Plus, Puff Daddy, Big Pun, ''Malcolm in the Middle,'' Richard Gere, and more
Steven Spielberg
Credit: Graziano Arici/Corbis Sygma

RECUPERATING Steven Spielberg had a kidney removed at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles after doctors found an ”irregularity” during a regular physical exam, his spokesman announced yesterday. The Oscar-winning director is now home recuperating, and ”a complete recovery is promised” with no follow-up treatment necessary, according to Spielberg’s rep. Although no one from Spielberg’s camp has provided details about the ”irregularity” or the operation itself, kidney specialists have gone on record saying that Spielberg’s kidney most likely had a cancerous lesion, since such an abnormality can be discovered during urinalysis, which is part of a routine checkup. Despite the recovery stage, Spielberg plans to appear at several awards ceremonies, including this Saturday’s NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena.

LEGAL BRIEFS Sean ”Puffy” Combs pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of illegal weapons possession linked to a New York City night spot shooting last December. Combs was indicted Jan. 13 after police officers found two loaded 9MM guns in his possession after the Dec. 27 shooting at a Times Square nightclub that injured three people. The rap mogul faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge. His legal team includes O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran…. A Los Angeles judge refused to dismiss hate-crime charges against ”Veronica’s Closet” star Wallace Langham yesterday. The judge decided that a six-figure civil settlement Langham — who is charged with beating a gay man last Sept. 7 — had agreed to pay was inappropriate, since the case involved a ”fairly brutal attack.” Now Langham faces one charge of misdemeanor battery and one charge of committing a hate crime.

OBIT Latino rap star Big Punisher, who can be heard on Jennifer Lopez’s single ”Feelin’ So Good,” was pronounced dead on arrival at 4 p.m. yesterday at a New York hospital from a fatal heart attack. Big Pun, whose real name was Christopher Rios, was only 28; he is survived by a wife and three children. Big Pun’s debut album ”Capital Punishment” (released in 1997) was double platinum and received a Grammy nomination. Pun’s success, however, was marked by severe health problems as his weight climbed to over 450 pounds, making public performances nearly impossible. He had been scheduled to join Lopez and his mentor Fat Joe for a performance of ”Feelin’ So Good” on last weekend’s edition of ”Saturday Night Live,” but at the last minute he did not attend the show. Big Pun’s follow-up album, ”Yeehah Baby,” is due out this April.

TUBE WATCH Fox has ordered an additional 16 episodes of its critically loved new series ”Malcolm in the Middle.” Since ”Malcolm”’s debut last month, the sitcom has won its Sunday-night time slot, attracting an average of 21.6 million viewers per week — a 71 percent hike from last year’s average for the same slot. Three of the 16 new shows will air during May sweeps, with the remaining 13 scheduled for the fall season…. MTV is creating a new show called ”Mall Confessions,” another reality-based series in which mall-going teens enter a mobile confessional and reveal their seediest, most intimate secrets. There will be no hidden camera, like in HBO’s ”Taxicab Confessions”; each mall MTV visits will advertise the confession booth program.

AWARDS ALERT ”The Sopranos” swept up four of the five TV drama nominations for the Directors Guild of America awards yesterday. The HBO drama earned nods for its series creator David Chase (the pilot episode); Daniel Attias (”46 Long”); Henry J. Bronchstein (”Nobody Knows Anything”); and Allen Coulter (”College”). This was the most nominations ever for a series in one category. As for the fifth TV drama nom this year, it went to Thomas Schlamme for ”The West Wing” (pilot). TV comedy nominations went to Schlamme (”Sports Night”), James Burrows (”Will & Grace”), Pamela Fryman (”Frasier”), and Victoria Hochberg (”Sex and the City”). The 52nd Annual DGA Awards will be presented March 11.

DOH! Richard Gere, 50, and his 38-year-old girlfriend, Carey Lowell (”Law & Order”), had their first child, Homer James Jigme Gere, in New York City on Sunday. Homer weighed 8 lbs. 12 oz. and is the little brother of Hannah, Lowell’s 9-year-old daughter from her marriage to actor/director Griffin Dunne.

Malcolm in the Middle
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