Emma Thompson: Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Press
June 01, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

‘WIT’ AND WISDOM Emma Thompson says she’s planning to take a year off work to travel around Africa with her family to spread awareness of HIV and AIDS. According to England’s Daily Mail, she’ll be working with the charity Action Aid and taking along partner Greg Wise (her ”Sense and Sensibility” costar) and their 17-month-old daughter, Gaia. She says, ”I will talk to women and orphans and try to spread the message about AIDS to inform people of the risks. The problem with Africa is that people are not talking about their problems.” After all, who’s better at talking about their problems than English people? And who’s more respected in Africa than white stars from Jane Austen movies?

CELEBRITY SKIN Here’s how Courtney Love spent the week since suffering a miscarriage on the Vancouver set of the film ”24 Hours.” First, she flew to Honolulu to attend the ”Pearl Harbor” premiere party. Then she returned to Vancouver, where, on Saturday night, according to the Vancouver Province, she made a surprise appearance at a club to jam with her old pal, ex-Lemonhead Evan Dando. To play guitar, she chewed off the fingernails she’d grown for the film, then sang a song alluding to her alleged tryst with Russell Crowe, and stalled when the bar owners tried to close the show down, offering to recite her entire sexual history and to buy a round for the house with ”24 Hours” costar Charlize Theron‘s credit card, finally buying herself another 10 minutes by ripping her top off and flashing the crowd. On next week’s agenda: Go to Africa to spread awareness of AIDS.

POPE STARS ‘N Sync are climbing down from their mechanical bulls long enough to record a spoken word CD of prayers by Pope John Paul II. Britney Spears and Faith Hill will also read on ”The Private Prayer Books of Pope John Paul II,” to be released at Christmas, along with a behind the scenes DVD. Does this mean we get to see the Pope riding through Times Square in the bubblemobile to chat up Carson Daly on ”TRL”?

MEMORABLE MEMORIAL Even if ”Pearl Harbor”’s opening was slightly less huge than predicted, this Memorial Day weekend was still the most lucrative weekend in Hollywood history. Movies raked in $186.6 million, beating by almost $2 million the record set during the same holiday last year, during the release of ”Mission: Impossible 2.” The four-day holiday capped a strong spring season (defined as the nine weeks before Memorial Day weekend, from March 23 to May 24 this year), which saw total grosses of $1.11 billion, down just 2 percent from last spring.

PURPLE, NOT BLUE Seventeen years after his song ”Darling Nikki” inspired Tipper Gore to launch her congressional crusade against dirty lyrics, resulting in the now-ubiquitous parental advisory labels, Prince says he’s cleaning up his language. He tells Gotham magazine, ”When you use those curse words, you call up all the anger, all the negative times the word has been used before, you bring it toward yourself.” The change stems from his recent religious conversion; he’s now a Jehovah’s Witness. Hey, it worked so well for Michael Jackson. Imagine HIM knocking on your door with a copy of The Watchtower?

BILL OF HEALTH Jack Lemmon underwent successful surgery to remove an inflamed gall bladder last week. The ”Grumpy Old Men” star was being treated for pneumonia at UCLA Medical Center when the gall bladder ailment occurred. The gall bladder was reportedly not cancerous. Lemmon’s publicist told Variety that the 75-year-old actor is ”doing great” and is expected to go home in a few days….

Singer / keyboardist Billy Preston expects to be released from a Nashville hospital today after spending the last four days being treated for anemia and kidney failure related to high blood pressure. He’d been touring with Eric Clapton‘s band when he suffered an attack of leg pain, leading doctors to discover the kidney trouble that could have killed him within days had he not sought attention. As it is, he’ll probably have to undergo dialysis and / or kidney replacement surgery soon.

OAK RIDGE BOY Veteran anti-nuclear activist Martin Sheen has narrated a video encouraging protests against missile production at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn. ”It helps to spread the word and create pressure to convert from nuclear weapons work to cleanup and restoration,” he says in ”Stop The Bombs,” a 24-minute video produced by the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. No doubt he had to resist the temptation to say it in Latin.

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL Bob Hope spent his 98th birthday yesterday at home with his family. ”There are so many [birthday candles], we always laugh that you better keep the fire extinguisher standing by when you light them,” said Ward Grant, Hope’s publicist. Ha ha, Ward. That’s why you’re the publicist and he’s the comedian.

REEL DEALS Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, and Eva Mendes (”Exit Wounds,” ”Urban Legend: Final Cut”) have joined Antonio Banderas in the cast of Robert Rodriguez‘s ”Once Upon a Time in Mexico.” The third movie in Rodriguez’s action trilogy, after 1992’s ”El Mariachi” and 1995’s ”Desperado,” it begins shooting in Mexico this week….

Miramax Films has purchased writer Scott Murphy’s (TV’s ”Angel”) adaptation of ”Mal Chance,” a Spanish comic book about a female assassin working for Chinatown gangsters.

GREAT GREEN WAY Broadway box office set a new record during the 2000-2001 season, and not just because ”The Producers” is selling $100 tickets faster than Max Bialystock can sell fake shares in ”Springtime for Hitler.” This year’s total gross was $665.4 million, up 10.4 percent from last year. About half that increase is due to rising ticket prices, which have been going up at about $3 per year and now average $55.73. Still more tickets were sold this year than ever, about 11.9 million.

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