The Queen Mum is gone ... at age 101. Ironically, she never really wanted to be in the limelight, but inherited the job when her brother-in-law abdicated because he could not "continue as your king without the help and support of the woman I love." As did her late husband King George VI a half a century before, she died in her sleep. She was a woman of two centuries -- born during the reign of Queen Victoria, surviving to modern times, and she died during the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth II. The Union Jack is flying at half-staff. Tributes are seen and heard everywhere. In a time when people question the role and even the future of Britain's royal family, the Queen Mum stood as the last suburb vestige of another time, another place, another era, another attitude. Young people should take a lesson from her. The Queen Mum was not just that beautiful, smiling older woman whose daughter is the current queen, whose grandson is Prince Charles and whose great-grandsons are the "boys of the tabloids," William and Harry. She was the embodiment of what is good and enduring about the British people. She was there during the Second World War, suffering with her country. She ignored calls to move her children to a safer place in rural Scotland. She kept her family in London, risking sudden death during the months of the horrible blitz that rained death from the skies each night. Every morning during that terrible time she would ask her staff: "What neighborhood was hit last night? How many died?" After getting the latest update she would have her chauffeur take her to the newest ravaged sector of London, so she could be with her people ... talking to them, offering comfort and hope. The pictures of her walking courageously through bombed-out neighborhoods remain crisp in the memories of older Brits. Today's modern generation can learn from that. As old fashioned and anachronistic as the monarchy may appear, it somehow remains a symbol of England's constancy. But there will never be another queen like her. At a time when the very existence of the monarchy is clouded, her death reminds us more of a "time that was" rather than a "time to be." Today's occupiers of Buckingham Palace look like imitation royalty by comparison. Prime Minister Tony Blair may have put it best: "She was a symbol of Britain's decency and courage." She was that and more. She was the soul of her generation. If you try, you can still see her smile in your mind's eye.
LOVETT RECUPERATING AFTER BAD ACCIDENT
Entertainer Lyle Lovett continues to recover from a devastating injury to his right leg. Doctors had to conduct extensive reconstructive surgery to fuse as many as 20 bone pieces. His shin bone was crushed when he was trampled by a bull while rescuing his uncle from the animal. Recuperation will take a minimum of six months. During that time Lovett will wear an external mechanism that will help hold his leg together while the bones heal. Some six to eight inches of leg bone, just below the knee, was crushed. The bull reportedly pinned the 44-year-old musician against a fence post. The accident happened on a property near Klein, Texas. Lovett's great-great grandparents (named Klein) were newly arrived from Germany; they purchased land near Houston and set up a small immigrant community. By the way, the name of the uncle whom Lovett tried to help is Calvin Klein -- no relation to the Brooklyn-born clothing designer.
SHANIA TWAIN IS IN ELITE COMPANY
The people who keep track of national record sales report that the latest CD by singer Shania Twain -- "Come On Over" -- has gone "19 times platinum." That means that album is now tied with the Beatles' "White Album" and AC-DC's "Back in Black" for sixth place in world record sales of an individual release or album. So far some 19 million copies of Twain's CD have been pressed. By the way, the ranking means that she holds the record for a single country album's sale. She has surpassed Whitney Houston "The Bodyguard" soundtrack CD. It sold 17 million. Additionally, Garth Brooks' "No Fences" sold 16 million copies and places him second to Twain among country stars for a single release.
BILLY CRYSTAL, A NEW YORKER AT HEART
When comedian Billy Crystal returned recently to the Big Apple, the New York Post says the funnyman felt right at home. With "high school sweetheart of 32 years (Janice) in tow," he told the publication that it's great to be back in Manhattan. Crystal is back home to start work on a new Robert DeNiro comedy. It's reportedly a sequel to the highly successful movie "Analyze This." It will be called "Analyze That." Crystal tells the publication that he watched the recent Oscars show alone. He apparently has tried to enjoy past broadcasts in the company of friends -- attending traditional Oscar parties. But Crystal says that too many people like to watch his reaction to the show and ask him about previous shows that he hosted. He reports that he liked this year's broadcast.
ON THE TOPIC OF THE OSCARS:
Some critics feel Whoopi Goldberg has outlived her usefulness as hostess of the award-fest, mainly because of her reliance on "bathroom humor." Several media pundits said it was a shame that when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences turned a new page by "bringing Oscar home to Hollywood Boulevard," it didn't make a total fresh start with a host more in the mold of Johnny Carson or Bob Hope or Steve Martin.
WEDDING BELLS FOR PHIL VASSER
Arista recording artist Phil Vasser has married his longtime fiancee Julie Wood. But the ceremony didn't take place in Nashville -- the nuptials were performed on a beach in Florida last week. The couple spent a few days honeymooning in the Sunshine State before returning to Music City over the weekend. Vasser appeared on CMT's "Most Wanted Live" broadcast. Vasser's latest song, "That's When I Love You," is currently No. 9 on the national Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. Vasser is a native of Weston, Fla., and is known for his recordings of both contemporary country and more traditional songs.
ROBIN WILLIAMS: PEOPLE NEED TO LAUGH
In the wake of the events of 9/11 (six month ago but still on everyone's mind), comedian Robin Williams tells gossip columnist Liz Smith that it's important comedians and comediennes give the people what they want. "People want to laugh," he says. Although Williams hasn't undertaken a full-fledged tour in 15 years, he is now making more and more appearances in major clubs around the country. By the way, Smith says Williams will be joining close friend Lance Armstrong -- the cancer-surviving world class cyclist -- in a major fundraiser. Robin, who has kept himself in great shape in recent years, has often joined pal Armstrong on 60-mile cycling jaunts in the past in many venues. Their latest joint venture will be an appearance at the "Ride for the Roses," a benefit held in Austin, Texas, each April. This time around it will be on the 13th. Expect more than 6,000 to participate for pledges for medical research.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 301
Well, here we are. I'm back from a week's vacation and it's April Fool's Day. So today's question: "What was the worst or most memorable prank you ever played on someone ... or had played on yourself on April first?" Put FOOL in the subject line and sent to firstname.lastname@example.org on the Internet.
RESULTS OF SURVEY QUESTION NO 396 (BON VOYAGE)
Last week we asked you to name three people whom you'd like to launch into space. First, let me say that I was overwhelmed with the number of people who don't like the Clintons. It's funny that so many people who read this column have such diametrically different politics than I do. But, it's a free country. Additionally, many, including Cindy, would add Howard Stern to the list. OK, Cindy, at least we are in agreement on that guy. Leslie H is among a ton of people who also nominated Monica Lewinsky for a one-way trip into the ether. Tina says the three people she would send are: "My boss! My boss! My boss!" Tina, we get the idea. Our good friend Robert M, who is with the Army Corps of Engineers (and yes, Robert, I do know why you guys have that "castle" on your logo), says that the three bullies who made his school days miserable should get one-way tickets. I love Angela L's answer: "Nicole Kidman, Jim Carrey and Shaun from 'Survivor-Marquesas.'" Madonna scored well in the "leave us and go away" category, as did Britney Spears and "the big terror two," Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Many respondents have family members they want included ... quite a few of them were mothers-in-law! TOMORROW: Your TRIVIAL pursuits. GBA.