POP/ROCKChange of Heart?: Rapper Tupac Shakur, in...

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Change of Heart?: Rapper Tupac Shakur, in his first interview since being sentenced last month to 4 1/2 years in a New York prison on a sex abuse conviction, says in the April Vibe magazine that he's a changed man. " 'Thug Life' to me is dead," says Shakur, who will be eligible for parole in 18 months, but also faces weapons charges in Los Angeles. "If it's real, let somebody else represent it, because I'm tired of it. I represented it too much. I was 'Thug Life.' " Shakur, 23, says the gun-toting, weed-smoking persona was his attempt to stay true to his gangsta rap roots. Shakur maintains that he was not involved in the November, 1993, attack on a 20-year-old woman in his Manhattan hotel room. He says in the interview that he left her alone in the room with his friends, one of whom was also convicted. "Only thing I saw was all three of them in there," he says. "I feel ashamed because I wanted to be accepted and I didn't want no harm done to me. I didn't say nothing."


Senate Plea: National Endowment for the Arts Chairwoman Jane Alexander told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday that America will lose out if it sacrifices its federal commitment to the arts in the name of leaner budgets. "There is no substitution for national recognition of excellence," Alexander said, hoping to persuade Republican lawmakers who have threatened major budget cuts or abolishment of the NEA and its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities. NEH Chairman Sheldon Hackney also pleaded for his agency, saying: "Our purpose is important as it is simple. We help to preserve our cultural heritage and strengthen our understanding of it. Without that, we do not know who we are."


'Nixon' Moves to Cinergi: After weeks of weighing offers, director Oliver Stone has decided to make his next film, "Nixon," at Cinergi Pictures Entertainment Inc., which releases its movies under Disney's Hollywood Pictures banner. The $40-million-plus film about the late controversial U.S. President is expected to begin shooting May 1, with Anthony Hopkins in the title role. Stone, who took on a presidential subject in "JFK," will co-write as well as direct and produce the movie, which a Cinergi executive described as chronicling Nixon's career and exploring "the impulses and influences which led to his self-destruction."


'Mighty' Mouse Project: Walt Disney Motion Pictures will re-team with RKO Pictures to do a modernized version of the RKO 1949 classic "Mighty Joe Young." RKO Chairman Ted Hartley will produce the film, about a young African woman lured into performing with a gargantuan gorilla in Las Vegas. A summer 1996 release is planned. In Disney's early days, RKO Pictures distributed Disney classics such as "Snow White" and "Fantasia."


Midler to Headline Layton Tribute: Bette Midler, Lauren Bacall, Kenny Rogers, Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Manchester, Carole Bayer Sager and Melissa Etheridge are among the performers scheduled for the third annual L.A. Shanti Tribute on April 6 at the Wiltern Theatre. This year's event honors Emmy- and Tony-winning director and choreographer Joe Layton, who died of AIDS complications last May. Etheridge will receive the Daniel P. Warner Founder's Award recognizing her support of L.A. Shanti, an AIDS service group.


TV Fest Continues: The 12th annual Television Festival continues at West Hollywood's Directors Guild. Several programs--including those on "The X-Files," "Melrose Place," "ER" and "Chicago Hope"--are sold out, but tickets are still available for tonight's program on talk-show host Tom Snyder and for Friday's "Frasier" event. Other sessions with seats available (through Theatix) include "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (Tuesday), "Sisters" (Wednesday), "My So-Called Life" (March 9), "Batman" and "Under Suspicion" (March 10), "Law & Order" (March 11), "Homicide: Life on the Street" (March 14), William Sackheim salute (March 16), and "Magnum P.I." and "Knots Landing" (March 17).


Can't remember who this year's Oscar nominees are? Starting this weekend, movie-goers will be reminded with an Academy Awards trailer featuring clips of all best actor, best actress and best picture nominees. Eight thousand copies of the trailer were sent this week to theaters nationwide. . . . Boyz II Men's "II" album will dominate the latest pop chart after selling 113,000 copies in a week in which total album sales slipped about 12% at retail outlets nationwide. . . . A man accused of stalking entertainer Jerry Lewis for five years pleaded guilty on Wednesday in Las Vegas to the felony charge. Sentencing for Gary Benson, 51, is set for April 25.

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