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An ex-Los Angeles hospital worker has pleaded guilty to selling medical files of stars including Britney Spears and Farrah Fawcett to a newspaper.

Prosecutors said Lawanda Jackson had been paid at least $4,600 (£3,000) by the National Enquirer for the details from the UCLA Medical Center.

They said Jackson, due for sentencing in May, had worked there for 32 years, only selling records in recent years.

The National Enquirer was not available for comment.

The paper began depositing cheques in the account of Jackson’s husband in 2006, prosecutors said.

Jackson, 49, resigned from her administrative job in July 2007 before she could be sacked, they added.

She faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 (£165,000) fine for breaking medical privacy laws for commercial purposes.

Diagnosis revealed

The UCLA Medical Center said in a statement that it would not comment on the Jackson case but that it would continue to co-operate with authorities in patient privacy investigations.

Jackson and state officials had revealed that actress Fawcett and singer Spears were among those whose privacy had been breached.

Back in April, a lawyer for Fawcett said that a diagnosis of cancer and details of her treatment had appeared in the National Enquirer.

United States Department of Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek said an investigation into privacy breaches was focusing, in part, on the role of the media.

“Certainly there is possible culpability at media outlets if we can determine that they were knowingly paying for the illegal access of celebrity files,” he added.

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Spanish singer Ruth Lorenzo has said buenas noches to The X Factor, after receiving the fewest public votes in Saturday’s live show.

The 26-year-old bowed out with a final rendition of Bon Jovi’s Always.

Britney Spears also took to the X Factor stage to perform current hit single Womanizer, in her first UK television performance in four years.

Earlier, all of the five remaining contestants sang one of Spears’ hits and an American classic.

Lorenzo said: “I fought with all my heart, with everything I had. And this doesn’t end here.

“This is the beginning of my dream.

‘Friend forever’

“All I can say is thank you so much. I never ever dreamed of this ever.”

Her mentor, Dannii Minogue paid tribute to the Spanish bombshell, saying she had “an incredible vocal”.

“She was the most beautiful person to work with. She’s going to be a friend forever,” she said.

Earlier judge Simon Cowell praised her “determination and effort”.

With the show down to its final weeks, Lorenzo was chosen solely by public vote.

Her exit means Diana Vickers, Eoghan Quigg, Alexandra Burke and boyband JLS have all secured a place in the show’s semi-final.

Burke, 20, is now favourite to win the show, after singing powerful versions of Spears’ Toxic and Beyonce’s Listen.

Simon Cowell told the Londoner her performance of the Dream Girls song was the “best performance of the competition”.

“You make me very proud to be British,” he said.

Spears is on a whistle-stop tour of Europe ahead of the release of her latest album, Circus, on Monday.

She wore an all black outfit, with hotpants, fishnet tights and knee-high boots during her mimed performance – which received a standing ovation from the judges and studio audience.

Afterwards she said: “I love being here in London, it’s awesome.”

She told the remaining contestants: “Good luck and just keep doing it.”

On Thursday she performed at an awards ceremony in Germany, where she was named best international pop star. On Friday, she sang on French TV show Star Academy.

Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus also appeared on this week’s X Factor to play her latest single, 7 Things.

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US singer Britney Spears is to play two concerts at the O2 arena in London next June – the only European shows on her forthcoming world tour.

Tickets for the dates on 3 and 4 June will go on general sale on 5 December – although fans who register with her website can buy them 24 hours earlier.

“It’s going to be very special,” said Rob Hallett of tour promoter AEG.

The concert, he said, would take its theme from her latest album The Circus, which is released next week.

“We’re creating a musical circus,” he said. “Expect to see jugglers, dancers, tattooed ladies and acrobats.”

According to the promoter, the concerts will be Spears’ only dates in Europe “for the foreseeable future”.

Spears last performed in the UK in 2004 when her Onyx Hotel tour visited Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester and Wembley Arena in London.

‘Radiant’

The 26-year-old will be in the capital this weekend to appear on ITV1 talent show The X Factor.

Before that she will travel to Germany to attend the annual Bambi entertainment awards in Dusseldorf.

The singer will be named best international pop star after achieving what organisers have called a “stunning comeback from an absolute low point”.

“Britney Spears is back,” said host Hubert Burda. “Radiant and better than ever, the erstwhile idol has reclaimed her throne.”

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the performer admitted she felt “like an old person” now her much-documented troubles are behind her.

“I go to bed at, like, 9.30 every night and I don’t go out or anything,” she is quoted as saying. “I just feel like an old fart.”

Spears’ mother Lynne, meanwhile, has been telling the BBC how happy she is that her daughter has got her life back on track.

“Britney wants to do it right,” she told Radio 5 Live’s Colin Paterson, attributing her recent turnaround to having “good people around her” and “lots and lots of prayer”.

jackson_sued Michael Jackson avoided a much-anticipated appearance in London’s High Court by reaching an out-of-court settlement with Sheik Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the prince of Bahrain, who was suing him for $7 million

“As Mr. Jackson was about to board his plane to London, he was advised by his legal team to postpone his travels since the parties had concluded a settlement in principle,” Celina Aponte, Jackson’s London-based spokeswoman, said late on Sunday.

Michael Jackson, left, wearing an abaya, a traditional women’s veil and gown, on a visit to Bahrain in 2006

Jackson was scheduled to testify this morning. The reclusive pop star originally asked to appear by video link from Los Angeles, citing an unspecified illness, but agreed to travel after doctors gave him the all clear. Court officials anticipated so much interest in Jackson’s appearance that they took the unusual step of issuing admission tickets to media outlets that hoped to cover the case.

The courtroom thriller began last Thursday. Al Khalifa, 33, testified that Jackson, 50, reneged on a contract for a new album, an autobiography and a stage play after accepting millions of dollars in advances. The sheik said that in addition to covering Jacko’s living and travel expenses during his year-long stay in Bahrain, he built the singer a recording studio, spent more than $300,000 securing him a “motivational guru” and gave him $250,000 in cash so Jackson “could entertain his friends at Christmas.” Jackson has maintained that these were gifts from the Arab prince, an interpretation Al Khalifa denies. “Many times he confirmed that he would pay me back,” the sheik said.

The two men’s lives became intertwined in June 2005 after Jackson was cleared of charges that he molested a 13-year-old boy in California. That trial left Jackson, once one of the world’s wealthiest entertainers, in financial tatters. Al Khalifa offered Jackson refuge in his oil-rich Gulf state and, the sheik’s lawyer said, footed Jackson’s $2.2 million legal bill.

Al Khalifa, who fancies himself an amateur songwriter, also said the two men moved into the same palace to collaborate on music together.

In court on Thursday, Jackson’s lawyers argued that the sheik’s case was based on “mistake, misrepresentation and undue influence” and in their defense planned to demonstrate that Al Khalifa exploited Jackson’s vulnerability and lack of business sense.

“Michael is an individual who is very switched-on,” Al Khalifa told the court. “He is a fantastic intellectual.”

“There’s nothing unusual about him?” asked Robert Englehart, Jackson’s attorney.

“No,” Al Khalifa said.

History suggests otherwise. Last week, Jackson defaulted on the $23.5 million he owes for Neverland, the ranch he bought in 1988 and named after the mythical realm of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. Jackson has said the ranch was intended to recreate the magical childhood experiences that stardom denied him. “It’s like stepping into Oz,” he once said. “Once you come in the gates, the outside world does not exist.”

The defense also called upon Grace Rwaramba, nanny to Jackson’s three children, to demonstrate that the sheik was a generous benefactor who was eager to lavish Jacko with gifts.

“He would say, ‘What can I do for my brother? What can I give the children?’ ” Rwaramba said. She also testified that she was “flabbergasted” when the sheik wired her $35,000 because Jackson was so broke that he did not even have a bank account. She claims the sheik apologized for what he considered a paltry sum of money and said that “next time it would be more.” Jackson reportedly used the money to pay his utility bills at Neverland.

In the face of his financial and legal battles, Jackson has reportedly made moves to find peace by converting to Islam, according to British tabloid the Sun. It reports that ahead of the court case last week, Jackson went through the shahada, the Muslim declaration of belief, in the Hollywood Hills home of Steve Porcaro, the man who composed music on Jackson’s Thriller album. Jackson has reportedly taken the name of Mikaeel, one of Allah’s angels.

Axl Rose,Guns N’ Roses

November 23, 2008

pare_span“ALL I’ve got is precious time,” W. Axl Rose sings in the title song of Guns N’ Roses’ new album, and he must be well aware of how that line sounds now. Mr. Rose, 46, the only remaining original member of Guns N’ Roses, needed 17 years, more than $13 million (as of 2005) and a battalion of musicians, producers and advisers to deliver “Chinese Democracy,” the first album of new Guns N’ Roses songs since 1991. It’s being released on Sunday, with CDs sold exclusively at Best Buy. (In another 21st-century fillip the album’s best song, “Shackler’s Revenge,” appeared first in a video game, Rock Band 2.)

“Chinese Democracy” (Geffen) is the Titanic of rock albums: the ship, not the movie, although like the film it’s a monumental studio production. It’s outsize, lavish, obsessive, technologically advanced and, all too clearly, the end of an era. It’s also a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production. In its 14 songs there are glimpses of heartfelt ferocity and despair, along with bursts of remarkable musicianship. But they are overwhelmed by countless layers of studio diddling and a tone of curdled self-pity. The album concludes with five bombastic power ballads in a row.

“Chinese Democracy” sounds like a loud last gasp from the reign of the indulged pop star: the kind of musician whose blockbuster early success could once assure loyal audiences, bountiful royalties, escalating ambitions and dangerously open-ended deadlines. The leaner, leakier 21st-century recording business is far less likely to nurture such erratic perfectionists. (Mr. Rose did manage to outpace Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, which re-emerged on tour this year but hasn’t yet released a successor to its 1991 masterpiece, “Loveless.”) The new rock paradigm, a throwback to the 1950s and early 1960s, is to record faster, more cheaply and more often, then head out on tour before the next YouTube sensation distracts potential fans.

“Chinese Democracy” is such an old-school event that at this point no album could easily live up to the pent-up anticipation and fascination. Over the last two decades Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 debut album, “Appetite for Destruction,” has sold 18 million copies in the United States alone. The original band, particularly the guitar team of Slash on lead and Izzy Stradlin on rhythm, collaborated to forge a scrappy combination of glam, punk and metal behind Mr. Rose’s proudly abrasive voice, which could leap from a baritone growl to a fierce screech. Singing about sex, drugs, booze and stardom, Mr. Rose was a rags-to-MTV success story for the 1980s: a self-described abused child from heartland America who got himself out of Indiana and reinvented himself as a full-fledged Hollywood rock star, charismatic and volatile, never pretending to be controllable.

Amid tours, band members’ addictions and liaisons with models, Guns N’ Roses went on to make an EP and the multimillion-selling albums “Use Your Illusion” I and II, which were released simultaneously in 1991. Those were followed by a desultory collection of punk-rock remakes, “The Spaghetti Incident?,” in 1993, before the band splintered and left Mr. Rose as the owner of the Guns N’ Roses brand. Clearly it would be a very different band, but there was little doubt that Mr. Rose had more to say.

He has been announcing the impending completion of “Chinese Democracy” since at least 1999 and has been singing many of its songs on tour since 2001. Concert bootlegs and unfinished studio versions circulating online have defused some of the surprise from the finished album. Yet meanwhile, year after year, Mr. Rose worked on and reworked the songs. The album credits list 14 studios.

For years Mr. Rose has been tagged the Howard Hughes of rock, as his manager at the time was already complaining in 2001. That didn’t have to be a bad thing; estrangement and obsession have spawned great songs. But “Chinese Democracy,” though it’s a remarkable artifact of excess, is a letdown. Mr. Rose’s version of Guns N’ Roses, with sidemen he can fire rather than partners, leaves his worst impulses unchecked.

Guns N’ Roses is still collaborative; the songs on “Chinese Democracy” are credited to Mr. Rose along with many of the musicians who have passed through the band since the mid-1990s. The guitarists Buckethead and Robin Finck, the bassist Tommy Stinson and the drummers Josh Freese and Brain pushed Mr. Rose toward rock, others toward ballads. By way of comparison with the old Guns N’ Roses, Mr. Rose’s latter-day songwriting tilts more toward the pomp of “November Rain” than the thrust of “Welcome to the Jungle” or the pealing guitar lines of “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” The one song on “Chinese Democracy” written by Mr. Rose alone, “This I Love,” is by far the album’s most maudlin track, and he hams it up further with a vibrato vocal homage to Queen’s Freddie Mercury.

Like the old Guns N’ Roses albums “Chinese Democracy” whipsaws between arrogance and pain, moans and sneers. The present-day Mr. Rose presents himself as someone beleaguered on every front, a cornered character with nothing to lose. He’s tormented by inner demons and, from outside, by antagonists, lovers and users who constantly betray and exploit him. “Forgive them that tear down my soul,” he croaks in “Madagascar,” amid French horns playing a dirge. (The middle of that song inexplicably gives way to a collage of movie dialogue and speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

All the labors of Mr. Rose and his various lineups, both inspired and overblown, come through the finished album. Mr. Rose and his co-producer, Caram Costanzo, just keep piling up the sounds. String orchestra? Toy piano plinks? Voices muttering in foreign languages? Harp? Drum machines? Choirs? “I Have a Dream”? They’re all there, along with indefatigable drums and phalanxes of guitars.

“Chinese Democracy” reveals multiple archaeological layers, including what might have been passing fascinations as the 1990s and early 2000s rolled by: the Metallica of “Enter Sandman” in the surly, self-righteous “Sorry”; the distortion effects of Nine Inch Nails in “Shackler’s Revenge”; U2’s sustained guitars and martial beat to begin “Prostitute”; a combination of Elton John piano and strings (arranged by Mr. John’s longtime associate Paul Buckmaster) with Smashing Pumpkins guitar crescendos in “Street of Dreams.”

Some of the album’s best moments are its intros. Flaunting what time and money can accomplish, there are gratuitous ear grabbers like an a cappella vocal chorale in “Scraped,” a siren matched by a siren swoop of Mr. Rose’s voice in “Chinese Democracy” and the narrow-band, filtered beginning of “Better.” That track goes on to hurtle across so much of what Guns N’ Roses does well — from steel-clawed hard-rock riffs to metallic reggae-rock to arena-anthem melodies — that it almost makes up for the whininess and lazy “-tion” rhymes of the underlying song. “If the World” opens with acoustic guitar lines suggesting a Middle Eastern oud but segues into wah-wah rhythm guitar and sustained strings fit for a blaxploitation soundtrack, while Mr. Rose unleashes something like a soul falsetto.

Is it demented? Sometimes. Does Mr. Rose care? Apparently not. “I am crazy!” he belts over the frantic guitar and tom-toms of “Riad N’ the Bedouins,” while he’s a potentially trigger-happy maniac in “Shackler’s Revenge.” In “Scraped” he’s alternately depressive and manic, warning “Don’t you try to stop us now” over a riff fit for Led Zeppelin. “Catcher in the Rye” echoes the Beatles in its melody while it alludes to Mark David Chapman, who was carrying that book when he killed John Lennon: “If I thought that I was crazy/Well I guess I’d have more fun,” he sings.

Even when he’s presumably being himself, Mr. Rose is forever overwrought. He pushes his multiply overdubbed voice every which way — rasping, sobbing, cackling, yowling — while at the same time Mr. Finck, Buckethead and Ron (Bumblefoot) Thal are playing frantic guitar solos, with a mandate to wail higher and zoom faster.

The craziness on “Chinese Democracy” isn’t the wild, brawling arrogance that the young Mr. Rose and his rowdy ’80s band mates gave the fledgling Guns N’ Roses. It’s the maniacal attention to detail that’s possible in the era of Pro Tools: the infinitude of tiny tweaks available for every instant of a track, the chance to reshape every sound and reshuffle every setting, to test every guitar solo ever played on a song — or all of them at once — and then throw on a string arrangement for good measure. That microscopic focus is obvious throughout “Chinese Democracy”; every note sounds honed, polished, aimed — and then crammed into a song that’s already brimming with other virtuosity. At points where the mix goes truly haywire, like the end of “Catcher in the Rye,” a Meat Loaf song title sums things up: “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.”

It’s easy to imagine Mr. Rose determined to outdo his own brazen youth and his old band, but with less perspective and hundreds of new tracks as each year goes by. If Guns N’ Roses had released “Chinese Democracy” in 2000, it would still have been an event, but it might also have been treated as the transitional album in a band’s continuing career. By holding it back and tinkering with it for so long, Mr. Rose has pressured himself to make it epochal — especially if, on this timetable, the next Guns N’ Roses studio album doesn’t arrive until 2025. And fans were waiting for him to defy the world again, not to do another digital edit. Sometime during the years of work, theatricality and razzle-dazzle replaced heart.

As Mr. Rose bemoans the love that ended or vows to face life uncompromised and on his own, the music on “Chinese Democracy” swells and crashes all around him, frantic and nearly devoid of breathing space. It’s hard to envision him as the songs do, that besieged antihero alone against the world, when he’s sharing his bunker with a cast of thousands.

achinese How long have we been waiting for Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy? After a decade passed without sight or sound of the thing, music fans started cracking the obvious joke: the Chinese will have democracy before record stores get Chinese Democracy. That joke is itself now an antique — record stores! — but we finally have an answer. On Nov. 23, Guns N’ Roses will release its fifth album of original material, 17 years after its last. Put another way, Miley Cyrus will soon get to hear the first new Guns N’ Roses record of her lifetime. (Listen to Chinese Democracy)

So what’s the band been doing? Breaking up mostly. The current lineup has just one original member, Axl Rose. The rest, including guitar savant Slash, departed years ago, presumably too intrigued by the Internet and other human advances to stay locked up in a recording studio with their famously controlling singer. Rose, once as blond and lithe as a stalk of wheat, has suffered the pudgification of middle age and burned through a reported $14 million in production costs, making Chinese Democracy the most expensive record in history. But given the cruelty with which pop culture devours its celebrity eccentrics, he’s had a pretty easy ride. A surprising number of people actually want to hear this record, and for that, you can credit curiosity — What does $14 million sound like? — and the power of rock stardom. In his prime, Rose may have been an angry, misogynistic homophobe — the proto-Eminem — but he was also a riveting physical and vocal presence. And real rock stars remain scarce enough that they tend to get the benefit of even extreme doubt.

What’s clear within the first moments of Chinese Democracy is that Rose still has his snarl. His voice always was a power tool with endless precision settings, and on “Better” he opens by speak-singing in a tender falsetto before the guitars kick in and he sandblasts away at the melody. What Rose has to say — “A twist of fate, the change of heart kills my infatuation” etc. — is a bland list of romantic gripes that fail to diminish the song’s impact one bit because it’s how Rose sings that matters. Repeating the word better in the bridge, he spits the b’s and drags his vocal cords across the r’s until, out of meaninglessness, his meaning is unmistakable. Whether the anger is authentic is impossible to know, but it certainly is compelling.

Throughout, Rose sounds as strong as ever and maybe even more flexible. On the “November Rain”-ish ballad “Street of Dreams,” he emotes with a previously unheard Elton John — like pop softness, and “There Was a Time” has him scampering flawlessly up the vocal ladder from low growls to meticulous high notes. Most of the tracks clock in at about five minutes, with solid melodies and abundant pace and instrument changes. Choirs show up sometimes, as do a mellotron and a Spanish guitar. It’s almost enough to keep things interesting. Almost.

Noting that Chinese Democracy is a tad overproduced is like pointing out that The Dark Knight is a little gloomy. It doesn’t require a lot of critical expertise. But nearly every arrangement has been manipulated and fussed with until the music feels encased in Lucite. Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 debut, had a brutish confidence — it sounded like five sharpened instruments and lots of open space. That Guns N’ Roses was a band; this incarnation is a whole zip code. On some tracks, Rose has five guitarists soloing and jamming to fill every cranny, but the result isn’t chaos so much as needlepoint. “Madagascar” has a string section, horns, samples of the “I have a dream” speech and dialogue from Cool Hand Luke, but everything is so dully controlled that it might as well have been programmed on a synthesizer.

That means the burden of surprise rests solely on Rose’s voice. Perhaps that’s how he wanted it, but even his quaver isn’t good enough to carry a 71-min. album that was 17 years in the making. “If I thought that I was crazy/ Well I guess I’d have more fun,” Rose sings in “The Catcher in the Rye,” and he may be on to something. Chinese Democracy is as obsessive as you’d expect, but it’s not nearly crazy enough.

madge_guyOne month after confirming they were to split, Madonna and her film-director husband Guy Ritchie were granted a preliminary divorce this morning in the High Court of London.

A sworn statement released by the court states that Madonna, 50, divorced Ritchie, her husband of eight years, on the grounds of “unreasonable behavior.”

During a one-minute hearing that neither party attended, the judge issued a “decree nisi” — the first in a two-step process to divorce in the U.K. It’s known as a “quickie divorce” because, barring any disputes, the divorce should be finalized after just six weeks and one day.

According to her spokesperson, Madonna will not be releasing a statement. She is scheduled to perform Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J., as part of her ongoing Sticky & Sweet Tour. (See pictures and hear audio of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2008.)

Ritchie, who is currently in London filming his new film Sherlock Holmes, is said to be relieved. According to British tabloid the Daily Mirror, he blurted out, “Thank God,” on the set when he learned on Thursday evening that the hearing would take place. The Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels director celebrated quietly with a pint of beer.

Reports also indicate that the couple reached a mutual and amicable settlement over their assets and custody of their children prior to the divorce. Madonna, whose personal fortune is estimated at $450 million, reportedly offered Ritchie $15 million as part of the settlement. Ritchie, who controls an estimated $45 million fortune, refused to take it.

“It was never about money — never about her bloody art collection,” the Daily Mirror reported him as saying. “I just wanted to settle it and move on.”

Under British law, Ritchie could have been entitled to up to 50% of the money the “Material Girl” singer earned during their marriage.

The couple’s two sons, Rocco, 8, and David, 3 (the latter adopted from Malawi in 2006), will divide their time between New York and London, where Ritchie will continue to reside. Lourdes, 12, whom Madonna conceived with her former personal trainer, will live with her mother in New York City.

Unsurprisingly, Madonna will retain the couple’s $12 million house in Beverly Hills and two New York apartments. The pop star has grown increasingly cold toward England, and her desire to spend more time in the U.S. is widely rumored to have been a source of tension between the pair.

Ritchie will keep a 1,200-acre estate in Wiltshire and the couple’s Punchbowl pub in London’s tony neighborhood of Mayfair. The remaining London properties — a $10 million townhouse, a $9 million townhouse next door to it and two cottages — will be sold and the money split.

The seemingly smooth divorce bucks the trend of exorbitant payouts between wealthy couples. Eight months ago, in a particularly acrimonious split, Sir Paul McCartney was ordered by a judge to pay Heather Mills more than $45 million. And yesterday, former Armani model Slavica Ecclestone confirmed she will divorce her husband Bernie Ecclestone, the former chief of Formula One racing, whose fortune is estimated at $3.6 billion. Lawyers are already predicting that Slavica could walk away with half of her husband’s fortune, making it the highest settlement to a spouse in legal history. It’s unknown whether they signed a prenuptial agreement.