News, Dec. 17: Hollywood Celebs Flee Hotel Fire, Jackson Opens Neverland Gates, Oscar Ceremony Pushed Back, More…

Hollywood celebs flee hotel fire

Several A-list celebs, including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Jim Carrey, had to be evacuated from a London hotel Thursday after a fire broke out. The blaze started in the kitchen of the lavish Claridges Hotel, where guests were evacuated as a precaution but no injuries were reported. Pitt and Damon had to cancel a press conference yesterday promoting their caper-sequel Ocean’s Twelve. Funnyman Carrey, who is in London to promote his latest movie, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, joked to the press about the irony of the situation. “The movie’s all about fire and disaster and so I get up for the (press) junket today and suddenly my house is burning down, and I’m on the balcony like a damsel screaming with a very high pitched voice,” Carrey told Reuters Television. “No one rescued me, no one came. I had to find my own way out!” In Lemony Snicket, Carrey plays the ominous Count Olaf, who takes charge of three children whose parents are killed in a house fire.

Jackson opens the gates to Neverland

Michael Jackson, who is scheduled to stand trial January 31 on a 10-count indictment of child molestation, has invited a group of people Friday to visit his Neverland Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., Reuters reports. Jackson‘s spokeswoman Raymone Bain declined to identify the group but said a member of his entourage had incorrectly described the event as a holiday party for groups of children. Jackson has frequently invited groups–and children–to Neverland, the place prosecutors allege Jackson plied a boy with alcohol, engaged in “lewd acts” with him, then conspired with his staff to cover up his misdeeds. The singer said last year he no longer considers Neverland his home after police raided the place for evidence against him.

Oscars ceremony pushed back a week

The 2006 Academy Awards ceremony will be held Sunday, Mar. 5–a week later than the calendar schedule in 2004 and 2005, Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, announced Thursday. According to Pierson, the date change was necessary in order to avoid a conflict with the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to fall on the Academy’s initial date of Sunday, Feb. 26. “It didn’t seem fair to make viewers have to choose between these two special events,” Pierson said in a statement. The late-February broadcasts will resume in 2007. The 2006 and 2007 broadcasts, as well as the upcoming 2005 ceremony on Feb. 27, will be telecast live on ABC.

Trump chooses his “apprentice”

Donald Trump hired a second apprentice Thursday, picking bland West Point graduate and software executive Kelly Perdew over go-getting Harvard Law School graduate and San Francisco attorney Jennifer Massey. In a live The Apprentice telecast from Lincoln Center in New York, Perdew accepted Trump’s six-figure salary job supervising the sprawling Trump Place development on Manhattan’s West Side, saying he wanted to be near the mogul’s base of operations. Trump said he was not affected by the opinions of his top executives, most of whom favored Perdew. “I really go with my gut,” he told reporters. “But I couldn’t have lost with either one. It was a very tough choice.”

Elvis Estate goes for $100 million

Lisa Marie Presley has found a partner to buy part of her father’s massive estate. In a deal worth $100 million, impresario Robert F.X. Sillerman, who founded and later sold radio operator SFX Broadcasting and concert promoter SFX Entertainment, said Thursday he agreed to buy 85 percent of Presley’s estate, including rights to the singer’s name and the management of his famed Graceland mansion, Reuters reports. The title to Graceland and its surrounding property, including most of Presley’s personal effects, will remain with Lisa Marie. Lisa Marie said she had sought a partner for several years to help expand Elvis Presley Enterprises and hoped the deal would preserve her father’s legacy.

Queen to go on tour with new singer

British rock band Queen will go on a 2005 tour for the first time in 18 years, with vocalist Paul Rodgers taking the place of the late Freddie Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991, along with original members guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, Reuters reports. It is unclear whether bass guitarist John Deacon will join the tour. Many Queen devotees are insisting that filling Mercury’s often outrageous platform shoes is impossible. “It’s a Queen tour with Paul Rodgers, and planned for the spring, although no dates have yet been confirmed,” said band agent Phil Symes. “It’s not a case of Paul joining the band. The band would say that Freddie is irreplaceable, but Brian felt there was a chemistry with Paul.”

Motley Crue’s Neil involved in altercation

Motley Crue singer Vince Neil is accused of knocking out an employee of a Dallas, Tex., nightclub after a disagreement over sound levels during a Oct. 30 concert, the AP reports. According to a police report attached to the arrest warrant for misdemeanor assault, the singer motioned for more guitar volume but bolted across the stage as soundman Michael Talbert adjusted it. The affidavit said Neil jumped onto the soundboard, kicked at Talbert, then punched him in the face, the AP reports. Dallas police and prosecutors said if Neil doesn’t contact them about the warrant, they probably will wait to act on it when he returns to the area.

Hugh Grant to hand out book awards

Organizers of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award have asked Hugh Grant to be on the panel of judges that will award their 2004 prizes, the AP reports. The annual Whitbread Book Awards were established in 1971 and are Britain’s longest-running literary competition. They are open to residents of Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Winners in each of five categories–novel, first novel, biography, poetry and children’s book–will be announced Jan. 6.