05.24.00: Mark Hughes | 6.20.00: Carlos Leon | 8.23.00: Darcy LaPier | 10.2.00: Debra Winger

2000: What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been   

Here's just a sampling of some things that either happened on their own in 2000, or were helped along by this column. Some themes: the continuing adventures of characters like Herbalife widow Darcy LaPier, the saga of Mayor Rudy Giuliani's deteriorating marriage, the still-unreleased Warren Beatty movie Town and Country, and US Weekly twice killing negative reviews of albums by Jann Wenner's pals — Don Henley and Paul Simon — only to replace them with positive ones. 

One theme I've left out — the sad spin-out of money manager to the stars Dana Giacchetto. Arrested in April, re-arrested a week later on suspicion of trying to leave the country, Giacchetto will be sentenced Jan. 17 in federal court. He's been in prison since April. Giacchetto's secret life is so interesting, this column will offer an exclusive look into how it all worked, in mid-January 2001. 

In the meantime, Happy New Year. Try and catch one of this column's favorite films of 2000 — Crouching TigerAlmost FamousChocolatMalena or Erin Brockovich — over the holiday weekend. 

5.24.00:Van Damme's Ex Becomes Diet Guru's Widow   

There's no better story right now in Los Angeles than that of Mark Hughes' untimely death. His widow, to whom he was married for less than three years, is Darcy LaPier, former wife of Jean Claude Van Damme and billionaire Ron Rice — and that was just from the '90s. 

The 44-year-old founder of Herbalife was found dead a few days ago in his $25 million Malibu mansion. The initial cause of death was said to be natural causes. An autopsy is pending because really, few healthy looking Americans under the age of 45 drop dead of natural causes. Especially those whose career was devoted to "health and well being." 

Hughes should leave a neat little fortune behind, though, based on hawking ridiculous diet products for the last 20 years. You've probably seen him in those infomercials. He was the one with the '70s shag haircut. His customers would come up on a podium and announce their miraculous weight loss. "Before I met Mark, I weighed 350 pounds! Now I'm a top model!" Or some such nonsense. It was always fun to watch late at night. 

Herbalife also served as an Amway-like sales tool: a big part of the corporation's profits came from turning average Joes into salespeople who worked on commission. 

Nevertheless, Hughes was apparently in a fight to regain control of the company when he died. Herbalife had gone public during the last few years, but Hughes was attempting to take it private again. He was also preparing to build a $50 million, 45,000 square foot Mediterranean villa in the Benedict Canyon north of Beverly Hills. His prospective neighbors had been very unhappy with the plan. 

And who stands to gain now that Hughes is dead? His wife, presumably. And she happens to be Darcy LaPier. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Darcy was previously married to Jean Claude Van Damme, whom she divorced only two years ago. Prior to that she was married to Ron Rice, who owns Hawaiian Tropic. How did she meet Rice? As a contestant in a Miss Hawaiian Tropic beauty pageant, of course. 

LaPier was married to Van Damme in 1994. She tried to get out once in 1996 and eventually divorced him in 1997. In 1998, she married Hughes, which is fast work no matter how you slice it. Viva Hollywood! They have one child. 

Hughes leaves behind not only Herbalife itself but the Herbalife Foundation for Families. In 1998, the Foundation — according to its Form 990 filed with the government — claimed about $12 million in assets and dispersed just under $500,000 to charitable organizations. One of its disbursements, for $100,000, was to a building fund for an orphanage in, of all places, Monaco, playground of the rich and international tax haven. 

Let me say now: I wouldn't mind being an orphan in Monaco. I hear the caviar at recess time is exceptional. 

Meanwhile, here's six degrees of separation between the Hughes death and the 1994 slayings of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The executive director of Herbalife Foundation, Joan Kardashian, is the sister-in-law of Robert KardashianO.J. Simpson's best friend and ally before he turned on him after Simpson was acquitted in his murder trial. I can't imagine there is ever a dull dinner conversation at their house. 

 

6.20.00: Scientology Accused of Harassing Moviemaker   

Blasphemy, the first movie to star Carlos Leon, is a little jinxed if you ask me. 

Over the weekend I told you that the film was executive produced by Andrew Scudiero, a convicted felon with mob ties and enough prosecutors after him to fill a courtroom. 

That would be enough trouble for an independent film, you'd think. But there's more. 

Director John Mendoza tells me that members of Scientology have been harassing him over a scene in the movie. In fact, Mendoza says, it all started before the movie was even made. 

"We have an actor in one scene who plays L. Ron Hubbard," Mendoza told me. "He tries peddling some Scientology books to an actor playing Jesus. Before we shot one scene, the Scientologists tried to stop it. They asked me how much money I wanted to take the scene out of the script — even though I have no idea how they got the script. I told them, jokingly, $150,000." 

When Mendoza went ahead with the film and with the scene, he says that both he and Leon were followed by Scientologists. Stalked might be a better word. "It was very scary," he says. Leon, who is also the father of Madonna's child, Lourdes, told friends he'd been followed as well. 

Nevertheless, Mendoza, says, the scene stayed in the movie. Now he will start screening Blasphemy to distributors and hope like crazy there are no more problems. 

Now, what does Scientology think of all this? Pam Shannon, public affairs director, wrote to me late last evening. She said: 

"We don't care about a couple of lines in a film. That's the price you pay for prominence and popularity. But Mendoza is being dishonest, what he is not telling you is that when a Scientology parishioner contacted him, Mendoza made him an offer to take out the references about L. Ron Hubbard if the Church paid him $150,000. Needless to say, we didn't even consider doing this. Mendoza now seems to be resorting to a parasitic marketing scheme, trying to leech off our name recognition." 

Sounds good, doesn't it? Only a couple of problems. This reporter found Mendoza all on his own, without any prompting or solicitation from the director. And Shannon does not say why a "parishioner" contacted Mendoza in the first place. The director stands by his original statement. 

 

8.23.00: Herbalife Widow Looks for Hubby No. 5   

OK — so no one believed me when I told you what would happen after Mark Hughes died. But his widow, Darcy LaPier, the much-married va-voom 35-year-old ex-wife of Jean Claude Van Damme, hit the Hamptons this past weekend like a hurricane. "She's definitely on the prowl," says one observer. 

This item will remind you of a Jackie Collins novel. 

Darcy, who apparently has accepted Hughes' untimely death, was besotted by hunky, younger Argentinean polo player Nacho Figueras last Friday night at a party for the Preservation of Hearst Castle. (Yes, yes, she was hoping to turn him into an appetizer, claro que si!) 

At another party, on Saturday night, for the Animal Rescue Fund, she flipped for the 21-year-old son of local NBC newscaster Chuck Scarborough

According to my source, when she spotted designer David Yurman's bejeweled dog collars and leashes, which were on auction, she said: "I hope they're big enough for my boyfriend." When asked who that was, she responded: "I'm looking for him now." 

Let's review: Hughes, 44, was found dead in their Malibu bedroom on May 21. It turns out he was mixing liquor with anti-depressants and had been on a four-day binge when he finally conked out. Darcy, according to the police, noted that he wasn't feeling well, but didn't get concerned until she couldn't wake him. 

"Gotta Fly Now," the theme from Rocky, was played at Hughes' tacky memorial service at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Darcy wore chic black and an Alexis Carrington-type hat and implored the audience to "keep selling" Hughes' much-maligned health products. 

Darcy's previous husbands include Van Damme, with whom she has a child, and Hawaiian Tropic founder Ron Rice, with whom she also has a kid. Grieving be damned, she posed for pictures in this month's Talk magazine. My source commented upon spending time with LaPier over the weekend: "She's stunning, sizzling, a real diva." 

Darcy stayed in Southampton with wealthy friends Rick and Kathy Hilton, whose two wayward teenage daughters, Paris and Nicky, are the subject of their own scandalous piece in the current Vanity Fair. Paris posed naked for the magazine, but believe me, that's another story altogether. The Hiltons' last most famous houseguest was Nicole Simpson biographer Faye Resnick

Let's put it this way, it's not exactly Gertrude Stein's salon out there. 

 

10.2.00: Debra Winger Makes Film Shrouded In Secrecy  

Without any announcement or fanfare, Debra Winger is shooting a new movie. Even her old publicist didn't know until I told him that Winger — whose last movie was the forgettable 1995 release Forget Paris with Billy Crystal — is down in Oxford, Mississippi making something called Big Bad Love. Filming on the low budget feature began on Sept. 14 and should last another two to three weeks. 

Big Bad Love is directed by Winger's husband, Arliss Howard, an actor she met when they made Wilder Napalm in 1993. Howard's acting credits include Amistad and several other films but this makes his directing debut. His brother Jim wrote the screenplay, which ties together several short stories by Oxford writer Larry Brown

In the movie Winger plays the ex-wife of Howard's character, a struggling but failed writer. 

Ironically, Big Bad Love is being produced by Barry Navidi, the Iranian born British producer whose last project, Divine Rapture, was aborted after seven days of filming in 1995. Winger was the co-star of that film with Marlon BrandoJohn Hurt, and Johnny Depp when that production ran out of money. Winger was said to be so unnerved by the experience that she decided to take a break, a long one. 

Winger, who's in her mid-40s, has had an odd career. Her biggest commercial and artistic successes were An Officer and A Gentleman and Terms of Endearment

Nominated twice for Oscars (for Terms and for Shadowlands), she gained a reputation as difficult and moody. Her choices for projects were also kind of weird: remember Mike's MurderWilder NapalmA Dangerous WomanLeap of FaithThe Sheltering Sky, and Everybody Wins? Though her performances were always on target, the material Winger chose was uniformly unfit for her. 

(Divine Rapture was a comedy about a woman who dies while making love to her fisherman husband but comes back to life again at her funeral. Another poor choice of material for Winger, who may have dodged a bullet when it was canceled.) 

So what's she been doing with herself? Raising two kids (one with Howard, and a teenager from her short, early marriage to Tim Hutton), and, according to one source, "teaching at Harvard." 

Navidi told me Sunday: "We sent out a press release to the trade papers but no one called us. We wondered when the press would call." Nevertheless, at Winger's request, Big Bad Love is a closed set.