News, Mar. 25: Richard Simmons Slaps Passenger, Houston Checks Out of Rehab, Did Simon Give Paula the Finger? More…

Top Story: Richard Simmons Slaps Airline Passenger

Exercise guru Richard Simmons, known for his Sweatin’ to the Oldies exercise videos set to songs from the ’50s and ’60s, was cited for misdemeanor assault for allegedly slapping a man, the AP reports. Simmons was at the Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport waiting for a flight to Los Angeles Wednesday when a fellow passenger recognized him. According to Phoenix police, the man “made the offhand comment, ‘Hey everybody. It’s Richard Simmons. Let’s drop our bags and rock to the ’50s.'” Simmons, 55, reportedly walked over to the passenger and slapped him in the face. The man wasn’t injured but told police he intends to file charges against Simmons.

Simon Cowell’s Finger Causes Controversy

Did American Idol judge Simon Cowell flip fellow judge Paula Abdul the bird on national television? Cowell and Fox are having to respond to this allegation today after online Internet columnist Matt Drudge pointed out Cowell‘s odd middle finger alignment during Tuesday night’s telecast after the acerbic judge argued with Abdul over a contestant. And he wasn’t the only one to take notice. Federal Communications Commission spokesman Richard Diamond told Reuters Thursday the agency had received a few complaints about the incident, which are generally reviewed to determine if an investigation is warranted. But Cowell is vehemently denying the allegation. “I certainly would never make a gesture like that toward Paula or on national television,” Cowell said. “Sometimes I lean on my index finger. Sometimes a different finger. Sometimes two at the same time, or, God help me, even the whole hand. I never even thought about it until now.”

Houston Checks Out of Rehab

Whitney Houston, who had been undergoing treatment in a drug rehabilitation center, has left the facility five days after checking in because she “felt the walls were closing in on her,” a source close to the singer was quoted as saying in the Daily News. The source also said the singer is now staying at a rented home near her home in the Atlanta area. Houston‘s spokeswoman told The Associated Press Thursday that the report is no big deal and that the singer is still taking part in the rehab program but at another location.

Bobby Brown Back in Jail

Whitney Houston‘s husband, meanwhile, has been ordered back to the pen. Massachusetts Judge Paula Carey sentenced Bobby Brown to jail Wednesday for 90 days or until he can come up with more than $60,000 in child support owed to the mother of two children he fathered, Reuters reports. Local media report that Brown, who will serve the sentence at the Norfolk County House of Correction in Dedham, Mass., wept at his hearing.

Aretha Franklin Released From Hospital

Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who was admitted to Detroit’s Sinai-Grace Hospital Saturday for treatment of a low platelet count, a blood disorder that can lead to hemorrhaging, was released Wednesday. “She responded very well to her treatment and she’s doing just fine,” Dr. Claud Young, Franklin‘s longtime personal physician, told Reuters. Young said the temporary disorder was caused either by a virus or an allergic reaction to antibiotics Franklin had taken earlier, but was not related to the singer’s hypertension. In a statement released by her New York-based publicist, Franklin said she planned to spend her 62nd birthday Thursday at her Detroit-area home.

Ryan Seacrest Defends Color Pink

American Idol host Ryan Seacrest is lending his support to six boys from Ensign Middle School in Newport Beach, Calif., who were banned from a class portrait for wearing pink T-shirts. According to the AP, the eighth graders were pulled from class portrait last week because principal Edward Wong feared the color could be associated with gang-affiliated “dance crews,” which hold all-night dance contests and raves. The boys, however, denied being crew members and said they wore the shirts, described as “Easter pink,” to stand out in the photo. Seacrest said Tuesday he got involved because a student told a local newspaper that pink was popular among teens because it was a color often worn by Seacrest. He declared this week “Think Pink Week” and asked listeners on his KIIS-FM morning radio show to wear pink on Friday.

MPAA Wants Public To Report Pirates

The Motion Picture Assn. of America said Wednesday at the movie theater industry’s annual ShoWest convention in Las Vegas that they are considering a plan to encourage customers at movie houses to squelch criminals using camcorders to record films illegally. “We are considering an MPAA camcorder reward program,” Bill Shannon, the MPAA’s U.S. anti-piracy operations director said. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Shannon talked exhibitors through a behind-the-scenes tour of how pirates steal and distribute films worldwide and chronicled a handful of films’ fates after they were camcorded and pirated, showing how a film can be pirated in New York and then appear on the streets in China in less than two weeks.

VH1 Greenlights Michael Jackson Movie

Music cabler VH1 has greenlighted an unauthorized movie about pop oddity Michael Jackson. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the project, tentatively titled Family Values, has begun preproduction in Calgary, Alberta. It will follow Jackson‘s life from his Thriller heydays to his current scandal-plagued legal woes and include flashbacks to his old Motown. Executive producer Jon Katzman said the film will strive for an objective portrayal of Jackson‘s life. “We’re big fans of Michael’s. We’re going to do our best to present the facts as truthfully as possible,” he said. “We’re not taking sides one way or the other.” Jackson has not been consulted on the project, however, and he script will not be derived from any one source of material.

Role Call: Suvari Heads to Beauty Shop; Wilkinson, Hauer Join Batman Begins

Mena Suvari is joining the cast of Queen Latifah‘s Barbershop spin-off, Beauty Shop, which begins shooting next month.