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Gene Hackman's fender bender leads to fisticuffs

Plus, news about Britney Spears, ”Star Wars: Episode II,” Jennifer Lopez, Ben Affleck, Queen Latifah, Shannon Elizabeth, Pamela Anderson, Kid Rock, and others

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Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman: Henry McGee/Globe Photos

TRAFFIC COURT If you’ve seen the way he drives in ”The French Connection,” you know you don’t want to get into a road-rage incident with Gene Hackman. The Oscar-winning actor showed why again yesterday when his Hollywood fender-bender escalated into a fistfight. On busy Sunset Blvd., Hackman rear-ended a Volvo station wagon whose driver cut him off (or so Hackman’s spokesman claims). The other driver got out of his car and into Hackman’s face. They exchanged heated words until the other driver used an anti-gay epithet. That’s when the 71-year-old actor slugged him, getting in a half-dozen blows before the Volvo passenger kneed him in the groin, dropping Hackman to the ground.

Since neither the cars nor the fighters suffered more than minor scrapes and bruises, neither driver chose to press charges, and no police report was filed. Said Hackman’s spokesman, ”Gene thought it was funny, really. He’s not a soft guy, he’s an ex-Marine and he can take care of himself. Really, he’s a very gentle guy, but anybody can be provoked.”

COURAGE UNDER FIRE In the post-Sept. 11 world, it suddenly takes guts to be a celebrity who opens fan mail or flies to New York to appear on a talk show. ”Obviously, it shifts your perspective, and it changes your understanding of life in America, but it doesn’t mean you have to allow it to stop you,” says Kelsey Grammer, who lost ”Frasier” producer David Angell on one of the hijacked planes, and who’s done three New York talk shows in the last month. ”You can’t let fear immobilize you. So I thought, ‘I gotta come.”’

Not everyone in show business has been so daring. Rosie O’Donnell canceled her show for a week after the first case of anthrax was reported in NBC’s Rockefeller Center headquarters, where she tapes her program. That same day, Emeril Lagasse and Steve Harvey dropped out of their scheduled appearances on ”Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (also taped in the building), leaving only the aptly named Tenacious D and the hastily booked replacement Dr. Bob Arnott.

Drew Barrymore, rehearsing for her hosting gig on ”Saturday Night Live” the next day, fled the building but was coaxed back and went on to host the show. Still, she backed out of a scheduled appearance on ”The Late Show with David Letterman, as did Heather Graham.

Appearing at The Concert for New York a week ago, Howard Stern criticized the celebrities who’ve shied away from the city, singling out O’Donnell and Barrymore for criticism. He said, ”I just want to say one thing to all the celebrities who have stayed away from New York, I say shame on you. Come back to New York. Don’t run. Don’t hide. People like Drew Barrymore. Don’t be afraid, honey. It ain’t scary here. I mean, it can’t be any worse than spending the night with Tom Green alone.”

Because she did ”SNL” after all, Barrymore feels such criticism is unfair, saying in a recent interview, ”If I’m honest about my feelings, I was still brave in the end, so I don’t know what’s wrong with that.”