By Degen Pener and Jacqueline Savaiano
May 24, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

When Demi Moore appears this fall in ads for Donna Karan, it will be her spiritual friend, not her agent or publicist, who’ll get credit for the pairing. Deepak Chopra — the Indian-born, Western-trained M.D. — introduced Donna to Demi via conference call. And they’re just two of the celebrities who are turning Chopra into Hollywood’s man of the moment.

Suddenly, Chopra, 49, one of publishing’s best-selling and most prolific self-help authors, is the Where’s Waldo of the spiritual world. He’s been sight-seeing in Bombay with Moore, gone on silent retreats with George Harrison, and taught Naomi Judd how to meditate (though, as a Christian, she sticks with prayer). Just last weekend he attended an L.A. benefit emceed by pal Olivia Newton-John, who, along with Moore, Harrison, and Judd, serves on Chopra’s board of advisers for his healing center in La Jolla, Calif. He counts Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Jackson, and supermanager Sandy Gallin among his admirers. And Oprah Winfrey’s hour-long chat with the spiritualist on a 1993 show spurred next-day sales of a reported 137,000 copies of his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind and paved the way for the runaway success of The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies to date.

Seeming to cast a blind third eye on all his high-profile connections, Chopra denies he’s this year’s guru to the stars. Celebrities, he says, have sought him out, not the other way around. ”They call me after they read my books,” says Chopra, who has written 15 titles over the last 14 years, ”and some come to seminars.”

To be sure, Chopra’s message — centered on the not-so-new premise that a strong mind-body connection increases health and happiness — resonates in a different way than the teachings of Marianne Williamson and L. Ron Hubbard, who also have strong Hollywood followings. ”Because he’s a doctor,” says Newton-John, who met Chopra while recovering from breast cancer, ”he anchors his thoughts in scientific background.”

A former chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital who got turned on to transcendental meditation in the early ’80s, Chopra now seems to be anchoring his thoughts in a different milieu. Thanks to his new agent at ICM, Andrew Steinberg, Chopra recently optioned the rights to The Return of Merlin, his 1995 debut novel (a miniseries is pending). He’s also written a script, about an American hitman who goes to India on an assassination assignment, with former Eurythmic Dave Stewart. And he’s in talks with Atlantic to put his poetry to music. In December, PBS will air another of Chopra’s specials — among the most successful in pledge-drive history — and for the first time it’s got stars: Robert Guillaume and Martin Sheen will read from Chopra’s book The Way of the Wizard.

Has Chopra become starry-eyed? Judd worries that he has. ”I’ve told him to watch hanging out with celebrities,” says Judd, who met Chopra in ’93 while seeking help for chronic hepatitis. ”When he asked me about putting Demi on the board, my first thought was, ‘She’s a human being. She’s been down a hard road.’ But I had to say, ‘Watch out, buddy. Don’t become guru du jour.”’