Mel Gibson’s hand puppet, Dave Carroll’s broken guitar, and "Shannon Tweed Day" in Oshawa

Newsmakers of the week

Kim Jong IlKim Jong Ill?
So much mystery attends North Korea, Asia’s only Communist dynasty, and so fraught are the geopolitics of the region, that the merest sign of health trouble for its Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, sets off international alarms. So it was this week when South Korea’s YTN television, citing Korean and Chinese intelligence sources, reported that the 67-year-old has pancreatic cancer and, at best, five years to live. In his recent appearances, Kim has looked gaunt, with thinning hair, a limp and an asymmetrical bent to his mouth, indications he’s not entirely recovered from a stroke last year. Renewed fear that Kim is not long for this world caused Seoul’s main stock index to plummet, so vexed are the markets by what his death could mean. Though he is said to have named his youngest son, the Swiss-educated Kim Jong Un, as his successor, there’s concern the installation of a weak leader still in his mid-20s will destabilize the regime and the region.

Shannon TweedWhat’s wrong with being sexy?
Shannon Tweed, the Canadian adult-film star, has been denied recognition for such contributions to world cinema as Hard Vice and Indecent Behavior 3. But the acting mayor of Ottawa, Doug Thompson, issued a proclamation that this Wednesday would be “Shannon Tweed Day,” to celebrate the blond bombshell’s visit to the city where she lived in the 1970s. He soon rescinded the proclamation, however, admitting sheepishly that he “spoke to the media before the item had been fully vetted.” Tweed told the Ottawa Citizen that she had “no hard feelings” about the rejection, but bristled at a councilwoman’s suggestion that she is a porn actress: “I’ve done movies with love scenes,” said the star of Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure and Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, “but I’ve never had real sex on camera.” Oshawa, which recently finished first in an online contest hosted by KISS, doesn’t care either way. Oshawa city councillor Robert Lutczyk, who headed up the spring contest effort, promised a “Shannon Tweed Day” in Oshawa if she and the band come through town this fall. “I’ll be there,” said Tweed. “I’ll be there.”

Rebekah WadePlease speak up— the press is listening
Rebekah Wade, the spitfire British journalist appointed chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper holdings last week, is as well-known for making headlines as writing them—she was briefly arrested in 2005 for allegedly assaulting her first husband, the EastEnders actor Ross Kemp. So it’s appropriate one of her first tasks when she takes over in September will be dealing with a scandal: Wade will be called upon to defend News of the World before a parliamentary committee over charges the tabloid hired private investigators to illegally hack into the cellphones of 75 celebrities, among them Nigella Lawson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and even Wade herself, who was then editor of a sister publication. Wade, a former News of the World editor-in-chief, has refuted charges that tapping cellphones is a widespread practice at the tabloid.

Dimitri’s bad day
Soon after ripping Michael Ignatieff during the closing press conference of the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, for being unpatriotic, Stephen Harper was forced to get back in front of the cameras and apologize. It was revealed that his press secretary, Dimitri Soudas, had wrongly attributed a quote to the Liberal leader. The quotation, about Canada’s international role, belonged instead to Gordon Smith, director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria and a former deputy minister of foreign affairs. Soudas apologized to Ignatieff and Harper, and said his boss is “clearly, clearly not happy with the fact that he was put in that situation by one of his advisers.”

Garth DrabinskyGuest lecturer: Garth Drabinsky
Toronto defence lawyers Edward Greenspan and his brother Brian Greenspan pleaded for extreme leniency at last week’s sentencing hearing for Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb, co-founders of the defunct theatre production company Livent, who were convicted in March of two counts of fraud and one each of forgery, crimes punishable by up to 34 years in prison. The Crown asked for a term of eight to 10 years while the Greenspans proposed two-year conditional sentences, which would entail no jail time but rather house arrest and community service that could include a speaking tour of Canadian universities. Drabinsky could lecture on “the discipline of the craft, the enormous role that integrity and honesty play in the theatre. . . [and] the avoidance of unethical conduct,” Edward posited. The lawyers also submitted 46 letters of support for their clients from luminaries, among them Christopher Plummer, Karen Kain, and Peter Godsoe, former chairman and CEO of the Bank of Nova Scotia. Madam Justice Mary Lou Benotto will hand down her sentence on Aug. 5.

Talk to the hand
Mel Gibson gave up screen stardom to concentrate on directing ultra-violent religious epics. Now he’s getting back into acting, and his latest project will team him with another actor-turned-director: Jodie Foster has cast Gibson in The Beaver. Gibson will play a man who deals with his depression by talking to a hand puppet and insisting that everyone treat it as a real person. Foster will play his wife, who doesn’t take kindly to the situation. Steve Carell and Jim Carrey had reportedly expressed interest in the script, but for this story of strange behaviour and marital breakdown, the producers picked Gibson. He’s an old friend of Foster’s, whom she described as “honest, loyal and kind” in the wake of his 2006 DUI arrest.

Dave CarrollVideo vengeance
Halifax musician Dave Carroll catapulted into cyber-celebrity last week after his airline revenge ditty, United Breaks Guitars, posted Monday on YouTube, went viral. The song, part one of a trilogy, chronicles the Sons of Maxwell lead singer’s frustrated attempts to recoup the $1,200 he paid to repair his Taylor guitar after it was allegedly damaged intentionally by a United Airlines baggage handler in 2008. Carroll describes the instrument as “the victim of a vicious act of malice” and his experience with the airline as a “year-long saga of pass the buck, ‘Don’t ask me’ and ‘I’m sorry, sir, your claim can go nowhere.’ ” By week’s end, the video had received more than 2.3 million views. United found time to arrange a meeting with Carroll in which it agreed to donate $3,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz for music education for children as reparation.

Racism: not LOL IMO
Amid allegations that she endorsed racism online, Audra Shay, 38, was elected chairman of the Young Republicans last weekend. Earlier this month, the Daily Beast reported that following a Facebook friend’s comment that “Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist” and that there is a “need to take this country back from all these mad coons,” Shay wrote, “You tell em Eric! lol” (lol is internet shorthand for “laugh out loud”). Shay, who deleted the comment thread from her page, claims that she was replying to an earlier post and “was not aware of the racial comments until sometime later.” But further digging revealed that she’s made some other controversial comments online. While some Young Republicans asked her to step down before the vote, Shay supporters chalked the controversy up to political mudslinging.

Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the KGB
Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist and the defining American literary figure of the 20th century, was a KGB agent code-named “Argo” who “repeatedly expressed his desire and willingness to help” Stalinist Russia during clandestine meetings with his Soviet handlers in London and Havana. The revelation is contained in Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, a new book that uses rare Stalinist-era archival material to explore the extent of the Soviet spy agency’s recruiting in the U.S. in the last century. The book calls Hemingway a “dilettante spy” who was never “verified in practical work” and whose inability to “give us any political information” led the KGB to soon drop him. Hemingway’s dabbling put him in the same category as hundreds of other Americans whose Communist sympathies led them to spy for Russia, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who, the book argues compellingly, were indeed Soviet agents.

Please, please Mr. Postman
Dale Tallon was demoted from general manager to “senior adviser” of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks after an administrative screw-up cost the team millions of dollars. According to league rules, teams must fax or courier contract offers to certain free agent players before July 1 in order to retain their rights. The Hawks instead mailed their offers to several players and they didn’t arrive until after the deadline. The NHL Players’ Association claimed they should be declared free agents, and thus entitled to much larger contracts. The Hawks made peace with the players, signing young stars Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker each for over $3 million per season. But if they’d just used their fax machine and met the deadline the team likely could’ve signed both players for around $1.7 million combined. Stan Bowman, son of legendary coach Scotty Bowman, is Tallon’s replacement.

Arturo Gatti and Amanda RodriguesTragedy in paradise
Arturo Gatti, 37, the Montreal-raised former light welterweight boxing champion, was found strangled to death in his bed in the Brazilian resort where he was staying with his 23-year-old Brazilian wife Amanda Rodrigues. Gatti, who became one of the most popu­lar and admired fighters in the world, known for his fearless, brawling style, retired from the ring in 2007 with a career record of 40 wins and nine losses. Police say Gatti suffered a head wound and appears to have been strangled with a purse strap found in the room. Rodrigues is being held as the “prime suspect” but hasn’t yet been charged. According to Gatti’s family, the couple had gone on a vacation in hopes of repairing their troubled relationship.