Cover Story: For better or worse, it was a typical year

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Was 2001-with its recessional ennui, with its mind-numbing tragedy-the year celebrity broke?

Not bloody likely, judging by Cover Story's oh-so-infallible cultural cavity probe. Cover Celeb of the year-by a mile-is the ever-inescapable Julia Roberts, whose Oscar, daffy grin, three major movies, and break-up with beau Benjamin Bratt fed, and fed again, the public's appetite for triumph and tragedy `till Cover Story's cryin' "Stop! Please! Stop already!"

A distant second, with 52 points to Ms. Roberts 68.5, is suddenly single mom Nicole Kidman, who busted up with Tom Cruise early enough so second-wave covers-who-gets-what style-hit mags late in the year. (Please don't make Cover Story say word one about "Moulin Rouge," the Ms. Kidman vehicle/syndrome which Cover Story fervently prays it is never afflicted with.)

Third place: Tom Cruise, who wisely got himself (reportedly) ensconced with Spanish hottie Penelope Cruz (tied for 7th with 21.5 points) late in the year, saving him a respectable show to his ex's place. As for the actual news event of the year, World Trade Center-themed covers came in 15th, with 16 points, and at-large bad-guy Osama bin Laden placed 22st-one point below Harry Potter. (Let's not forget the results of an interesting December, in which Cover Story's top two were-gasp!-men: "Ali" star and former lightweight rapper Will Smith and departed Beatle George Harrison.)

One pounding question remains-at least if your name is Cover Story: Whither celebs in '02? Cover Story's answer, substantially supported by experts in the field: "We don't know!" Or worse-"More of the same."

who cares?

"We did a Tom-and-Nicole cover [after Sept. 11] that did OK, but I thought it would do better," said People managing editor Carol Wallace, who suspected "it was the kind of thing where people are looking and saying `Who the hell are Tom and Nicole in the whole scheme of things?"' All the same, when pressed for predictions, Ms. Wallace foresaw Ms. Kidman topping Cover Story's hit parade in '02, betting on an Oscar nomination in "her post-Tom year." Plus: "She'll start dating again." So next year's winner? "Her, and probably Julia." The latter is agreed upon by Terry McDonell, editor in chief of Us Weekly. "Once this is going, it just keeps going," said the world-weary-sounding Mr. McDonell about this cog in the star machine. To which Cover Story can only respond: Another year of a gazillion Julia covers? Oy. But the grain-of-salt rule applies with our star panelists. For the record, Ms. Wallace thought Laura Bush (way back among the also-rans) or Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt (4th and 7th, respectively) would top Cover Story this year; Mr. McDonell's seat-of-the-pants first guess was Ms. Aniston or Meg Ryan (6th place).

Rounding out the top ten: bodacious beauty-cum-actress-cum-singer Jennifer Lopez (5th place, 34 points); fake-British-accent Madonna and real-British-accent Prince William (tied for 8th, 21 points); new mom Catherine Zeta-Jones (9th place, 20.5 points); and jut-jawed Ben Affleck (10th place, 20 points). Our hands stained with ink; our desk strewn with glossies; our minds furiously fulminating over Celebrity Hair, over Secret Sex Clubs, over Gay Sex Shockers-in this sorry state, Cover Story bids '01 adieu.

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