February 04, 2004 11:00 AM

EXITED: California first lady Maria Shriver, 48, whose “Dateline NBC” duties raised possible conflict-of-interest questions within the network (she is married to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger), announced Tuesday that she has decided to leave NBC News, because balancing her two jobs would “be constantly scrutinized.” NBC News president Neal Shapiro said in a statement: “Her decision to go on an extended leave of absence from NBC News was one that was reached after only the most careful deliberation.”

DELETED: In a reputed response to focus-group reaction as well as to criticism by Jewish groups, Mel Gibson has edited out a scene from his controversial film, “The Passion of the Christ,” reports The New York Times. According to the paper, the scene that will no longer be included in the $25 million movie (which Gibson, 47, produced, wrote, directed and bankrolled and which opens Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday) is of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas’s calling down a curse on the Jewish people when he declares of the Crucifixion, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

UNVEILED: Drew Barrymore, whose “50 First Dates” with Adam Sandler just happens to be opening Feb. 13, received a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame Tuesday, reports the Associated Press. Referring to her spot in front of historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, she gushed: “That’s not mine is it? Oh my God. I’m, like, right in front. … This is insane.” Drew, 28, is the fifth member of the Barrymore acting dynasty on the Walk, along with father John D. Barrymore and grandfather John Barrymore, whose siblings were fellow MGM stars Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore.

FILED: Grammy winner Natalie Cole, 53, has filed for divorce from Kenneth Dupree, her husband of just over two years, citing irreconcilable differences, reports AP. Papers were filed Jan. 30 in Los Angeles Superior Court. Cole and Dupree, of Brentwood, Tenn., married in October 2001. It was her third marriage.

DIED: Saxophonist Cornelius Bumpus, 58, a former member of the Doobie Brothers who has performed with Steely Dan since 1993, died Tuesday en route to a series of performances in California, having suffered a heart attack on a commercial flight from New York, reports AP. Steely Dan, on its Web site, expressed its “profound sorrow and sympathy to Cornelius’s wife and family.”

CAST: Andre 3000 of OutKast has a role in “Be Cool,” the upcoming sequel to the movie “Get Shorty,” reports AP. The rapper, whose real name is Andre Benjamin, will play a member of a rap group called Dub MDs. Others in the flick include John Travolta, Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, James Gandolfini, Cedric the Entertainer and Uma Thurman. Shooting began this week in Los Angeles.

CLAIMED: Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. John Kerry, of Massachusetts, won his party’s primaries in Missouri, Delaware, Arizona and North Dakota on Tuesday night, while Sen. John Edwards (of North Carolina) easily took South Carolina, Gen. Wesley Clark declared victory in Oklahoma (though the race was tight), and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman announced that he is abandoning his campaign to replace George W. Bush. Lieberman called it “a difficult but realistic decision.”

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