This year pop culture went on a white-knuckle ride. Harry Potter closed a billion-dollar chapter in publishing history, while threequels stormed the box office with record-breaking results (we can’t remember their names at the moment). Meanwhile, artists like Madonna and Radiohead turned the music business on its head, and Hollywood writers shut their laptops down because they were sick of being treated like…writers. Young stars, meanwhile, traded head shots for mug shots, much to the delight of the blogarazzi. Join us now for a magical and ridiculous trip through time. First stop, the grand old Oprah.
If Oprah builds it, they will come
Daytime TV’s Mother Teresa opens the $40 million Leadership Academy for Girls near Johannesburg, South Africa, with celebrity attendees including Mariah Carey, Spike Lee, and Mary J. Blige. But nine months later, the school becomes the center of controversy, when several girls accuse a dorm matron of abuse. The school suspends the woman, who maintains her innocence, and a devastated Oprah reportedly gives the schoolgirls cell phones with her personal number.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils the multimedia entertainment device that’s equal parts phone, MP3 player, Internet browser, and overpriced status symbol. Frenzied customers line up early to be the first to get an iPhone upon its June 29 release.
Washington fans Grey’s fire
After Grey’s Golden Globe win, Isaiah Washington responds to a question about an on-set dustup by saying, ”No, I did not call T.R. a faggot.” The actor later apologizes, saying he can ”neither defend nor explain my behavior.” Even so, he’s fired from the show in June.
Aqua Teen marketing gimmick bombs
A guerrilla ad campaign for Cartoon Network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force — blinking electronic signs hung on bridge overpasses and near transit stations featuring characters including Err — causes multiple bomb scares in Boston. In response, Turner Broadcasting (which is owned by EW’s parent company, Time Warner) agrees to pay $2 million to state and local agencies for causing the scare, and the head of Cartoon Network resigns nine days later.
Prince refuses to rain it in
The Purple One delivers a two-for-one at the Super Bowl, giving viewers the best halftime show in recent memory (in the pouring rain, no less) — and some decidedly TV-MA imagery. The ever-provocative performer shocks folks at home with a phallic pose during ”Purple Rain.”
Britney begins her yearlong breakdown
In a bizarre weekend that foreshadows her tumultuous year to come, Spears reportedly checks herself into — and then out of — rehab, and then stops by a Tarzana, Calif., salon to shave her own head after the stylist refuses to do it for her.
Anna Nicole Smith is laid to rest
After nearly a month of fighting over her body and her infant daughter, Smith’s family and friends gather to bury her next to her son, Daniel, in the Bahamas. The former Playboy Playmate died Feb. 8, after an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.
300 is ab-fabulous
The bloody, nearly all-CG Spartan tale surprises with its $70.9 million opening weekend. Gerard Butler’s six-pack didn’t hurt either.
At an AIDS awareness rally in India, Richard Gere spontaneously kisses (or some might say mauls) Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty. Since public displays of affection are largely taboo in India, the kiss sets off a firestorm of media coverage and leads a judge to issue Gere an arrest warrant for public obscenity (which can be punished with up to three months in prison, a fine, or both). The actor quickly leaves the country and has not been formally charged yet.
Regis Philbin goes Live again The Live With Regis and Kelly audience gives Philbin an ovation upon his return to the show after a triple bypass and six weeks off the air. David Letterman makes a rare talk-show visit as Philbin’s first post-surgery guest.
The Police hit the beat again
Reuniting for the first time in more than 20 years, Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland kick off their world tour in Vancouver to 20,000 adoring fans. The year was rife with reunions, including Genesis, Led Zeppelin, and Van Halen with David Lee Roth.
The summer of Apatow begins
Judd Apatow’s latest comedy, Knocked Up, starring Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen, has its premiere in L.A. The movie opens 11 days later and scores $30.7 million in its first weekend. August sees the Apatow-produced Superbad open even higher ($33.1 million.)
In a star-studded finale (Joe Perry! Bette Midler!), American Idol crowns Jordin Sparks its latest singing sensation as 30.7 million viewers watch. To be fair, beatboxer and runner-up Blake Lewis didn’t have a chance with the saccharine finale song ”This Is My Now.”
Hilton is released from prison after serving 23 days for violating probation and driving with a suspended license. The jailbird soon drops by Larry King’s studio to describe the ”traumatic experience.”
Concert for Diana
Princes William and Harry host a tribute to their mother 10 years after her death. The show, held at London’s Wembley Stadium, raises $2.4 million for charity and features performances by Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Kanye West.
Quit playin’ games with my bank
Former boy-band impresario Lou Pearlman (‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys) heads to a court hearing in Florida after being charged with bank fraud involving loans worth $20 million.
There’s this book about a boy wizard — have you heard of it?
Ten days after the film version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix sets an opening-day record with $44.2 million, fans swarm bookstores at the stroke of midnight to buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment of J.K. Rowling’s extraordinary series. The book breaks a record of its own, selling 8.3 million copies in the U.S. during its first day on shelves.
Yes, Lindsay can get arrested
Less than two weeks after finishing her second stint in rehab, Lohan is arrested for cocaine possession and DUI. The actress later goes into self-imposed exile in Utah for two months and caps off the year by serving 84 minutes in jail on Nov. 15.
Amy Winehouse sings the blues
Photos in London’s Daily Mail show Amy Winehouse and husband Blake Fielder-Civil bloodied following a reported fight. Three months later, the beleaguered singer halts her European tour after Fielder-Civil is arrested for alleged witness tampering. He is in jail awaiting trial. On Dec. 18, Winehouse was arrested in connection with the case; she was questioned and released without charges.
The View makes Whoopi
Goldberg officially joins The View, filling the chair left vacant when the formidable Rosie O’Donnell departed the show in May.
Tommy Lee, Kid Rock talk about their feelings
Pamela Anderson exes Lee and Kid Rock get into an off-screen scuffle during a performance by Alicia Keys at the VMAs. ”I was minding myself and then he goes and punches me on the cheek,” Lee told The Insider. ”This is what people do when they have s—ty albums and their careers are going down the drain.”
Not an easy ride for Cruise’s Valkyrie
Reversing an earlier decision, German officials allow the crew of Tom Cruise’s WWII drama — which chronicles an assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler — to film at the Bendlerblock, a key historical site in Berlin. Several news sources speculated that the initial ban was a result of the German government’s unease with Cruise’s Scientologist beliefs, a charge the officials deny.
The debut of CBS reality show Kid Nation — in which 40 youngsters ages 8 to 15 fend for themselves in a New Mexico pioneer town — is marred by criticism that the producers exploited its underage stars and subjected them to dangerous conditions. New Mexico has closed the child-labor-law loophole that allowed the show to be shot there.
At the L.A. premiere of The Darjeeling Limited, star Owen Wilson makes his first major public appearance since his reported suicide attempt in August.
Right of passage
Drew Carey takes over hosting duties of The Price Is Right. The comedian replaces daytime mainstay Bob Barker, who retires at the age of 83 after shooting 6,586 episodes of the show over 35 years.
Ellen in the doghouse
In what would later be called ”Iggygate,” a tearful DeGeneres uses her talk show to plead with a pet agency after it confiscated a dog she had adopted and then given to her hairdresser’s family. The awkward clip of DeGeneres weeping soon goes viral.
Madonna gets Live aid
Madonna and tour promoter Live Nation announce a groundbreaking ”360 degree” deal — estimated at $120 milliom — that splits revenue from the singer’s albums, tours, and merchandise sales. The agreement, which ends the Material Girl’s 25-year partnership with Warner Bros., signals a shift away from traditional record-label contracts in the ailing music industry.
Miley Cyrus: One hot ticket
Miley Cyrus’ Best of Both Worlds tour (in which she performs as both herself and her Disney alter ego, Hannah Montana) kicks off in St. Louis. The concerts sell out in minutes across the country, prompting outcries from angry parents and lawsuits against ticket brokers, who resold seats to eager fans for as much as $2,100.
Stephen Colbert ballot-blocked
The Colbert Report host ends his nascent presidential campaign after officials in his home state of South Carolina vote to keep him off their primary ballot. Colbert concedes in a statement: ”I have chosen not to put the country through another agonizing Supreme Court battle.”
Writers put their pencils down
The Writers Guild of America goes on strike after reaching a stalemate in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over issues like compensation for DVDs and downloads. (Less than a week later, Broadway stagehands go on strike over proposed staffing cuts; the work stoppage is resolved after 19 days.) The strike has caused thousands of layoffs and halted production of all network scripted series. (Execs now fear that the fall ‘08 season could be in jeopardy.) Talks between the writers and producers break down on Dec. 7, and at press time no new negotiations are planned.
Sixty-eight years after greeting Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, seven of the actors who played Munchkins are on hand to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Malibu swept by wildfires
California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an emergency trip to Malibu, where fires destroyed 53 residences over one weekend. The area is home to celebs like Minnie Driver and Matthew McConaughey, who are forced to evacuate during the blaze. It’s the second rash of devastating fires in a month: In late October, over 100,000 acres of land in northern L.A. county burned.
Ten years later, the Girls are back in town
Victoria Beckham, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Brown, and Melanie Chisholm — better known as the Spice Girls — launch their reunion tour in Vancouver, Canada. The heavily sequined nostalgia extravaganza comes three weeks after the Girls release a greatest-hits album.