Could it be the heat and humidity? Or the smoke from wildfires out West and in Canada? Or could it simply be the anxiety of having to wait until September for a new season of "The Sopranos"? Whatever, there must be some explanation for the rash of truly odd behavior afflicting some of America's favorite celebrities.
Not since Anne Heche admitted last September that she believed she was a space alien have there been so many examples of stars babbling incoherently or acting as if they've lost their minds.
Some of it has come on unexpectedly; some, like Mariah Carey's dip into madness last year, has steadily built up. Either way, this rash of alarming celebrity behavior has been as hot and heavy as necking in a Chevy at a summer drive-in.
Here are some examples of very bizarre star turns:
Wacko Jacko - It would seem impossible for the ultra-weird Michael Jackson to raise eyebrows (we have, after all, lived through his scary cosmetic surgery, skin lightening, fondness for hyperbolic chambers and Elephant Man bones, predilection for young children and animals, sham marriages and child conception). But Jackson did indeed shock last week in New York when he launched a career-busting crusade against Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola and the Sony label. "He's a racist, and he's very, very, very devilish," Jackson said during a rally in Harlem with the Rev. Al Sharpton at his side (that, in itself, a career-scarring move). He accused Mottola of using the "N word" to describe an unidentified black artist at Sony, and said the company is guilty of a racist conspiracy to steal money from black artists. Um, could it be that Jackson is simply sour that Sony declined to renew his contract after Jackson's last album, "Invincible," sold a disappointing 6 million copies?
A few days after attacking Mottola, Jackson was back at the microphone blaming his woes on his race. "The minute I surpassed Elvis and the Beatles, they called me a freak, a child molester," he said. "They said I bleached my skin. I know my race. I know I'm black."
Not A Good Thing - Martha Stewart, embroiled in the ImClone insider-trading scandal, may have provided the perfect recipe for how not to handle the press when she recently appeared on her regular cooking segment on CBS's "Early Show" on June 25. The ice queen turned particularly tundra when host Jane Clayson began asking about the ImClone implosion. Stewart, holding a sharp knife and chopping cabbage, snapped at Clayson, "I want to focus on my salad!" The domestic goddess has since canceled her "Early Show" appearances. Lying low in Manhattan, Stewart was recently spotted having dinner at the society saloon Swifty's. Despite the "Early Show" debacle, the former model appears to have regained her composure and put on a good, if steely, face in light of all her bad press. According to David Patrick Columbia, the online social diarist who saw her at Swifty's: "She seemed like her usual self. If you'd just come from Mars, you would never know there was something wrong." Earth to Martha: Your seams are showing.
Ice Pop - The body of baseball legend Ted Williams was barely cold before news came that literally sent shivers up the spine of baseball fans: that the remains of the Red Sox slugger were in an Arizona warehouse awaiting cryogenic freezing. According to reports, Williams' son, John Henry Williams, wanted to have The Kid's body cryogenically frozen in the hopes of someday harvesting his DNA for cloning. And while reports emerged that the body was indeed in deep freeze, Williams' daughter, Bobby-Jo Ferrell, announced she would rescue her father's body from the icy grips of her half-brother, John Henry Williams. "My dad's in a metal tube ... so frozen that if I touched him it would crack him because of the warmth from my fingertips," Ferrell told an Arizona newspaper. "It makes me so sick."
She wasn't the only one. Fans were outraged that the memory of the baseball legend was tarnished by such an outrageous sideshow. The Boston Herald reported that a source close to the family said: "If Ted had his druthers, he wouldn't want this circus, this debacle taking place. It's stripping him of his dignity."
Just Be Coz - Friends and family have started to worry about Bill Cosby lately, several tabloids have reported. First there was a recent stage appearance in Austin, Texas, during which the famous funnyman stumbled over punch lines. A critic for the Austin American Statesman wrote that one of TV's most beloved sitcom dads "struggled and sputtered" and "backtracked, stuttered. It was an odd moment." Things got odder last week when news hit that Cosby allegedly accused his longtime friend, Gladys Rodgers, of witchcraft and evicted her as the overseer of his estate in Elkins Park, Pa., where she had lived for nearly 20 years. Rodgers said that Cosby's spiritual adviser, a swami, had convinced the comic that she was performing witchcraft rituals using blood and "sparkles." Cosby and his wife, Camille, said this swami business all started when they asked Rodgers to move out.
In June, Cosby showed himself to be somewhat out of step with pop culture when he attacked the MTV hit "The Osbournes" as inappropriate entertainment. "Let me tell you something about Ozzy Osbourne. First of all, you [the media] need to stop with this Ozzy Osbourne," he said on TV's "Access Hollywood." "This is a sad family; it is a sad case."
Ovitz Over - Onetime super-agent Michael Ovitz went over the rainbow in the August issue of Vanity Fair, blaming his downfall in the entertainment biz on the lavender-tinged efforts of Hollywood's "gay mafia." Once La-la-land's most powerful agent and the No. 2 man at Disney, Ovitz's recent business woes have brought him a magnificent comedown. In Vanity Fair, he claimed he was the victim of a well-orchestrated campaign by numerous enemies, not all of them gay. He singled out David Geffen, Michael Eisner and Barry Diller (all powerful hotshots) for conspiring against him at every turn. Ovitz's accusations were so juicy, the story was furiously faxed and e-mailed throughout Hollywood before the magazine even hit the stands. When it did, Ovitz backtracked and found himself issuing an apology: "I made some statements that were inappropriate during an open and frank discussion with Vanity Fair. In particular, the term `gay mafia' does not reflect my true feelings or attitudes. It is regrettable and I am truly sorry." Sure, Mary.
Literary Lightning Bolts - Two prolific, highly verbal writers - Gore Vidal and Dominick Dunne -have been slinging arrows, and not at each other. Vidal recently went on a tirade against President Bush, calling him a "mindless" clown who's destined to leave office as "the most unpopular president in history." Speaking to L.A. Weekly, Vidal went off on Bush and American foreign policy: "Some people say they support Bush because he blew up all those funny-sounding cities, [but] that doesn't mean they like him. Mark my words ... The junta has done too much damage." In his new collection of essays, "Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got To Be So Hated," Vidal writes that the U.S. government is a "source of evil," and says of Bush's "axis of evil" quote: "He doesn't even know what the word axis means."
Dunne, meanwhile, has come undone over a comment made by New York Times writer Bob Morris in a profile in the British magazine Tatler's July issue. Morris was quoted as calling Dunne "the Jacqueline Susann of journalism." Dunne, who has been high profile recently at the murder trial of Michael Skakel and with his own Court TV show, "Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege and Justice," got hopping mad at the comparison with the "Valley of the Dolls" author, according to New York magazine. Morris received a rather unpleasant handwritten note from Dunne that attacked Morris and his paper, prefacing the following remark with an obscenity: "No wonder the Style section stinks ... I've called around and no one seems to know who you are." In a Times article about Dunne's Court TV series, Dunne was quoted as saying he'd seek revenge against Morris. Dunne later told New York: "I was livid. I mean, who the hell is he to make a statement like that about me? I mean, what are his novels? What are his great articles? What are his stands on anything? I mean, who ever heard of him?"
Playing Summer Stock - Martha isn't the only one having to answer tough questions about stock holdings. The White House has been busy defending President Bush's handling of a stock sale 12 years ago, saying that the reason Bush failed to disclose the sale promptly under federal law was because of a "mix-up" involving attorneys (a different explanation from what Bush himself said in the early 1990s). Bush's transaction surfaced at a time when the nation was reeling from Wall Street scandals involving companies such as Enron and WorldCom. Perhaps not the best moment (in fact, a magnificently odd moment) for Bush to promise this week to "do everything in our power to end the days of cooking the books, shading the truth and breaking our laws." In a speech aimed at restoring investor confidence and boosting the financial markets, Bush proposed doubling the top jail term for corporate fraud to 10 years, recommended strengthening the Securities and Exchange Commission and creating a federal task force to pursue corporate criminals. New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, criticized Bush's proposals: "I'd be tempted to say all sizzle, no steak, but there was not any sizzle. If he thinks this is a speech that will restore the confidence of the American investor, he is wrong."