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Jacko: Llamas, Alpacas Are First to Go

Michael Jackson | The Killers | Felicity Huffman

Jacko: Llamas, Alpacas Are First to Go

Michael Jackson’s fabled llamas, long the subject of jokes, are gone. So are his camel, an alpaca and a bunch of other animals from his private zoo at the Neverland Valley Ranch.

They were removed over the weekend, says a source, and it’s not clear which facility took them. Last week, I told you that representatives from Marine World had come to look over Jackson’s menagerie.

Jackson is being sued by his veterinarian, Dr. Martin Dinnes, for $91,000 in owed fees.

At the same time, tomorrow will mark nine weeks since any of Jackson’s California employees have received paychecks. Electricity and gas at the ranch have been cut back severely, and many of the employees have gone off in search of second jobs.

Nevertheless, Neverland still has elephants, tigers and orangutans in cages. It’s not clear how much longer they will stay on the premises.

Jackson, meantime, parties on at the four-star Dorchester Hotel in London, as bankers, lawyers, and record executives try to resolve his huge financial issues.

I’m told there may be a severe glitch in the deal that would move Jackson’s $270 million loans from Fortress Investments to Citigroup. Sources say Fortress now has some interest in remaining in the music publishing business, although why they would want to continue having this headache when they could get out with a profit is a mystery. Or does Fortress have something else up its sleeve?

(Reporter’s note: I say, get out while the going is good. Jackson is like quicksand. Anyone who’s tried to stick it out with him, hoping for some big future windfall, has sunk deeper and deeper into the muck. If it weren’t already taken, Jackson’s biography could be called "No One Here Gets Out Alive.")

In other Jackson news, here’s a little tidbit: his latest advisor is a woman named Gaynell Lenoir. She is not an attorney, but the daughter of Johnnie Cochran’s late mentor, famed Los Angeles lawyer Gerald Lenoir. Some sources claim that Lenoir was advising Jackson as much as a year ago, but her name has surfaced only recently in Jackson’s latest negotiations.

Good luck to her! She joins a long and prestigious list of people who thought they could make sense of this situation, only to wind up jet lagged, out of pocket, consulting an attorney of their own and cursing under their breath!

The Killers: Ex-Manager Files $16M Lawsuit

Their songs have been heard on pop radio for the last two years around the clock. Among them: "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me."

Now The Killers — the Las Vegas quartet who built their rep on sounding like they were descendents of Britain's New Order — are being sued for $16 million by their ex-manager.

Braden Merrick, the man who discovered and guided The Killers to fame and fortune — including selling six million copies of their CD, "Hot Fuss" — filed suit late Tuesday in federal court in Las Vegas.

Merrick is claiming that after seeing The Killers play in a Las Vegas club in front of just a few people, he polished them up and found them a record deal.

Now Merrick says The Killers —- Brandon Flowers, Ronnie Vannucci Jr., Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer, kicked him to the curb and breached their contract with him. All of them are named as defendants as well as an attorney named Robert Reynolds, whom Merrick says interfered in his relationship with the group and encouraged them to sever ties with him.

The "manager who discovers an act and then gets fired" is one of the oldest stories in show business. Woody Allen depicted it beautifully in his classic film, "Broadway Danny Rose."

Merrick says that in 2002, he found The Killers playing before 20 people in a "long since shuttered" Las Vegas nightclub called The Junkyard. He says he got the idea they could be big, presented it to them, signed them to a deal and then offered them to several record companies —- all of which rejected them.

One of the main companies for which The Killers played a private showcase, Merrick says, was Warner Music Group. They passed on signing the group. Ironically, Merrick signed The Killers to Island/DefJam, whose former executives are now installed at Warner’s and could use a hit act like The Killers desperately.

Merrick says The Killers have grossed in excess of $25 million during their short career —- all due to him.

He won’t have too tough a time proving it, from the looks of things. Back in October 2004, Flowers —- the group’s leader — told pollstar.org, an industry Web site — "Braden was a rep for Warner Bros. and he was just looking for bands. Las Vegas was in his territory, so he was checking out LVlocalmusicscene.com. He wanted to sign us to Warner Bros. initially. He got us some showcases, and they didn't want us. He stayed with us and ended up being our manager until we got a record deal, and he's still here."

Felicity: Late Groundswell?

Oscar balloting continues until next week, so this weekend coming up is key for the players in what looks like a desultory race.

Consider this: last year during this week, three of the five Oscar-nominated Best Pictures —"Million Dollar Baby," "The Aviator" and "Sideways" — were all big hits, doing lots of business.

This week, "Brokeback Mountain" is all that remains in the Top 15, and it’s peaked. An enormous success, "Brokeback" is hovering around $72 million so far. But the party is over, and the gay cowboys are packing up their gear at this point and heading for town.

The only other hit of the season with some Oscar involvement is "Walk the Line." Otherwise, "Capote" and "Crash" are gone, and "Good Night and Good Luck" is hanging on to the box office list by a thread.

Late interest in Felicity Huffman’s tremendous performance in "Transamerica" is keeping things interesting, though. The Weinstein Company sent out DVD screeners late on purpose, I’m told, so that voters would concentrate on the indie film.

Huffman is considered an actress’ actress by most voters, and there’s a good chance she will overcome Reese Witherspoon. It’s thought that Witherspoon beat Huffman at the Screen Actors Guild awards simply because Huffman won the TV award for "Desperate Housewives" on the same night.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s place as Best Actor looks secure, and the "60 Minutes" piece on him that ran this past Sunday was practically a coronation. So let’s make the winning ticket a euphonious "Huffman and Hoffman."

The two supporting awards will probably go to Paul Giamatti in "Cinderella Man" and Catherine Keener in "Capote," with the directing and Best Picture nods clinched by Ang Lee and his "Mountain."