May 28, 2004 08:45 AM

CAST: Beating out Britney Spears, who was said to have a lock on the role, Newlyweds star Jessica Simpson, 23, tells the Associated Press she’s in the lead to star as Daisy Duke in a movie version of The Dukes of Hazzard, which is scheduled for release next year. Catherine Bach played the scantily clad Duke cousin in the 1979-85 TV series. “That’s looking very, very good and that will happen after my tour. As of right now, I’m (in) the No. 1 slot for Daisy, so hopefully nothing changes,” said Simpson, whose previously announced ABC sitcom is apparently dead in the water.

SOUGHT: Marc Anthony, 35, was in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo Thursday to file for divorce from former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres, 28, AP reports. The divorce papers, signed by both (though Torres was not present), were submitted at a civil court. The judge has three days to issue a decision. The hearing Thursday was behind closed doors, though Anthony reportedly signed autographs for fans afterwards.

HONORED: After being made Commanders of the Order of the British Empire by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace Thursday, Barry and Robin Gibb said the Bee Gees died last year with their brother, Maurice. “It’s bittersweet. It would have been wonderful for all three of us to be here,” Barry Gibb, 57, said after the ceremony. “We have mixed feelings. Knowing Mo, this would have been right up his alley. He would have still had his hat on,” a reference to Maurice Gibb’s beloved black trilby.

DIED: Richard Biggs, 44, who played Dr. Stephen Franklin on the TV science-fiction series Babylon 5, died Saturday after collapsing suddenly in his home, his agent said. The cause of death has not been determined. Biggs is survived by his wife, Lori, and two children, Hunter, 2, and Richard James III, 5.

SUED: Florida businessman Jody Gorran, 53, along with the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, filed a lawsuit in West Palm Beach this week against the estate of the late diet doctor Robert Atkins. The suit claims that by following the low-carb, high-fat Atkins plan, Gorran’s cholesterol rose to such a level that he required an angioplasty to clear his clogged arteries. An Atkins spokesman on Friday’s Today show stood by the diet.

RATED: An estimated 31.4 million viewers tuned in to watch Fantasia Barrino’s tearstained victory at the conclusion of Wednesday’s American Idol, according to Nielsen Media Research. Those numbers were down slightly from the 33.7 million who watched Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken last season. Overall, national ratings for the full third season of Idol were up about 15 percent over last year. FOX blamed the finale’s reduced viewership on the approach of summer, but added that the numbers are just fine.

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