This week on the music beat

— THE MAN WHO OWNED THE WORLD Call him the Thin White Duke With the Fat Green Bankroll. According to London’s Business Age magazine, David Bowie is Britain’s richest rock star, with a personal fortune estimated at $917 million. Others on the magazine’s rich-rockers list include Sir Paul McCartney ($868 million), Tom Jones ($460 million), Phil Collins ($367 million), Elton John ($333 million), Mick Jagger ($225 million), Eric Clapton ($200 million), George Harrison ($175 million), Sting ($161 million), and Keith Richards ($160 million). Bowie denies that he has anywhere near as much money as the magazine claims. ”I could only imagine their list was compiled alphabetically,” he quips. Business Age editor Anil Bhoyrul says the star is being disingenuous: ”Between [money from] merchandising, concert revenues, royalties, and investments, he has at least that much. Of course, we don’t expect him to admit it, because then the tax man would be after him.” — Tom Sinclair

— BLUE BERRY They’ve lost their longtime manager, their cult status, and their religion, but in a 17-year career, R.E.M. have never lost a member. Until now: Drummer Bill Berry, who says he is reevaluating his life in the wake of a brain aneurysm he suffered on tour in 1995, has quit the band. ”I feel horrible about it, but it’s what I feel in my heart,” a tired-looking Berry told MTV on Oct. 31. The drummer informed the group of his decision three weeks earlier in Athens, Ga., where they had gathered to begin work on a new album, due in early 1999. Assured by remaining members Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, and Peter Buck that R.E.M. are still alive and well (they will not replace Berry but use guest drummers), Warner Bros. Records says it is not worried about the group it signed to an $80 million contract just 15 months ago. ”I don’t think it matters,” says Karin Berg, Warner’s senior VP of A&R. ”It’s not like we paid more and now we’re getting less. It’s not like album sales will necessarily go down. The total financial situation is largely unaffected.”