Stephen M. Silverman
December 28, 2004 09:00 AM

SHIPPED: With 8 million units sent to retailers, Usher boasts the most-shipped U.S. album of 2004 for Confessions, Billboard reports, according to year-end certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America. The disc is the singer’s highest-certified album in his catalog; His previous best was 1997’s My Way, which is six times platinum. Norah Jones was the top female in 2004. Her second album, Feels Like Home, shipped 4 million units.

SCHEDULED: Connecticut’s Supreme Court will hear arguments Jan. 14 in the appeal by Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel, who was convicted of murder. Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, was convicted on June 7, 2002, of beating his 15-year-old neighbor, Martha Moxley, to death in 1975 with a golf club in Greenwich. Skakel is serving a prison sentence of 20 years to life. One of the central issues in the appeal is an argument that a five-year statute of limitations for the crime had expired by the time Skakel was charged in January 2000. Prosecutors contend Connecticut has never set a deadline to prosecute murder cases.

MAILED: The 5,808 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are now receiving their Oscar ballots, allowing them to select the nominees that will be announced Jan. 25 – 10 days after the deadline for Academy members to return their ballots to Oscar auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers. In order to be eligible for Academy Awards, movies must have played on Los Angeles screens for at least seven days in 2004. “Although a number of films begin the one-week qualifying run near the end of December, there are never any surprise entries in the Oscar race because the forms have already been received,” said Academy president Frank Pierson.

MARRIED: CBS chief Les Moonves, 55, and Early Show host Julie Chen, 34, reportedly were wed in a private ceremony in Acapulco Dec. 23, according to New York’s Daily News and the New York Post, which both cite unnamed sources. There’s been no official comment from Moonves or Chen. Moonves divorced his wife of 24 years, Nancy, earlier this year. They have three children. Chen reportedly was formerly engaged, in the 1990s, to TV news editor Gary Donohue.

PLANNED: Happy Days vet Scott Baio (he played Chachi), 44, has a new NBC sitcom in the works, the New York Post reports. The untitled project will apparently have Baio play someone his own age whose life is turned upside down when he moves in with a guy in his 20s. Besides Happy Days, Baio also starred in the ’80s series Charles in Charge.

QUIT: After suffering two slipped discs, Nathan Lane, 48, has left the London production of The Producers, which he was scheduled to play until Jan. 8 (at a reported salary between $75,000-$100,000 a week), reports the BBC. The Tony winner was “advised that he should abstain from any further performances for the remainder of his London contract,” said a show spokesman, adding that Lane is expected to recover in six weeks, enabling him to start shooting the film version in New York at the end of February.

DIAGNOSED: Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, 58, underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery Monday at Danbury Hospital, less than a week after previously undisclosed tests confirmed a diagnosis of breast cancer. Because the cancer was detected early and had not spread to her lymph nodes, the governor is not expected to undergo radiation or chemotherapy, said a spokesman, Rich Harris, who added that Rell intends to leave the hospital Wednesday and return to the Capitol next week to deliver her Jan. 5 State of the State address.

SOLD: Wade Jones of Belmont, N.C., has sold three tablespoons of water from a cup that Jones claims was used by Elvis Presley during a 1977 concert. The water fetched $455 on eBay Saturday, reports AP. Jones was 13 when he watched Presley perform in February 1977 at the Charlotte Coliseum. After the show, Jones went to the stage to snag a souvenir. When police wouldn’t give him a scarf, he asked for the cup and water. He stored the cup in a deep freezer for eight years, then melted the ice and transferred the water to a glass vial. “I’m kind of attached to the cup,” Jones said. “I thought it was a little quirkier to sell the water.”

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