Newsmakers: Sept. 8-15

Kate is pregnant (or not), Diamond is engaged (again), and Manning gets a new uniform (of sorts)

Newsmakers

Geoff Pugh/WPA/Getty

Sacked

Peyton Manning played his first professional football game in 1998. Over the next 13 years, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback didn’t miss a single start, suiting up for 227 consecutive kickoffs. But that gridiron streak—and his team’s hope for a Super Bowl berth—were tackled last week when Manning underwent a second round of neck surgery that is certain to keep him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. (For those fans who won’t recognize him without a jersey, he’ll be the guy wearing a cervical collar.) Who will replace Manning on the line of scrimmage? One name being bandied about is Brett Favre, the legendary quarterback who holds the record for consecutive starts (297). Favre, of course, says he is happily retired. But we’ve heard that before. Twice.

On the ropes

When Arturo “Thunder” Gatti was found dead in a Brazilian vacation home two years ago, local police concluded that the Montreal boxer had committed suicide. But a recent re-examination of the evidence—and some stunning courtroom testimony—have pointed the finger at someone else: Gatti’s widow, Amanda Rodrigues. In a report now being reviewed by the original investigators, a team of U.S. experts says the boxer’s body contained severe head wounds consistent with a beating, and that the official finding (that Gatti hung himself with a purse strap) is “pure, unadulterated fiction.” Meanwhile, during a court battle over Gatti’s $6-million estate, one friend testified that Rodrigues was an abusive wife who threatened her husband, sucker-punched him on numerous occasions, and forced him to rewrite his will just three weeks before his death.

Sino-Canadian relations

If Bob Dechert was smiling on the evening of April 19, 2010, as he stood to vote in the House of Commons, he was apparently not simply delighting in the democratic process. “If you have time, watch on TV or on your computer . . . and I will smile at you,” he wrote to Shi Rong, a journalist with China’s Xinhua News Agency. The parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs was forced to acknowledge that note and a series of other “flirtatious” emails after his missives were distributed around Ottawa last week. Dechert’s official biography describes him as a married man and he says his relationship with Shi was “innocent,” but security analysts fret that his correspondence with a member of China’s state-run news service raises concerns about national security and espionage. The Prime Minister’s Office says it has no information to indicate Dechert did anything inappropriate.

Princess Preggers

Kate Middleton is pregnant. With twins. Or not. It all depends on which tabloid has the best anonymous sources. According to an “exclusive” in Star magazine, “doctors confirmed the exciting baby news exactly 100 days after the April 29 royal wedding at London’s Westminster Abbey,” causing Prince William to “collapse with joy and relief.” But US Weekly quickly countered the report, quoting an unnamed rep for the couple: “Suffice to say that were it true, it would be us that announces it, not a gossip magazine.” For the record, Prince William has previously said: “Obviously, we want a family.”

Fat chance

When Lillian Coakley, a 42-year-old Lower Sackville, N.S., woman who weighs 370 lb., learned she faced a 10-year waiting list for bariatric surgery, she reacted accordingly. Tearfully, she wrote her own obituary and posted it online in July, convinced she’d not live long enough to get the operation. The obit, which she hoped would draw attention to the decade-long wait, signalled her desire for cremation so she would not have “to be carried away to her final resting place by a tractor.” But then Robyn Boucher, a fitness trainer, saw the cri de coeur and offered her services. Coakley has been working out three times a week for a month; the mother of two hopes to lose 170 lb.—so her kids won’t have to post a real obit any time soon.

What’s in a name?

Ted Morton’s campaign for the Alberta Conservative leadership hit a speed bump of ridicule when CBC News revealed he used a “covert” e-mail address to avoid freedom-of-information (FOI) scrutiny while resources minister. A political scientist, Morton shrugged off the disclosure that he had written to department officials under the name “Frederick Lee”—his actual first and middle names. Ministers are allowed to create non-FOI-able “internal records” under Alberta law, and if Morton was trying to hide anything, “Frederick Lee” would be a poor alias for a scholar very widely recognized as F.L. Morton. Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work will investigate, but is not expected to finish before the first ballot Sept. 17.

A bath at Céline’s

Céline Dion’s voice brings some fans to tears, while others apparently prefer her bathtub. Police arrested a man after he allegedly broke into the songstress’s dacha on her privately owned island near the Montreal suburb of Laval. According to police, Daniel Bédard broke into the house by using a garage-door opener found in an unlocked car belonging to René Angelil, Dion’s husband and manager. Finding no one home—Dion is currently on a three-month hiatus from her regular gig at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas—Bédard allegedly wrote a few non-threatening notes, ate a snack and drew himself a bath before police arrived.

A fine Cuban

One day, the reports will be true. But not yet. After weeks of fresh rumours regarding the fate of Fidel Castro—including one story that said he died of a stroke—Cuba’s revolutionary leader confirmed that he is very much alive. Sporting his signature grey beard (but no cigar), the 85-year-old sat down for a lengthy interview with Venezuela’s state-run television. “Those who are at this moment enjoying and believing that Comandante Fidel had a stroke, I’m sorry to inform you that he is alive and kicking,” said the reporter, Mario Silva. Ricardo Alarcón, the president of Cuba’s parliament, took the hyperbole one step further, saying Castro is in “perfect” health. “Fidel said long ago that the day he dies nobody is going to believe it, because they have killed him so many times.”

Daughterly love

Australia’s richest person, the notoriously reclusive Gina Rinehart, is being forced into the spotlight as she faces a lawsuit from Hope Rinehart Welker, her 26-year-old daughter. Australian media is full of speculation about Welker’s motives, which still aren’t clear; Rinehart has pushed to have details of the case suppressed for commercial reasons, according to her lawyer, which has only boosted public interest. It isn’t the first time Rinehart’s family feuds have spilled into the courts. After her father, iron ore magnate Langley Hancock, died in 1992, Rinehart spent 11 years battling her stepmother—and Hancock’s former maid—in court over his assets. Now estimated to be worth over $10 billion, it seems the media-shy heiress is in for another fight.

A girl’s best friend

In a fit of modern romance, legendary crooner Neil Diamond announced in rhyming couplets on Twitter that he’s engaged to his co-manager Katie McNeil. “Good news coming from sunny L.A. / and you’re the first I want to tell / Katie and I just got engaged / and I hope you wish us well,” the 70-year-old wrote before releasing a photo of the blond bombshell, 30 years his junior. This will be Diamond’s third marriage—and hopefully for him the last: his 1995 divorce is the richest on record at $150 million, more than the splits of Paul McCartney or Steven Spielberg. For what it’s worth, Diamond, who worked with McNeil on a 2009 documentary, also tweeted, “I’m lovestruck.”

Vote my way, or else

Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein has effectively neutered voters before they decide in a referendum on Sunday whether to relax strict abortion laws to allow the procedure in up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. Last weekend, the staunchly Catholic ruler announced he would veto a yes vote. It is the latest autocratic turn for the Liechtensteins, a billionaire banking family that dominates the enclave of 35,000 tucked into the Swiss Alps. In 2003, Alois’s father increased princely constitutional powers via another referendum by threatening to leave, and take his business with him.

De-podiuming

Alex Baumann, the Olympic double-gold-medallist swimmer from Sudbury, announced he’s leaving his position as CEO of Own the Podium, a program aimed at winning Canadian medals through unsentimental financing and hard-nosed direction, less than a year before the London Summer Olympics. Under his management, Own the Podium helped Canada win a record 14 golds in Vancouver-Whistler. It loses Baumann, 47, to a similar job in New Zealand, where he said he’d relocate for family reasons (Baumann’s wife is Australian, and Baumann recently survived a second scrape with cancer, prompting soul-searching). His two children—Ashton, 18, and Tabitha, 16—are also elite swimmers: they’ll join the New Zealand swim program but will still compete for Canada.

Just act natural

Musician Nicki Minaj and Vogue editor Anna Wintour looked right at home in the front row during a show at New York’s Fashion Week. Minaj has been a fixture at the festival, appearing in a variety of kooky outfits including one that, she told the New York Observer, took her “about an hour” to put together.

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