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Julia Roberts heads Forbes' celeb power list

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Bruce Willis
STAR MAX, Inc

SHE’S THE TOPS Julia Roberts was the most powerful celebrity in the U.S. last year, and you shall all bow down before her! At least according to Forbes magazine, which just released its list of top celebs (judged by media coverage AND income). While Roberts’ $50 million take in 1999 ranked her 12th in terms of financials (George Lucas was first with $400 million), she had seven magazine cover stories and so many Web hits and other press mentions that she ranked No. 1 in overall fame, bumping Lucas (who had just one measly cover story) down to second place. Rounding out the top 5 were Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan, and the Rolling Stones.

RESTRAINED Whitney Houston has gotten a temporary restraining order against a New York City woman who has been sending her gifts (including a four-tiered cake, underwear, and a makeup kit) and long letters that have referred to Houston as her ”supernatural reincarnated mother,” according to the Associated Press. (Now THAT’S what restraining orders are for!) Desiree Weeks, 36, has been sending the letters and gifts since August, with various returning addresses, including the Bronx Psychiatric Center.

CASTING Bruce Willis is returning to his TV roots, at least temporarily. He’ll guest on ”Friends” for a three-episode stint (beginning April 27) as the father of a 20-year-old student dating Ross. According to Variety’s Army Archerd, he was convinced to do it by his ”Whole Nine Yards” costar Matthew Perry, and Willis will donate his salary to charity…. There’s good news and bad for ”Tomb Raider” videogame fans. The good news: Angelina Jolie is in final negotiations to play the buxom Lara Croft in the upcoming movie version. The bad news: You’ll have to leave your house to see it. Baby steps…. And in other good news for horny Maxim-reader types, ”American Pie” sexpot Shannon Elizabeth will star in ”Tomcats,” a comedy about six friends (including ”Scream 2”’s Jerry O’Connell) who all have a bet on who will get married last. What? The wager isn’t on lost virginity? What is moviemaking coming to?

IN LOVE Madonna is taking time out from hyping her new movie ”The Next Best Thing” to hype her love life. She told Britain’s Mirror tabloid that her relationship with ”Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” director Guy Ritchie may be permanent. ”It’s a very serious relationship,” she said. ”I will say marriage may lie in the future.”

CHARGED Sharon Stone‘s former housekeeper of seven years was charged with stealing $300,000 worth of items (including jewelry) from Stone’s Beverly Hills house some time before last month, according to Reuters. The 48-year-old Socorro Del Carmen Membrano pleaded innocent; she’s now being held in custody in lieu of paying $300,000 bail, and she’ll appear in court next week. But that means she’ll miss the HBO premiere of ”If These Walls Could Talk 2”!

BUMPED NBC’s Salt Lake City affiliate — which is owned by the Mormon church — has refused to air the network’s new animated comedy ”God, the Devil and Bob.” KSL-TV general manager Al Henderson called the show ”not very funny” and somewhat ”tasteless,” but stressed it wasn’t pulled for ”religious concerns.” And in a tribute to the station’s comedic barometer, thousands of KSL viewers can still happily tune into the hilariously God-fearing ”Jesse” every Thursday.

IN THE WORKS Tony Danza can’t stay away from TV for long: He’s considering taking the lead in the NBC pilot ”Homewood P.I.,” playing a retired detective who still does the occasional snoop…. Gabriel Byrne is following ”Ladies Man” Alfred Molina’s example that no great dramatic actor should let that talent stop him from doing shtick. He’s in talks to headline an ABC sitcom from one of the ”Sex and the City” writers…. Bolstering a theory that there is no supreme being, the UPN is considering making a spin-off to ”Shasta”. Sure, the low-rated and abysmal show is on hiatus and unlikely to return itself, but execs are mulling over whether to give regulars Jake Busey and ”Austin Powers”’ Verne Troyer a new show next year, although Variety says sources concede it’s (blissfully) a long shot. In this possible incarnation, however, the duo would play bartenders. Because surrounding ANYBODY with drunk people only makes them seem funnier.

DISSED Jeffrey Wigand, the tobacco whistleblower whose story the Oscar-nominated ”The Insider” was based on, is blowing the whistle on the Academy Awards. According to the Hollywood Reporter, he wasn’t invited to the ceremony and he wants a reason. Wigand reportedly hasn’t heard from director Michael Mann or Disney, and when he called the Academy it said tickets were too scarce. If Joe Camel shows up as a presenter, eyebrows should definitely be raised.

STEPPING DOWN John Reid, copresident of the Island/Def Jam label, announced his resignation on Thursday, saying he was leaving to pursue other interests. The remaining copresident, Lyor Cohen, is likely to remain the sole head, according to Reuters.

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