Several years ago, open-minded New Yorkers defended Damien Hirst's right to display his shocking artwork, featuring dead cow carcasses, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Now the British conceptual artist once again is drawing fire from irate locals, this time for publicly praising Osama bin Laden and his accomplices for their "visually stunning" attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
In a recent interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Hirst admits the terrorist act that killed thousands of people last year was "wicked" but also describes them as "kind of like an artwork in its own right."
"It was devised in this way for this kind of impact. It was devised visually. You've got to hand it to them on some level because they've achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America. So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing," Hirst is quoted as saying.
Asked for his reaction to Hirst's critique of the tragedy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the New York Daily News: "The only thing that is stunning is the insensitivity of his remarks. I think New Yorkers would agree that it is completely inappropriate and offensive to make an analogy between an act of terror and a work of art."
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who tried to oust Hirst from the Brooklyn Museum of Art's controversial 1999 "Sensation" show, said: "In light of the horrendous loss of innocent lives on Sept. 11, this is an utterly inhuman and indecent comment. It's another wretched indication of how some have perverted the term 'art.'"
TV'S AUNT ESTHER DEAD AT 81
LaWanda Page, the actress who played feisty Aunt Esther on the 1970's sit-com, "Sanford & Son," has died from complications of diabetes. She was 81.
Having portrayed one of TV's most memorable characters opposite her childhood friend, Redd Foxx, from 1973 to 1977, Page reprised her role in the short-lived comedy, "Sanford Arms" in 1977, then starred in "Detective School" in 1979 and "B.A.D. Cats" in 1980. She also made occasional guest appearances on the sit-coms "Family Matters," "Amen," "227" and "Martin."
ONE-THIRD OF PERFORMERS HAVE NO HEALTH INSURANCE
Almost a third of all performing artists currently are living without health insurance.
Quoting numbers from the charitable group, Actors Fund of America, Variety reports the staggering number of artists without health coverage is more than double the rate for the general population.
"Even when they are employed, a lot of performers are not eligible to obtain health insurance from their employers, since they are employed on an episodic basis," James Brown, manager of the fund's newly expanded Artists' Health Insurance Resource Center, told the trade newspaper.
The lack of health insurance has long been a sore point between performers and the Screen Actors Guild. Skyrocketing costs have forced SAG's industry health care plan -- jointly administered by SAG and the Hollywood studios -- to tighten eligibility requirements and increase premiums twice since mid-2001, Variety says.
SAG's national board has instituted the National Healthcare Safetynet Committee to explore options on behalf of members without health insurance the Guild does not sound optimistic, noting, "The most we can do right now to assist members who are seeking information about health insurance and health care is to direct you toward tips and resources."
'SOPRANOS' CREW HEADS TO BROADWAY
For more than a year, it seemed as though the cast of "The Sopranos" might have been hiding out in the witness protection program. But after successfully kicking off the fourth season of their top-rated HBO show Sunday night, several of the series' stars are making very public appearances on the Great White Way.
Edie Falco, who plays Mafia matriarch Carmela Soprano, can be seen acting with Stanley Tucci in "Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune" through January, while Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who plays her TV daughter, Meadow, takes over the role of Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" Oct.1
Dominic Chianese, Uncle Junior, will appear two days later in The National Actor's Theatre production of Bertolt Brecht's gangster drama, "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," opposite Al Pacino and Steve Buscemi. Also, according to the New York Post, Soprano shrink Lorraine Bracco will bare it all when she replaces Kathleen Turner in "The Graduate" this November.
As if that wasn't enough, a revival of Clifford Odets' boxing drama, "Golden Boy," opening later this month, will employ three familiar faces from the show: Vincent Pastore, Maureen Van Zandt and Robert Funaro.