Britney Spears was dealt a deathly marketing blow Tuesday in Los Angeles Family Court.
Commissioner Scott M. Gordon didn’t take Spears’ kids away from her and give them to former husband Kevin Federline. But he ordered her to take random drug and alcohol tests twice a week, receive parenting counseling and instituted other measures to safeguard her children from trouble when they are with her.
The papers also say that neither Spears nor Federline "shall consume alcohol or other non-prescription controlled substance during or for 12 hours immediately preceding any period such party is responsible for the health and safety of the minor children."
But it’s this sentence that will put Spears in the most trouble public relations-wise:
"The Court finds that there is a habitual frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol by [Spears]." (The court papers first were posted by TMZ.com Tuesday night.)
The perception of former Mousketeer Spears as a drug-taking, hard-partying bad mother will haunt her just as the specter of pedophilia hovers over Michael Jackson. They are tags that stick with Super Glue.
Gordon ordered twice-weekly random drug testing for Spears for the foreseeable future. He also ordered her to meet with a parenting coach eight hours a week in at least two sessions per week.
Clearly, Gordon was impressed by the declaration of "secret" witness Tony Baretto, as first reported here.
It’s just surprising that he didn’t limit Spears’ time with Sean, 2, and Jayden, 1, more than he did. But Gordon didn’t only cite Spears in his order. He included Federline in his order for counseling, for parent classes and informed both sides that corporal punishment of the children was prohibited.
All of this comes as this column has learned exclusive new information about Spears’ days before her disastrous appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards and what happened as a result.
Most surprising of all, according to sources, is how Spears was fired by her manager of one month, Jeff Kwatinetz of The Firm. I am told that after the VMA show, Spears never responded to Kwatinetz’s phone calls or e-mails, choosing to ignore them rather than face the situation.
"All she wanted to talk about was setting up a tour, playing the European version of the VMAs," a source told me. "She wouldn’t discuss what happened, and the Firm wasn’t going to do any more business with her until she got counseling or went into rehab."
Indeed, the judge’s order to seek counseling should be interesting since, I am told, Spears has resisted any kind of psychiatric counseling.
"Is she on drugs? I don’t know," said one observer of Spears over the last several weeks. "I’d say she’s bipolar, definitely. You never know which Britney you’re getting."
Whichever Britney is operating now, she’d better figure out who represents her. Kwatinetz is gone, and so is her publicist and her original divorce lawyer. But so, too, I’ve learned, are her music business lawyer, Gary Stiffelman, and possibly her booking agents at William Morris.
Spears may have parted company with Stiffelman as many as four weeks ago, sources say, on a whim. The booking agents may yet drop her when they read the judge’s order.
"Something’s going to happen there," a source told me Tuesday night.
Just hours after the commissioner ruled Tuesday, Spears appeared at Hollywood hot spots Winston's and Hyde, TMZ reported.
It was quite an evening Tuesday night on the 6th Avenue corridor of Manhattan. At the Ziegfeld Theater, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were the centers of attention at the premiere of Pitt in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."
The couple grabbed dinner in the Maccioni family’s famous Oseteria del Circo — in the private room — before heading across the plaza to the film. I just about ran over them as I raced into the screening; they’d been waiting in the theater’s Green Room rather than greeting mere mortals.
More on the film Thursday — but it’s important to note that Casey Affleck and Paul Schneider just about steal this elegiac, Terence Malick-like meditation on the Western.
But there was more: across the street and down a few blocks at Radio City Music Hall, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder led an all-star night to raise money for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
The memorial fund is at $87 million after taking in $4 million Tuesday night. They still need $13 million to meet their goal. Why should it be so difficult? A memorial for Dr. King seems like such a no-brainer.
But the raising of money for it is all the more fun. Along with Stevie and Aretha there were performances from Carlos Santana, Wyclef Jean, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, India.Arie, John Legend, Robin Thicke, Joss Stone, Ludacris and even Garth Brooks, who impressed the crowd with a stirring take on "Abraham, Martin, and John."
But the night belonged to Stevie and Aretha. The latter came out as the penultimate act, a vision in pink chiffon as she slugged out "Respect" and brought the audience to its feet.
It was the gospel shout-out, though, that made the Queen of Soul dance on stage, and her performance was as natural and unbridled as ever.
Meanwhile, backstage, before he performed several numbers including "Happy Birthday" — the song he wrote two decades ago as part of the push to make Dr. King’s birthday a holiday — Stevie entertained in his usual gregarious mode.
Among his visitors: Garth Brooks, who declined a chair and knelt on one knee to have his audience with the legend, and a seriously wizened Gil-Scott Heron, who suggested he and Stevie write a song together.
"I’ll give you a song; you give the lyrics," Stevie told him.
Later, Wonder performed "Visions" with India.Arie, and "Superstition," "Living for the City" and "Love’s in Need of Love Today." He also spoke passionately about the need for the memorial, as did Quincy Jones and a few other luminaries.
We do love Q — serious as he was at the event, later the 72-year-old music star was squiring supermodel and extreme beauty Petra Nemcova to the after party at the Rainbow Room. He never ceases to amaze.
The word Tuesday from reliable sources is that jailed private investigator Anthony Pellicano has cancer. One source swore to me that he had "stage one" something or other and that he might not see his trial date in February.
Is this true or just a smokescreen? Many calls later, we learned this: Pellicano recently has been calling people he hasn’t spoken to in a while and doctors have visited him in prison, but it was thought the reason was for a rash.
"I haven’t heard about this," one regular Pellicano insider said.
His attorney, Steven F. Gruel, also said this was news to him. Gruel, a respected former federal prosecutor, is preparing motions to have the case against Pellicano dismissed.
So stay tuned. In the case where anything can happen, Pellicano’s health should be the next order of business. Where most people wish their enemies ill, my guess is that Pellicano’s foes want to see him robust and ready in February.