The Glove Is Off

His CD sales in the tank, Michael Jackson launches a bizarre attack

Focus
"I broke Elvis's records," Michael Jackson was telling a crowd of community members and recording industry types in the Harlem office of Rev. Al Sharpton, the activist preacher spearheading a coalition for the rights of musicians. "I broke the Beatles' records. The minute [1982's] Thriller became the all-time bestselling album in history in the Guinness Book of Records, overnight they called me a freak, a homosexual, a child molester. They said I bleach my skin. They did everything to turn the public against me."

Jackson, 43, did not specify who "they" were in his July 9 rant, but he left a few clues in previous actions that appeared to be fueled by the relatively disappointing sales of his recent Sony CD Invincible. (Despite selling 6 million copies worldwide, it pales in comparison to Thriller's 47 million.) On July 6 he lashed out at Sony chairman Tommy Mottola, accusing him of racism and exploiting minority artists. Outside Sony's midtown offices, Jackson toted a derogatory sign showing Mottola with a devil's horns and tail.

Sony, the Gloved One's label since 1976, promptly responded that it was "deeply offended" by what it termed Jackson's "bizarre, false statements," adding that his attack on Mottola was "unfounded" and constituted "a serious abuse of power that comes with celebrity." A source close to the company claims that, in fact, Sony spent $30 million to produce Invincible and another $25 million to market it. "Sony has made Michael an obscene amount of money," says another industry insider. "He is one of the most talented people to walk on this planet, but now he's being whiny and self-indulgent."

Jackson, under contract to Sony until 2004, sees it differently-as a racist conspiracy that has deprived black artists of their earnings. "I know my race," he says. "I just look in the mirror, I know I'm black."

Despite the sales slump, Jackson still has his fans. Later on July 6 he joined about 1,500 followers at a tribute to himself in New York City. "Hail to the king of pop," a Jackson impersonator shouted to the crowd. "You keep standing strong!"

At Long Last: Bridges over Troubles

For a while there, Diff'rent Strokes alum Todd Bridges's life was more nighttime police drama than daytime soap. He once had a 14-gram-a-day cocaine habit and, in 1989, was acquitted of attempted murder in the L.A. shooting of a drug dealer. Now, the 37-year-old actor says, he has been clean and sober for 10 years. The turnaround appears to have won him a rare second chance in showbiz. Starting July 12, he'll play a tough guy bent on revenge in CBS's top-rated The Young and the Restless. "I am a survivor," says Bridges, who has struggled in obscure roles for years. "I made it back in." (One Strokes costar was not so fortunate: Dana Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999 at age 34.)

"Todd leaves his baggage behind when he is working," says Y&R executive producer David Shaughnessy. "He does the job and is keen on getting it right." Perhaps he finally has. "I am getting calls now," says Bridges, who hopes to parlay the five-week soap stint into a new acting career. "I am doing the job, and people will realize that I am not the person I was. I am an actor. I am a viable commodity."

In Search of Summer's Hottest Dog?
If species were not a factor in considering Academy Awards nominations, Frank the Pug (from Men in Black II) and Scooby-Doo, two of this summer's hottest stars, might have a shot at Best Actor nominations. Leading Scoop to wonder: Come Oscar time, which dog would have his day? Tough call, says Tom O'Neil, author of Movie Awards. "Frank has the cool factor because of that Sean Penn 'tude, but showbiz awards are all about hugs, and that's Scooby." Besides, O'Neil notes, "voters love teary-eyed performances, and Scooby's the biggest crybaby there is." Thoughts on Scooby's acceptance speech? "He'd say, 'They rike me! They really, really rike me!' "

Surgery for sharon
On MTV's surprise hit The Osbournes, Sharon is the heavy-metal soccer mom: always on the run as she raises her punky kids and manages her mumbling, bumbling—but lovable!—husband's career as a goth god. Now it's time for the Osbournes to rally around Mom. On July 3—shortly before the couple's 20th wedding anniversary-Sharon, 49. underwent surgery in Los Angeles for colon cancer. The cancer was caught in its early stages. A full recovery is expected, said her rep, who added that "Mrs. Osbourne is in good spirits and doing well," And the show will go on: With Sharon's health improving. Ozzy will continue his Ozzfest rock dates.

Hasselhoff Checks In
If admitting you have a problem is half the battle, David Hasselhoff is making strides. Weeks after his publicist had branded a New York Post report that the actor-singer was spotted falling down outside a Manhattan nightclub "absolutely not true," Hasselhoff, 50, announced that he had checked himself into the Betty Ford Center last month. "He realized his social drinking had increased more than he was comfortable with," said his rep, "and he decided to do something about it." Those close to the former Baywatch star are relieved. "I'm glad that David is finally helping himself," says a close friend. "I think he knows that he needs to work on things to improve his life."

Olivia's Words of Outrage

Michael Abram, who stabbed George Harrison in 1999 after breaking into his English manor, recently won his freedom. Forgiveness? Not so fast. "Deeply upsetting," replied Harrison's widow, Olivia, upon learning that a British mental-health tribunal had released Abram to a halfway house (he had served nearly 30 months at a psychiatric clinic). The news was salt in the wound for the family of the former Beatle, who died last November of cancer at age 58. Abram, 36, who suffers from schizophrenia, was found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity in 2000. Now responding well to antipsychotic medication, Abram said in a statement he "would give anything not to have done what I did."

His apology carries little weight with Harrison's loved ones. "We can never forget," said Olivia, 55, who knocked Abram out with a lamp, helping save Harrison's life. "The vicious attack robbed George of the vital energy he needed at that time to maintain his health."

POP QUIZ

with Cindy Crawford

Russian space officials may be considering 'N Syncer Lance Bass's offer to buy a $20 million ride on one of their rocket ships, but one cosmonaut has said—with a smile—that he would rather see Cindy Crawford make the flight. A supermodel in space? Scoop put the prospect to Crawford, 36, and also talked about a more serious interest of hers.

Would you fly to outer space?

Yes—if I could be back in one week and not pay $20 million.

What would you take along?

Oh, I'd take a camera.

No makeup? No designer pajamas?

I don't wear makeup most of the time, and I don't think I would be applying makeup in a space suit. And they pretty much pick the clothes, don't they?

With no gravity, maybe no one needs makeup in space.

The skin would look great.

What's keeping you on Earth?

I was serious when I said I'd need to be back in a week. Normally five days is my limit to be away from my children [infant Kaia Jordan and Presley Walker, 3].

Any space fears?

I don't think I could eat the space food. Which is not bad, because then I'd probably lose weight.

Okay, let's get back to Earth. How are you spending the summer?

I'm working with Strength for Caring [www.strengthforcaring. com], a support program for cancer caregivers [relatives and friends assisting patients].

What do they do?

Educate people on how to talk to doctors. This program gives you the tools to communicate better with your health care team.

Why this particular interest?

When I was 10, my little brother Jeff died of leukemia. He was almost 4 when he died. Having watched my mom take care of my brother, I wish a program like this had been around.

Meaning...?

Being a caregiver isn't something you sign up for. You come into it feeling very unprepared, and you need practical tools and support.

ON THE BLOCK

BAT MAN'S LAIR

He's retired, but Mark McGwire, 38, is making a major-league trade: The baseball slugger is selling his 5,000-sq.-ft. waterfront home in Huntington Harbor, Calif., for $2,995 million and is planning to build a larger place inland in nearby Irvine. The estate features a live coral reef in a 500-gal. aquarium and a two-story waterfall that empties into a moat. "It feels like the water is coming into the house from the harbor," says real estate agent Sandy Powers. Also included: a rooftop garden and private dock. Batter up!

  • Contributors:
  • Ting Yu,
  • Jennifer Wren,
  • Nina Biddle,
  • Kristin Coronado,
  • Johnny Dodd,
  • Ruth Andrew Ellenson,
  • Liza Hamm,
  • Amy Mindell,
  • Michele Stueven,
  • Frank Swertlow,
  • Pamela Warrick.