Probate papers recently revealed that a Kentucky woman who died 15 months ago left her entire estate, worth some $240,000, to actor Charles Bronson, 77. A sister of the late Audrey Jean Knauer is now waging a legal battle to acquire the assets, saying Knauer was mentally unfit. Bronson, for his part, intends to donate the windfall to charity.
After taking a serious fall on Jan. 28, Larry Fortensky, 47, the seventh ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor, had his medical condition upgraded from serious to fair on Feb. 24. He remains hospitalized in Mission Viejo, Calif.
On March 4 in New Orleans, singer Britney Spears, 17, whose teen-angelic voice chanted the chart topper “…Baby One More Time,” had arthroscopic surgery on her left knee to excise cartilage damaged while she was rehearsing for a new video. She has been ordered to rest up for five weeks….
Phyllis Diller, 81, the cackling, fright-wigged comedian supposedly wed to someone she simply called Fang, suffered a mild heart attack on Feb. 13 in her Los Angeles home. She now has a pacemaker.
Bill Sammeth, 47, the man who says he masterminded the up-and-down career of Cher for the past 15 years, filed a lawsuit against the 52-year-old actress-singer-survivor on March 8 in L.A., charging breach of oral contract and seeking unspecified damages. Sammeth claims Cher fired him shortly before her Super Bowl appearance in January for no reason and owes him 15 percent of all profits from her latest album.
Homer and Marge may seem the more likely candidates, but it’s Matt Groening, 45, the creator of The Simpsons, and his wife who are headed to divorce court. Deborah Groening, 44, filed for the dissolution of their marriage on March 5 in L.A., citing irreconcilable differences. The couple, who married in 1986, have two sons—Homer, not the cartoon character, turns 10 on March 23, and Abraham, 7.
Law student Karenna Gore Schiff, 25, the daughter of Vice President Al Gore and wife Tipper, and her husband, Dr. Andrew Schiff, 33, a primary-care physician, are expecting their first child in June.
Charemon Jonovich, 25, the live-in girlfriend of actor Robert Pastorelli, 44, died on March 15 after suffering a gunshot wound in the couple’s Hollywood home. At press time, police were trying to determine exactly what happened but had ruled out foul play. Pastorelli, best known for his six years on Murphy Brown, was in the room at the time of the incident and called police. The couple have a 13-month-old daughter.
Song-and-dance man Donald O’Connor, 73, who had been suffering from lung failure and double pneumonia, left a Palm Springs hospital on March 1 after a month-long stay and is now undergoing physical therapy at his home nearby.
While talking on a cell phone, George Jones crashed his SUV into a bridge close to his Franklin, Tenn., home and was near death when admitted to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The 67-year-old country singer sustained a bruised liver and a punctured lung but enjoyed a remarkable early recovery before developing pneumonia in mid-March. He was recently listed in critical but stable condition.
Violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin, 82, praised by fellow fiddle player Itzhak Perlman as “the most phenomenal child prodigy that ever existed, certainly in this century,” died on March 12 in Berlin of heart failure. In 1924, at age 8, Menuhin made his professional debut playing Bériot’s Scène de Ballet with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. He went on to conduct classical works around the world, all the while maintaining affection for early Beatles songs, jazz and the Indian music of Ravi Shankar….
Writer and director Garson Kanin, 86, who with his late wife, the actress-scribe Ruth Gordon, scripted two celebrated films pairing Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike), died on March 13 in Manhattan. In 1964, Kanin directed Barbra Streisand in her starmaking performance in Funny Girl on Broadway….
Tennis great Bill Talbert, who won 33 national titles, including eight U.S. Opens in the ’40s, died on Feb. 28 in Manhattan. He was 80….
Character actress Billye Ree Wallace, who specialized in playing daffy old biddies on numerous sitcoms (she was Jerry’s Nana on Seinfeld), died of respiratory failure and emphysema on March 3 in L.A. She was 73….
Bass singer Gerald “Bounce” Gregory, who lent his low notes to the 1950s Spaniels classic “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight,” died on Feb. 12 of undisclosed causes in Gary, Ind. He was 64.
Actress Lesley Ann Warren, 52, who gave a memorable portrayal as a singing Cinderella on TV in 1965, has something to warble about. She and her longtime beau Ron Taft, 51, an ad exec, plan to marry later this year.
Actress Tracey Gold, 29, the former star of Growing Pains, who has battled anorexia nervosa, and her husband, Roby Marshall, 33, a teacher, welcomed their second son, Bailey Vincent (7 lbs. 4 ozs.), on March 4 in L.A….
Gregory Peck’s daughter Cecilia, 40, and writer Daniel Voll, 38, had a baby boy, Harper (7 lbs. 7 ozs.), on Feb. 27 in Manhattan. He is named after author Harper Lee, whose novel To Kill a Mockingbird led to an Oscar-winning role for Peck in 1962.
On Feb. 17 cops in West Hollywood busted actor JM J. Bullock, 45, a former star of the ’80s TV sitcom Too Close for Comfort and a sidekick of Tammy Faye Messner (the former Mrs. Jim Bakker) on her ill-fated talk show, for possession of the illegal drug crystal meth. He was released on $10,000 bond the following day and now faces up to two years in prison.
In Fort Myers, Fla., on March 10, the same day that slugger Darryl Strawberry returned to the Yankees lineup following successful colon-cancer surgery, team manager Joe Torre, 58, revealed that he has prostate cancer.
On March 16 a Delaware judge sentenced Thomas Capano, 49, to death for the 1996 murder of secretary Anne Marie Fahey. In January a jury in Wilmington found Capano, a former state prosecutor, guilty and recommended execution.