10.3.00: Nicole Brown Simpson | 10.20.00: Jerry Butler | 12.5.00: Billy Crystal | 12.5.00 Johnny Depp

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. 

10.3.00: Questions About Nicole Brown Simpson Charity   

After this column's investigation one year ago, you would have thought the Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation was going to get its act together. Wrong. 

New government filings for 1999, just recently made available, show that the charity set up in Nicole's memory by her family is still up to some shady business. 

The organization reports that in 1999 it took in $49,000 from public donations. 

But it also reports that it paid an almost equal amount — $45,000 — to its staff. The staff includes Denise Brown, Nicole's sister, chairman of the foundation. She received $17,845 in salary last year. Another $28,000 went to unidentified staff. 

In contrast, the Foundation gave away a paltry $3,500 in grants and allocations to battered women's organizations. The organization's statement of purpose is to "provide funds to organizations that shelter and protect families caught in the crisis of family violence." 

The organizations listed as recipients of this largesse are the Deschutes County, Ore., Domestic Violence Council ($1,000), Women Helping Women ($500), Phoenix Crisis Center ($500), YMCA ($500), Haven House ($500) and Community Law Center ($500). No addresses or specifics are given for the donees. (A spokesperson for the Deschutes Council verified they had received $1,000, which was used to fund a local conference on domestic abuse. No one from the Nicole Simpson Foundation participated in it.) 

However, the Nicole Brown Simpson Foundation spent $16,366 on their own "office expenses" including such non-specifics as "reimbursements," "outside service" and insurance. 

Additionally, the government filing reflects that the Foundation began 1999 with $70,574 in assets and ended the year with $3,063 in the till. This would suggest that nearly $67,000 went to non-charitable pursuits since the group lists only that $3,500 in donations. 

They also managed to rack up a $7,000 phone bill and $26,000 in "occupancy" or rent. This means they spent twice as much on phone calls as they did on allocating grants. Maybe they should have used postcards, or pigeons. 

Monday was the fifth anniversary of the criminal court decision in the Nicole Brown-Ron Goldman murder trial, which left O.J. Simpson a free man. Since then, the Brown family — which was known to sell pictures of Nicole to the press and once offered her wedding video for sale over an 800 number — has maintained the Foundation in Nicole's memory. 

But last year this column first reported that the Foundation took in about $85,000 in 1998 and paid out only $6,000 to charities. Denise Brown was forced to concede that she was pulling down close to $50,000 in salary. At the time Brown said that the 1999 forms — not yet filed — would reflect a change in the way the Foundation did business. 

The foundation's Web site, by the way, boasts that after Fox411's story last year, the group "has received a clean bill of health from the attorney general's office of the state of California. This is very good news for the Foundation, its supporters and victims across the country." It's unclear whether they mean the Foundation's victims, or the victims of domestic abuse. 

Calls to Brown were not returned at press time. 

10.20.00: Jerry Butler Is the Real Survivor   

Because you're young, you may not know Jerry Butler's name. Even so, you've heard his voice on the radio countless times. Three of his big hits were "He Don't Love You Like I Love You," "Only the Strong Survive" and "For Your Precious Love." He's had a lot more than those too. He's also one of the few pop singers who went on to a new career: he sits on the board of commissioners in Cook County, Ill. — Chicago, to you. Jerry is 61 years old and this week he releases his autobiography, Only the Strong Survive, from Indiana University Press. 

The commissioner — or 'The Iceman,' as he is known in show bizness — went back to college at age 52 to get his degree. He's one of the few singers from his era who wrote his own songs. And he's written some big hits for other people too. I didn't know until I read his book that he'd written "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and that he handed it over to Otis Redding, who finished it and recorded it. Most of his early hits were written by or with Curtis Mayfield, with whom he also recorded. 

These days, Butler is still performing all over the place. He presides over those commission meetings during the week, then slips into a tux and goes out gigging on the weekends. He also heads up the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which has its offices in Washington, DC. Butler is devoted to civil rights and artists' rights. 

Apropos of Butler's book (buy a copy!), Gladys Knight told me a story once about a tour she was on with Jerry, Smokey Robinson, the Pips and the Miracles. "We were in Georgia, and the police — or people who said they were police — pulled us over. We were in two cars, in a convoy, and everything had been fine. They took us to a little house, it didn't look like a police station. And they wouldn't let us go until we got them some money. You should have seen Jerry and Smokey on the phone, making calls." A funny story in retrospect, not so funny when it happened. There's a lot more about the history of this only truly American kind of music and this terrific singer in Only the Strong Survive

12.5.00: Billy Crystal-izes Oscar Host Talk   

We can make it official: Billy Crystal will not be hosting the Academy Awards show next March. 

Crystal told me so last night at New York University’s gala for its Tisch School of the Arts. Crystal’s daughter is a senior at the school; not only did he show up, but so did Ron Howard, whose own daughter is a sophomore at the prestigious institution. 

"I can’t do it, you have to understand," Crystal said to me, almost pleading. "If everything goes according to plan, I’ll just be finishing a new movie on March 22. I can’t host the show five days later." 

Crystal is the writer/director of America’s Sweethearts, in which he stars with Julia Roberts. Last year, he said that the little opening film he makes which parodies the various Oscar shows "took two months of planning. You don’t realize it. It’s a lot of work for that and the monologue and then hours of...the show." 

This will not be good news for esteemed Oscar-cast producer Gil Cates because Whoopi Goldberg told me last year, in Talk magazine’s special Oscar issue, that she was not going to host again. At least, not for the foreseeable future. 

So what to do? I asked Crystal for his advice. "They need someone associated with the movies. It should be Jim Carrey. I asked him to be part of the film last year, in the shower scene that Kevin Spacey finally agreed to. But Jim has some bad feelings about not being nominated [for The Truman Show or Man in the Moon]. It’s not like he was in a box office flop. I mean, Kevin Costner helped us out after The Postman. It’s just in good fun." 

Crystal told me that if Carrey isn’t available, Jay Leno or even a repeat performance by David Letterman would be a good idea. 

Meanwhile, Billy is getting ready to premiere his HBO movie 61 in April. This is the much-anticipated story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s rush toward the title of home run king in 1961. Crystal wrote and directed that one as well — and I can tell you, personally, I am really looking forward to that movie. 

12.5.00 Johnny Depp’s Dark Period Is Over  

At the premiere of Oscar favorite Chocolat last night, Johnny Depp — who’s featured in the movie as an Irish gypsy — was reunited with an old pal, Lasse Hallström. Hallström directed him in both this film and 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

So how have things changed for the pair in the seven intervening years? 

"I was in a dark period of my life during Gilbert Grape," Depp said. "Things are much better now." 

For one thing, he has a baby by French actress Vanessa Paradis with whom he lives in Paris. Not so bad, huh? 

Depp came to the premiere at the Plaza Hotel alone, but if you must know he has shoulder-length brown hair with blonde highlights. He has a couple of tattoos, too. And he’s very nice. You’ve read about him smashing up hotel rooms, but he couldn’t have been more civilized at the Plaza. 

"Lasse is very good at sculpting a performance," Depp said while Hallström stood there, Swedish, implacable. Hallström said, "No, no, he knows what to do. I don’t tell him anything." 

"Yeah, right," said Johnny. "He peels and peels away until you get the performance he wants. Then you see it and you say, How did that happen? Tonight was the first time I’ve ever sat all the way through one of my movies. And it was fine." 

"He’s never seen Gilbert Grape," Hallström interjected. 

"Never have," said Johnny. "Maybe one day." 

Depp directed Marlon Brando in a movie called The Brave that’s never been released in the United States. He told me that he’s considering a release, maybe on video, for next year. But with a small distributor. 

Does he think about the days when he was just starting out, on Fox’s original series 21 Jump Street

"Think about it. Yeah, I think about pumping gas back in Florida too. 21 Jump Street was like going to school for me. I’ll never forget it." And with that, for, like, real, he wiped his brow. Whew. 

Depp co-stars with Juliette BinocheLena Olin and Alfred Molina in Chocolat, which opens nationwide December 15th. It’s the only movie I can think of this fall that I can recommend to everyone and not worry about the reaction to violence, weird sex or strange plot points. 

Everything about Chocolat is classy and delightful. It’s a fable, but one for adults. At the end of last night’s screening, there was actual heartfelt applause and some cheering — unknown among jaded press audiences.