updated 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST
Minus Jen—and back in sweats—life for Ben Affleck is all about playing cards, hanging out and finding the perfect crib
Forget those Gucci duds and dinners at Nobu. Since his breakup with Jennifer Lopez, it's back to T-shirts and pickup basketball for Ben Affleck. Newly single and hanging out in L.A., the actor seems to be reveling in being just a regular guy. On Feb. 4 Affleck and friends played hoops. Earlier that week he hit the poker tables at the Commerce Casino. "Ben has been coming around a lot more since the breakup," says a worker at the casino. Affleck, who had stayed with Lopez in her Hollywood Hills house, is also on the hunt for the perfect bachelor pad. Among his recent activities, he checked out a five-bedroom Brentwood home previously occupied by both Courteney Cox Arquette and Ricki Lake. He also looked at an ocean-view house that Jerry Seinfeld once owned.
Meanwhile, ex-fiancée Jennifer Lopez was spotted twice with former flames at a trendy South Beach restaurant, once ordering a salad and a banana daiquiri with Marc Anthony, who's producing her next album, and once with Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, according to a source. Romance, however, did not appear to be on the table. "[Lopez and Anthony] were not acting like dates," says a waitress. "Just friends."
BRITNEY'S SOUL SEARCH
With her microwave marriage, Madonna kiss and a risqué music video ("Toxic," which MTV has just deemed inappropriate for its daytime rotation), it's perhaps no surprise that Britney Spears is seeking a little spiritual help. Spears joined the nondenominational Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, Calif., a few weeks ago, and brought her mom up front Feb. 8 for a service advising calm during times of stress. "I think Britney is seeking a continual relationship with God," says the church's pastor, Kenneth Ulmer. "She desires to be a better person." The pop diva has been exploring other spiritual avenues as well: She's been reading the book Conversations with God. And not only has she been wearing kabbalah strings—wristbands said to help cleanse impurities—she's even taking private kabbalah lessons at her friend Madonna's suggestion. Since the body is a temple, she has also been working with a trainer—including kickboxing sessions—to prepare for her tour next month.
But not everyone is convinced that she's on the right religious path. The same day the singer attended gospel services, New York's Cardinal Egan criticized someone who sounds a lot like Spears. "A singer marries a young man for a few hours and everyone thinks it's cute," Egan said. "It's not cute." Regardless, Spears appears to be taking some time to de-Tox.
KERRY'S PAST RECORD
Overcome with pop music nostalgia on the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' landing in America? Give a listen to a 1961 album by a band called the Electras, featuring a young John Kerry on bass. Yes, that John Kerry. As a student at St. Paul's prep in New Hampshire, the future presidential contender and six friends wailed away on such classics as "Summertime Blues" and "You Can't Sit Down" in a style that recalls such contemporary rock pioneers as the Ventures or the very early Beach Boys—long before those groups were good enough to record professionally. Judge for yourself—check out www.people.com, where you can hear excerpts from three grooving Electras tunes.
TO HEAR KERRY PLAY, GO TO www.people.com or AOL (Keyword: People)
the smoking gun
Allegations that Demi Moore sexually harassed a former employee—and then fired him for rebuffing her amorous advances—have "no probable cause," according to an Idaho Human Rights Commission ruling uncovered this week by Court TV's The Smoking Gun. Lawrence Bass, who worked as an estate manager at Moore's Hailey, Idaho, retreat, filed a complaint last year alleging that the actress had groped and massaged him against his will. But in mid-December the commission dismissed his complaint after a lengthy investigation, according to Moore's lawyers. Last year Moore filed a civil suit against Bass, 43. While details are not public—the court file has been sealed—Bass did serve a 10-day sentence in the Hailey jail for a contempt charge stemming from Moore's suit. (Bass declined to comment.) The December jail stay was not Bass's first run-in with the law. California court records show that he has been the subject of at least seven restraining orders and is named in an outstanding arrest warrant.
Onscreen Sex and the City's Jason Lewis makes everything right for his steady, Samantha. But offscreen Lewis finds himself in a sticky legal battle with former girlfriend Maxine Bahns. Bahns, an actress and model, filed suit against Lewis last year, alleging that she lent him $70,000 in 1999 for the purchase of property in Topanga, Calif., and was never repaid. Lewis, 32, retaliated Jan. 23 with a cross-complaint against Bahns, seeking recovery of "gifts made in contemplation of marriage" worth more than $250,000, including three laptops, a vacation to Italy, school fees and mortgage payments. He also claims that Bahns "had no intention of performing her promise to marry." The case is set to go to trial July 2.
On Jan. 30 a Philadelphia jury awarded Kelly Ripa's younger sister Linda $15 million for botched surgery on her ankle. Linda, 31, claims that after she broke her ankle in a 1999 car accident, the surgeon cast her foot in the wrong position twice. As a result Linda says she cannot walk without crutches. "She was delighted that justice was done," says lawyer Roberta Pichini. "But the reality of the future is grim." Pichini says Linda now relies on her parents to care for her and 4-year-old son Sergio Giuseppe. Kelly testified via videotape that before the accident she had planned for Linda to work as her personal and public relations assistant for $150,000 a year. "They are mutually supportive," Pichini says. Linda's lawyers had suggested the hospital propose a $2.4 million settlement, the full amount of its insurance coverage, but the hospital, where the orthopedic surgeon Menachem Meller operated, never made an offer. Now, it says, it will appeal the decision.
STILL FRIENDS, BUT NOT A COUPLE
When they broke off their 10-month engagement in December, The Bachelor's Andrew Firestone and fiancée Jennifer Schefft told everyone that the split was amicable. It still is. The two had dinner together at a sushi restaurant on Feb. 8—but that doesn't mean they're getting back together, despite press reports to the contrary. Firestone scoffs at the notion that the two are dating again. "I happened to be in Chicago and just checked in to see how Jen was," he told PEOPLE. Schefft also dismisses the rumors. "We are not getting back together," she says. Is that firm? "Very firm." While she has said that she and Firestone "are still on good terms and friendly," she is not seeing Andrew—or anyone. "No dating!" Reacting to talk in the media of a reconciliation, says her close friend Abby Smith, Schefft commented, " 'Who knew that seeing your ex-boyfriend was going to turn into this?' "
The 2.78-carat engagement ring that Aaron Buerge gave ex-fiancée Helene Eksterowicz is up for bid at www.ebay.com/ring until Feb. 19, with an opening price of $17,500. Eksterowicz, an elementary school psychologist, will give part of her profits to an audio library for her school's special-education students. A portion of Buerge's share will benefit the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield, Mo.
Average Joe: Hawaii
Melana Scantlin shocked her suitors when she dressed up in a fat suit, pretending to be her cousin on the first Average Joe. How could Larissa Meek of Average Joe: Hawaii top that? By adding more than 100 lbs., 30 years and a couple of hairy warts to pose as her own mother for the Feb. 16 episode. "I think every guy looks at his girlfriend's mother and wonders, 'Is this what she's going to look like in however many years?' " says Meek. In actuality, Meek says, she looked nothing like her mother, whom she describes as petite and beautiful.
Celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito has been sued by a group of investors known as China Grill Management, AP reports. In court papers they say they put up more than $3 million so he could open Rocco's on 22nd Street, the site of NBC's reality series The Restaurant, which begins airing its second season later this year. They claim they lost money because of poor management. DiSpirito said he looked forward to airing the dispute in court.... Amy Harkin, 27, the oldest daughter of Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, will be featured on NBC's daytime reality show Starting Over this month. "I thought, what do I have to lose?" ...RecentlyFor Love or Money bachelor Rob Campos told the world he was engaged to Katherine Barber, 34. Now he admits they actually married Jan. 5 in a civil ceremony in Aspen. The latest: "We're pregnant!" says Campos, 34.
Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox returned to the world of situation comedy this month, guest-starring on the NBC series Scrubs. Scoop talked to the 42-year-old actor, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, in Cambridge, Mass., at a benefit for his Parkinson's research foundation.
What led to your gig on Scrubs?
Billy Lawrence, who writes and created the show, was one of the co-creators of Spin City. We talked a few times and I've been feeling pretty good lately, so when he asked, I did it. The idea was that this guy, he's like kind of a genius doctor, he's eccentric and he has some OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] issues. In a way, it's really about how uncomfortable he makes everybody.
Did your Parkinson's affect the filming?
It's difficult to put the same amount of mental energy into acting that I used to, because I'm still somewhat preoccupied with the physical. It's a tricky thing to do.
Did you miss being in front of the camera?
I had a really good time, but I was glad when I was done and I got to go home. It's a tremendous amount of work. I'm not looking to come back and do it full-time.
What else have you been doing lately?
Our foundation—we had a great year. We gave out $20 million for research.
You seem to be feeling better recently.
Actually I'm not feeling great at this particular moment. But there's this drug I started taking, and it relieves a lot of the dyskinesias [spontaneous, involuntary movements], which is a major side effect of the core of medication I take. It's given me a lot of relief, and I've been able to play hockey, play guitar and do a lot of the things I haven't been able to do in a while.
What's up next for you professionally?
I'm still writing and goofing around. I'm still producing and looking for projects. I may direct. But mostly I take it one day at a time. In the meantime I feel fulfilled and happy.
ON THE BLOCK
PRICE: $1.45 million
PLACE: Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
SPECS: The Sopranos' Jamie-Lynn DiScala is selling a home fit for a Mafia princess that she bought last year. "We just don't get down there enough to own something that big," says the actress, who wed her manager, A.J. DiScala, last July. The three-bedroom retreat features his-and-hers bathrooms, a guest house and pool.