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The New Age Of Greed

Shaman-blessed water, first-class air travel for pets and $3,000 a week for private chefs are some of the excessive perks demanded by stars

There's a certain rakish, charming actor, A man whose suave screen presence, locker-pinup looks, and spectacularly screwed-up personal life have brought pleasure to millions. Over his 25-year career, he's earned his place in the celebrity pantheon. To those who've worked with him, however, this certain actor is also known as a rampaging diva whose behind-the-scenes demands can be not only unreasonable but bizarre. Starting work on a new TV series, for example, he required that the water feeding into his trailer be purified. But not just any old Evian would do. No, the water that coursed through his trailer's pipes needed to be blessed. By a shaman.

Stories like this one circulate around Hollywood all the time, accompanied by oh-no-he-didn't gasps and rolling of eyes. Anyone who's brushed up against a major star has some tale of excess to tell: There is the famous movie couple who demanded a separate private jet from Los Angeles to Europe just for their luggage, at a cost of $40,000. There's the pop singer whose dressing-room requirements while making a video for charity included $50 French candles and enough food to sustain a family of tsunami victims for a month. There's the TV bad girl who insisted the network erect a billboard for her show on a street where she knew an ex would drive past it. There's the actress who demanded Harry Winston jewelry to help her get into the role of a wealthy woman (because, you know, it was a stretch), then hid in her trailer when she was asked to give it back.

It's no major news flash that stars are a coddled breed — that's been their job description since the dawn of time. Over the past decade, though, the entertainment industry has seen a dramatic spike in the level of pampering. In a culture forever pushing its obsession with affluence and status (remember when game shows gave out toasters and car wax instead of million-dollar checks?), keeping up with the Zeta-Joneses is becoming quite the financial challenge. And as the cost of the celebrity lifestyle rises, stars from the A list on down are passing as much of the expense as they can to those who hire them, demanding ''perk packages'' that can run into the millions of dollars. Movie studios, TV networks, and record labels, caught between the need to keep their top earners happy and the need to keep budgets down, are struggling to hold the line.

''I have a doomsday theory,'' one high-ranking network executive says gloomily. ''Everyone will start bleeding, we'll stop making money, because production costs have gone through the roof — all because of actors' demands.''

Despite this kind of hand-wringing, few in Hollywood are eager to talk about the problem on the record. Most stars, with the possible exception of certain rappers, don't like to project an image of themselves as being greedy (and, in fairness, many aren't). On the other side, executives don't want to acknowledge what they give out in perks for fear they'll raise the bar even higher. Not to mention the touchy politics of it all: ''No one wants to say these guys are spoiled,'' notes one top studio exec. ''It's just going to make it harder when you're wooing them to your project.''

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