July 21, 1998 12:00 AM

Billy Bob Thornton’s publicist, Michelle Bega, confirms in this morning’s USA Today that the Oscar winner (“Sling Blade”) was “briefly hospitalized with a viral infection” over the weekend and was then released from Los Angeles’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She flatly dismissed reports that he had suffered a heart attack and told the paper that he is now recuperating at home. On the other hand, this morning’s New York Daily News contains a conflicting report from Bega that Thornton, 45, is still in the hospital, though he may be released today. His lawyer, meanwhile, told the News yesterday that Thornton is expected to be released “in the next day or two.” Thornton, who is married to Oscar winning actress Angelina Jolie, was expected at an American Cinematheque tribute to Bruce Willis on Saturday night. The two were due to begin shooting the new movie “Bandits” next week, but the start date has now reportedly been pushed back two weeks on account of Thornton’s illness.

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