April 21, 1997 12:00 PM

>…GABRIEL BYRNE

HE HAS MADE movies such as The Usual Suspects and appeared in many plays, yet Gabriel Byrne had stage fright. “Look, I’m shaking,” said the Irish actor, 46, before facing 350 excited fans at Borders Books, Music & Cafe, in Santa Monica, Calif. Asked if he needed water, he joked, “No, a Valium.”

But Byrne relaxed once he started reading passages from Pictures in My Head, a collection of essays about his experiences as a toy-factory worker, seminarian, teacher, husband (of actress Ellen Barkin, from whom he separated amicably in 1993) and father of Romy, 4, and Jack, 7. “This is a great way of connecting with people,” said Byrne, though he did gently put off one admirer who offered her phone number. Perhaps he was worried that Julia Ormond, his current flame and Smilla’s Sense of Snow costar, would throw the book at him.

…AND JOAN RIVERS

WITH SOME SHE HELD HANDS; OTHERS she hugged. One woman broke down in tears. But that’s what you get when you write a book called Bouncing Back: I’ve Survived Everything…and I Mean Everything…and You Can

Too!, an account of how Joan Rivers coped with the suicide of her husband, Edgar, and the ups and downs of her comedy career. Resplendent in her signature QVC jewelry, Rivers, 63, greeted some 800 fans—many of whom shared their own tragic tales—packed into Liberties Fine Books in Boca Raton, Fla. Asked by management not to personalize autographs, Rivers broke the rule for at least one woman. “She’s a cousin!” Rivers explained. “I have to do this or I’ll never be able to visit!”

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