Jolt of Electra

updated 08/25/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/25/2003 01:00AM

I don't gamble at all," says Carmen Electra. But when the actress arrived in Las Vegas last June to be a judge on the new Dance Fever, all bets were off. "Now I'm obsessed with the Wheel of Fortune slot machines. I lost $300," she says, wrinkling her nose. "That's not bad, right?"

Not compared with Electra's last big Vegas bet, her November 1998 marriage to wild ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman. The union blew up five months later. Electra insists she has bounced back nicely. "I'm really happy now," says Electra, 31. "I have peace." And, of course, that gig on Dance Fever, ABC Family's update of the classic disco dance competition. She'll also appear in next year's film version of Starsky and Hutch. "It's the same edge J.Lo has. She knows all the street dancers," says Fever producer Merv Griffin. "When you mingle and mix in that group, I suppose it stays with you."

Electra's relationship with Rodman began not long after she lost her sister Debbie, 40, to a heart attack and mom Patricia, 58, to a brain tumor a week later. "I was in so much pain, I just wanted to distract myself from feeling anything," she says. "Some people use drugs, some people use alcohol. I married Dennis Rodman. I wanted to live happily ever after."

Now Electra is getting another shot at a fairy-tale ending, with Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. "It was refreshing to meet someone who still has an edge but also a good heart," says Electra, who met Navarro, 36, on a blind date in 2000. They were engaged a year later. "We have our little pet peeves"—he smokes and she leaves soda cans strewn around their three-bedroom Beverly Hills home—"but we love each other so much, it's okay."

For Electra, judging Dance Fever is a return to her Cincinnati-area roots. Born Tara Patrick, she watched the original show with her mom, a seamstress who got costume ideas for Electra's childhood outfits from the contestants. (Dad Harry was a guitarist and contractor.) The aspiring singer-dancer was discovered—and renamed—by Prince in 1990 and moved to L.A. in 1994. Back then, Electra "was soft-spoken," says long-time pal Jamie King, a choreographer and fellow Fever judge. But after building her career with Baywatch, Scary Movie and her Pussycat Dolls burlesque dance troupe, says King, "she's a strong, independent woman."

At the very least, she knows what she doesn't want: another Vegas wedding. Come November in L.A., she and Navarro will walk down the aisle in a more traditional ceremony. "This time," she says, "I want to do it right."

Jason Lynch
Michael Fleeman in Las Vegas and Rachel Biermann in Los Angeles

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