June 08, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

AILING On May 23, funkster Billy Preston, 54, was hospitalized with chronic kidney disease. The Grammy winner — who performed on such Beatles hits as ”Get Back” and cowrote Joe Cocker’s ”You Are So Beautiful” — had been touring with Eric Clapton. At press time, he was expected to be released in late May.

COURTS Country & western warbler Tim McGraw, 34, was acquitted in an Orchard Park, N.Y., court on misdemeanor assault charges stemming from some horseplay last June. Police claimed Mr. Faith Hill physically prevented authorities from removing singer Kenny Chesney, 33, from a police horse Chesney was riding without permission…. Frankly, a federal appeals court in Atlanta didn’t give a damn about a lower court’s injunction against the publication of Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone, a parody of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 classic Gone With the Wind. On May 25, the court overruled the order on First Amendment grounds. Mitchell’s family had argued that Randall’s work constituted copyright infringement. Houghton Mifflin plans a June 28 release of Done, a Civil War tale from the slaves’ perspective, but the Mitchell estate is appealing the ruling…. Call her the not-so-merry widow. On May 24 in L.A., a U.S. district judge threw out a $475 million judgment for erstwhile Playmate Anna Nicole Smith (a.k.a. Vickie Lynn Marshall), 33. Last year, a lower court awarded her the money from the estate of her late husband, oil baron J. Howard Marshall, whom she married in 1994 when she was 26 and he was 89. Marshall’s son Pierce, who had appealed the earlier decision, called the new ruling ”a major victory.” Smith’s lawyer says he expects to win in further court proceedings. The next hearing is scheduled for June 4…. They said, ”No, no, no, no!” On May 21 in L.A., Destiny’s Child and their manager, Mathew Knowles, filed a federal lawsuit against fanzine publisher H&S Media and Warner Publisher Services (a division of EW parent AOL Time Warner), asking that H&S destroy all remaining copies of its publication hot! presents Destiny’s Child. The suit alleges the ‘zine used unauthorized photos of the band without consent. An H&S rep says the suit is ”without merit.”…On May 24, Robert Downey Jr., 36, pleaded not guilty to drug charges (a felony and two misdemeanors) stemming from his arrest last November in Palm Springs, Calif. The actor is in a court-mandated rehab center until his next hearing, scheduled for July 16. At press time, sources close to prosecutors and Downey said a plea bargain in which the actor could face no jail time is imminent.

DEATHS Razor rouser Victor Kiam II, 74, of heart failure, May 27, in Stamford, Conn. The chairman of the Remington Products Co. starred in many of its TV ads, memorably pitching: ”I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company.”…Actor and drama teacher Whitman Mayo, 70, who starred as Grady on Sanford and Son from 1972 to 1977 and on the short-lived spin-off Grady, after an undisclosed illness, May 22, in Atlanta.

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