Also, Carroll O'Connor dies at 76, blues legend John Lee Hooker dies at 83, and more
Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, ...

WHAT A DRAG Police officers around the country fear that ”The Fast and the Furious,” which opens today, will inspire teens to emulate the characters in the film, which centers on illegal drag racing. ”We are real concerned that the [new] film will send out bad messages and increase street racing even more,” San Diego police Lt. Dan Christman told the Associated Press, noting that underground races in his city have drawn crowds by the hundreds and led to at least 8 fatalities. In Ontario, Calif., where cops impounded 30 cars and wrote 100 tickets during a recent race, police even plan to stake out the theaters to prevent indoor fights among rival racers and outdoor heats in the parking lots. ”We anticipate the film will draw just about every street racer from all over,” Detective Mike Macias told AP.

Universal has taken some precautions to prevent copycat incidents. The studio has posted prominent disclaimers on the film and on its website, saying that the movie’s stunts were performed by professional drivers and urging viewers not to race themselves or break the law. Stars Paul Walker and Vin Diesel have filmed public service announcements encouraging safe driving.

Still, the filmmakers believe they can do only so much. Diesel has noted in interviews that most Hollywood movies feature stunts too dangerous to try at home. Director Rob Cohen told USA Today, ”We show the consequences. This movie is about the subculture of street racing. It doesn’t tell kids to go out and race. If that’s the message they take from my movie, then they weren’t paying attention.” Says costar Michelle Rodriguez, ”Hopefully, no one will be stupid enough to try stunts they see in a movie.”

But recent incidents of kids injured while allegedly imitating stunts on MTV’s ”Jackass,” despite the show’s disclaimer urging them not to do so, suggest a worrisome precedent for ”The Fast and the Furious.” As Detective Macias put it, ”I’ve been amazed at what teenagers are willing to try. And I’ve had to call the coroner too many times to say they’re getting any smarter.”

”The Fast and the Furious” is rated PG-13, meaning a lot more kids are likely to see it than would have if the film had been rated R. That could cause some embarrassment at a time when Hollywood is under intense government criticism for selling violent entertainment to kids. Yesterday, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn) introduced legislation that would penalize makers of movies, records, and video games who market adult rated material to kids. Although President George W. Bush responded to the bill with a suggestion that he prefers confronting industry leaders directly, rather than passing a law, he agreed that parents need more help protecting their kids from inappropriate content, and that there should be ”less violence, less substance abuse and less sex in entertainment.”

One star who is taking such concerns seriously is Jet Li, who posted on his website a warning urging parents not to take their young children to see his violent, R-rated ”Kiss of the Dragon,” which Twentieth Century Fox is releasing in July. ”’Kiss of the Dragon’ is an adult movie and deals with adult themes…. The action scenes are also directed towards an adult audience.” He notes, however, that his November film, ”The One,” will be rated PG-13 and should be fine for kids.

PASSING NOTES Carroll O’Connor, who turned curiously lovable bigot Archie Bunker into an immortal TV icon, died yesterday at a hospital in Culver City, Calif. The 76-year-old actor, who had diabetes, suffered a heart attack. O’Connor played Archie Bunker from 1971 to 1983 on the groundbreaking ”All in the Family” and its successor, ”Archie Bunker’s Place,” making this emblem of resistance to social change one of TV’s most beloved characters. He also enjoyed a long run on ”In the Heat of the Night” as a Southern sheriff dealing with racial and other social issues. He was last seen as Minnie Driver‘s grandfather in last year’s movie ”Return to Me.”

Blues minimalist John Lee Hooker, who influenced countless blues and rock musicians with a style based on one chord and a tapping foot, died in his sleep yesterday at his home in Los Altos, Calif. The 83-year-old singer/ guitarist behind such hits as ”Boogie Chillun,” ”Boom Boom,” and ”One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” enjoyed increasing success in his final years, performing with such acolytes as Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, and Robert Cray (all of whom appeared on his 1989 album ”The Healer”) and winning several Grammy awards.

TUBE TALK After playing Dr. Frasier Crane for nearly 20 years, Kelsey Grammer has about 75 million new reasons to keep at it through 2004. His new two year deal, which will pay him $1.8 million per episode starting in season 10 of ”Frasier” in 2002, will make him the highest salaried actor in TV history. His new salary surpasses the $1 million or so that Jerry Seinfeld, ”Home Improvement”’s Tim Allen, and ”Mad About You”’s Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt earned during their sitcoms’ final years, though Seinfeld is still the earnings champ among TV performers because, as a cocreator of his show, he took a big chunk of the profits as well.

Drew Carey also got a raise. He’ll earn as much as $750,000 per episode, plus a piece of the syndication profits, in seasons 8 and 9 of ”The Drew Carey Show” (2002-2004). That puts him in the same ballpark as the stars of ”Friends.”

FAMILY MATTERS The waiting was the hardest part for Tom Petty and longtime girlfriend Dana York, who finally married on June 3, Petty announced yesterday. The wedding took place in Las Vegas, where Petty’s Heartbreakers were performing. It was a low key, Elvis free ceremony with just 20 relatives and friends on hand. It’s the second marriage for Petty.

Ricki Lake is now a serial mom, having given birth to second child Owen Taylor Sussman on Wednesday. Lake, 32, delivered the 8 pounds, 7 ounce boy in a ”water birth” in the bathtub of her New York apartment, with the help of a professional midwife. She and husband Rob Sussman also have a 4-year-old boy, Milo.

MODEL OF RECOVERY For the first time since suffering serious internal injuries in a car crash eight weeks ago, Niki Taylor has been moved out of intensive care and had her condition upgraded from critical to good. She was moved into a private room in her Atlanta hospital yesterday, where doctors say they hope she will soon be able to begin rehabilitation therapy.

TOUGH COOKIE Did Cookie Monster get beaten up, or did the blue furry creature do the beating? Lee McPhatter, 22, was arrested June 9 for allegedly shoving and kicking an employee of the Sesame Place theme park in Middletown, Pa. Jennie McNelis, 21, who was wearing the Cookie Monster costume, suffered bruised ribs and a cervical sprain in the incident. McPhatter denies the charges, saying it was McNelis who was at fault for pushing his 3-year-old daughter out of the way after twice denying his request to pose for pictures with the girl. Park officials, in turn, deny such behavior on McNelis’s part. ”It is an honor to play Cookie Monster,” said a spokeswoman. This report has been brought to you by the letter C (for cookie, crime, and cops), and by the number 20,000 (the dollar amount of bail on which McPhatter is currently free).

BOX OFFICE PREVIEW Call it animal attraction. Analysts predict that Eddie Murphy’s second stint as the man who talks to creatures great and small has a chance to outplay Angelina Jolie’s videogame heroine in ”Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” Read the complete story here.

The Fast and the Furious
  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 140 minutes
  • Rob Cohen