Boy Next Door

When Eminem moved into the $1.5 million house he bought in a gated community in Clinton Twp., Mich., in August 2000, a few residents probably considered loading up their SUVs and moving to Grosse Pointe. But two months later Joe De Ponio opened his door on Halloween to find the world’s angriest rapper escorting his daughter Hailie, now 6. “He’s very respectful,” says De Ponio. “He’s friendly, and he shakes your hand.”

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up? Indeed, like his confectionery namesake, Eminem can be sweet under the shell. He attends monthly community meetings, chats up residents (who refer to him by his real name, Marshall Mathers) and invites area kids over to play basketball with him and Hailie. “He’s a great neighbor,” says one resident. “I’d take 10 more like him.”

Fans of the vitriolic triple-platinum CD The Eminem Show may be disappointed to hear that Eminem, 29, “has matured,” says rapper pal Xzibit, but he adds that Eminem’s run-ins with the law were “a wake-up call.”

Eminem earned three years’ probation—two for pistol-whipping a former nightclub bouncer he spotted kissing his then wife in 2000 (the man, John Guerra, later filed a civil suit which was settled for $100,000) and the third for a concealed-weapon beef during an unrelated altercation with hip-hoppers Insane Clown Posse the previous day. Being forced to toe the line “was almost a blessing in disguise,” he told the Los Angeles Times last month.

Now he is able to focus on Hailie, whom he calls “the most important thing in my life.” Says Xzibit: “She comes before anything else.” Eminem, who croons to her on Show’s ” Hailie’s Song” and says he doesn’t swear in her presence, cooks breakfast, watches Powerpuff Girls with her and showers her with gifts. “He’s one of those sucker daddies,” says Denaun Porter, a partner in Eminem’s side project, the rap outfit D12.

Splitting custody with ex-wife Kim, 27, since their stormy 1999 marriage dissolved in October 2001, Eminem has managed to maintain “amicable” relations with her, says her lawyer James Andary. Things remain frosty, though, between the hip-hop star and his mother, Debbie Mathers-Briggs, 47, who sued him twice for slander (she asked for $11 million but settled for $1,600). “I’m dead to you,” he informs her on Show. (Eminem claims he has never met his father, Marshall Mathers II.)

Jumping from the police blotter to the gossip columns, Eminem was recently linked with two costars from his upcoming semiautobiographical film 8 Mile: Kim Basinger (both camps deny they dated) and actress Brittany Murphy (his rep admits to “a relationship” that has since ended; Murphy’s publicist says they “are not romantically involved”). Then there’s Mariah Carey, whom he met last year to discuss a possible collaboration. “There’s truth to that,” Eminem told Rolling Stone when asked if he dated the diva (Carey’s rep refused comment). “But on the whole personal level, I’m not really feeling it. I just don’t like her as a person.”

Instead, Eminem has been busy acting. For his first starring role, in November’s 8 Mile, he plays a Detroit factory worker who dreams of becoming a hip-hop star. “He’s a workaholic,” says the film’s producer Brian Grazer. And seeing his face on a movie poster beats seeing it in a mug shot. After a rocky two years, says his manager Paul Rosenberg, “I certainly hope we’ve seen the worst.”

Jason Lynch

Karen Brailsford and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles and Amy Mindell in Detroit

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