Pete Axthelm, 47, for two decades one of America's finest sportswriters, died of liver failure on Feb. 2 in Pittsburgh, while awaiting a transplant. Quick and smart, with a sensibility both streetwise and literary, Axthelm was best known for his work at Newsweek from 1968 to 1988 and for The City Game, his widely admired 1970 book about playground basketball. He worked as a contributing editor at PEOPLE in 1988-89 and had served as a weekly commentator on ESPN since 1986. A man of Runyonesque enthusiasms, he loved racetracks, gambling and barrooms; he had been warned to stop drinking but did not. Wrote Andrew Beyer, a handicapper for the Washington Post: "It would probably be an accurate judgment, if a harsh one, to say that Pete was blessed with brains and great talent and carelessly threw it away. As a friend, I would prefer to say that Pete loved life enormously but wanted to live either on his own terms or not at all."
Here's a bride you know will look simply doll-ing: Barbie's best pal, Midge, 28 in doll years, is tying the knot on Valentine's Day in New York City with Alan, 27, her longtime plastic other. Alan is co-owner with Barbie's best guy, Ken, 30, of the hip beachware company LA Swim Trunks Inc. Our spies tell us that the bride will be clad in a stunning white dotted-swiss-and-lace gown, a sheer veil and a cascading tulle train (at right). When asked if the Feb. 14 marriage will be a first for the dolls, a publicist for Mattel Toys got huffy: "Of course. In Barbieland, there's no such thing as divorce."
Oakland A's slugger Jose Canseco, 26, has struck out in his marriage to Esther Haddad, 24. Canseco filed for divorce Jan. 16, stating that his two-year marriage was "irretrievably broken." So was the pocketbook of A's pitcher Dave Stewart, who lost $10,000 when he bet Canseco in the spring of 1988 that the impressively sculpted all-star (who appears shirtless this year on one of his baseball cards) wouldn't marry the Miami beauty queen by November. When they indeed did wed, in October 1988, Canseco and Haddad put Stewart's $10,000 toward a lavish reception. It was the first marriage for both.
Mötley crüe bass player Nikki Sixx, 32, and his wife, Brandi, 21, had their first baby, an 8-lb. boy, Gunner Nicholas, on Jan. 25. According to Sixx, Gunner's name was chosen for its reversible meaning, Sixx Gunner....
Arnold Schwarzenegger, 43, will soon have his own private kindergarten to police with the recent news that he and wife Maria Shriver, 35, expect a second baby, due this summer. The couple's daughter, Katherine Eunice, is now 15 months old....
Shriver's colleague at NBC News, correspondent Katie Couric, 34, has announced that she and husband Jay Monahan, 35, an attorney, expect their first child in July. Which makes for a potentially full nursery at the Today show since, beginning next month, Couric fills in for Today cohost Deborah Norville, whose own first baby is due in March.
Nancy Kulp, 69, who won fame as the starchy bank secretary Jane Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies, died in Palm Desert, Calif., on Feb. 4, of cancer. Even before she joined Hillbillies in 1962 for its nine-year run, Kulp's prudish demeanor and spaghetti-thin frame had led to typecasting in spinster roles, including that of bird-watching Pamela Livingston (at left) on The Bob Cummings Show (1955-59). A staunch Democrat, Kulp returned to her native Pennsylvania in 1984 to run unsuccessfully for Congress. Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro on Hillbillies, says, "She was like a mother to me on the set."