and off with the cast, according to Variety. So look for subtle changes in the dialogue: for example, instead of saying, ”You’re so cool,” an actor might say, ”You’re Coke-rifficly Cokey!”

OH SO ANGRY Supermodel Naomi Campbell spent nearly four weeks being treated for anger therapy, according to London’s News of the World tabloid. The paper says that Campbell checked in for the program when she thought her tendency to blow up was threatening her relationship with Italian magnate Flavio Briatore. Let’s hope the story’s true, because otherwise her rage at this news report will REALLY be out of control.

NOT GUILTY A Vancouver judge has struck down a plagiarism suit brought against Sarah McLachlan by record producer Darryl Neudorf last year, according to the Associated Press. Neudorf had claimed that he had coauthored four of the songs on McLachlan’s 1988 debut album ”Touch,” but the judge said that he failed to prove he had made any contribution to three of them, and while he did have input on the fourth, he didn’t show any ”mutual intent” to cowrite it with McLachlan.

HOSTING There was only one man who could truly give the stunt reality series ”I Dare You” (debuting Jan. 18) reputability, and UPN got him: Evel Knievel. Knievel, 61, will cohost the hour-long series, giving his expert analysis of the many stunts, especially when they go wrong: ”While a layman might think that’s brains trickling out of his helmet, it’s really his spleen being pushed out his neck. Same thing happened to me at the Snake River Canyon.”

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