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Don't Judge a Brooke...

Brooke Shields -- Following Michael Jackson's profession of love for the ''Blue Lagoon'' star, the actress is back in the limelight

Of course Michael says Brooke is his girlfriend: Who better? Sure, everyone assumed — and most still do — that they are just friends. But the romance might as well be reality, so satisfying is the fantasy union of these two icons of virginity trapped in their famous personas.

Still, when Michael brought Brooke home to meet Mother Oprah, there was a collective gasp across America. After all, though the party pages feature her pretty face regularly — usually cheek to cheek with an equally attractive celebrity escort — Shields makes hardly a ripple in the pop-culture waters these days; and here was the biggest entertainer of the decade claiming her as his. Suddenly, people were talking about Brooke again. As a publicist might say, Can't hurt.

And Brooke followed up gracefully. In a prepared statement released shortly after her office was flooded with callers seeking news of her ashen, pained reputed swain, Shields said, ''Michael was brave to do the show and he was quite the gentleman. I hope he's as proud of himself as I am of him.'' In comments to Entertainment Tonight she referred to the relationship as ''platonic.'' But, she added, seemingly striving not to contradict her friend, ''to call it platonic makes it seem less than it is.''

Brooke Shields is, after all, quite the lady. Which is, in its way, her tragedy. Because being Brooke means never being able to snarl Get lost! to people who hyperextend their necks to ogle when she appears in public with a man. ''I go out with whom I want and when I want,'' Shields says defiantly. But being Brooke means accepting that strangers will speculate on the state of her virginity until she updates her 1985 public declaration on the matter. ''I'm everybody's perpetual daughter,'' she says. ''Yet at the same time, everybody wants to fix me up. It's quite ironic.''

Nor can Brooke ever say Buzz off! to those who dismiss her work as an actress, work she takes seriously in the face of all doubts and dismissals. (Despite its critical drubbing, her TV movie I Can Make You Love Me: The Stalking of Laura Black, which aired Feb. 9, was CBS' third-highest Tuesday movie of the season.) ''I'm more comfortable being slightly another person than I am being myself,'' she says.

Being Brooke means always being remembered as the 12-year-old nymph of Pretty Baby, or the 15-year-old star of Calvin Klein jeans ads, or the 21-year-old Princeton student (class of '87), rather than as the 27-year-old woman she is now.

And it means being locked in an intricate relationship with a mother who is as much a part of Brooke Shields as Brooke herself. ''I know her so well. I see her every day. And she's mine!'' says Teri Shields, 59, as constant a presence now, in her daughter's life, as when Brooke was her baby. When not in her Manhattan apartment, Brooke shares a New Jersey home with her mother, who is also her manager.

The upside is, Brooke's audience never tires of her: Twelve years of Bob Hope NBC specials and the paparazzi still pursue her. The downside is, like that of her special friend Michael Jackson, her soul may never get a rest.

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