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E. Lynn Harris’ legacy, Kelis’ birth, and Alexis Cohen’s death made news the week of July 10, 2009

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CELEBRATING
She’s 40 and fabulous — times two: Jennifer Lopez commemorated her 40th birthday with two NYC fetes. First up was an intimate dinner at Hotel Griffou on July 24, followed the next day by a surprise party that husband Marc Anthony, 40, threw at Edison Ballroom.

BIRTHS
Kelis, 29, welcomed son Knight Jones on July 22 in NYC. The R&B singer filed for divorce from the child’s father, rapper Nas, 35, in April, and on July 23, an L.A. judge ordered Nas to pay his ex nearly $40,000 a month in child and spousal support.

UPDATE
Mischa Barton, 23, was released last week from L.A.’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she had been admitted for psychiatric evaluation July 15. According to the actress’ rep, Barton is ”much improved” and will return to work on The CW’s The Beautiful Life when the show starts production July 31…. Nadya ”Octomom” Suleman, 33, signed a contract in May with production company Eyeworks for her family to star in a reality show, her lawyer confirmed to EW on July 28. Production on the show (which is not yet attached to a network) has begun, but Suleman’s 14 children are currently being kept off camera while work-permit issues are considered. Meanwhile, an Orange County, Calif., judge is determining whether a permanent financial guardian should be appointed to oversee the children’s earnings from the show (reportedly $250,000 over the next three years).

COURTS
On July 24, a London judge cleared Amy Winehouse, 25, of assaulting a fan. The Grammy winner had been accused of striking a 27-year-old woman who wanted to take a photograph of the singer at a September 2008 show; the judge ruled there was no way to prove the incident was not an accident.

FEUDS
Seth Rogen, 27, fired back at Entourage creator Doug Ellin, 41, about the July 19 episode, in which a character calls Rogen’s ”ugliness oddly fascinating.” The next day Rogen told E!’s Daily 10, ”Those guys are a — holes…. Luckily, I never have and never plan on watching Entourage.”… In an open letter published July 26 by TMZ.com, Candy Spelling, 63, accused daughter Tori Spelling, 36, of using her children as ”reality show props.” In anticipation of the season finale of Oxygen’s Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood, in which Candy is a no-show at granddaughter Stella’s first birthday party, Candy wrote, ”My first meeting with my granddaughter should be on home video, not primetime cable.”

DEATHS
Two-time American Idol contestant Alexis Cohen, 25, of Allentown, Pa., died July 25 after being hit by a car in Seaside Heights, N.J. Cohen received an associate degree from a Pennsylvania community college, and was planning to work in health care or veterinary medicine, though she still had Idol aspirations, according to her hometown paper The Morning Call. A 23-year-old man has been accused of vehicular homicide…. Merce Cunningham, 90, one of America’s most influential choreographers, died July 26 in NYC…. Les Lye, 84, best known for appearing on You Can’t Do That on Television, died July 21 in Ottawa…. Gidget, the ”Yo quiero Taco Bell” Chihuahua featured in the chain’s ads in the late ’90s, died at age 15 on July 21 in Santa Clarita, Calif.


E. Lynn Harris 1955-2009
He may have been famous for penning Invisible Life, but E. Lynn Harris hardly lived in the shadows. After spending a decade as a computer salesman, the openly gay author — who died of heart disease at age 54 on July 23 in Los Angeles — became a literary pioneer in the mid-’90s, thanks to 11 influential novels that opened a dialogue about sexual taboos within the African-American community. And Harris’ work, which focused on African-American men who struggled with their sexuality, was as popular as it was poignant: The author’s faithful fans helped 10 of his books — including his latest, 2009’s Basketball Jones —hit the New York Times best-seller list.

Of course, life wasn’t always so kind to Harris. In his 2003 memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, he wrote about suffering physical abuse as a child, and described a bout with depression that nearly led him to take his own life in 1990. Instead, Harris picked up the pen, and publisher Anchor plucked the author from obscurity after discovering Life, Harris’ self-published novel that he’d been selling out of his car. ”Years ago, it would have caused me great pain to even write the word gay on paper to describe myself,” Harris wrote in Brokenhearted. ”Writing has allowed me to change my self-hatred and doubt into true self-esteem and self-love.”
Kate Ward