OH, DADDY! PUFF-ERY GETS NEW MEANING IN SEAN COMBS' HANDS

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I had a dream.

Daddy.

I am being pursued.

Daddy!

I'm being haunted.

D-a-a-a-d-d-y-y!

Everywhere I turn, I am followed by the Puff Daddy.

See Daddy run. Run, Daddy, run! See Daddy eat. Eat, Daddy, eat. See Daddy go to court. Hide, Daddy, hide!

No. The Puff Daddy will never hide. He can't. Too many newspapers depend on him.

Puff Daddy -- oops! The Puff Daddy (presumably to distinguish him from numerous pretend Puff Daddies) -- has become the staple of gossip columns. He is ubiquitous, ever present and redundant -- Donald Trump on a good hair day, a Zelig with panache. He is a guaranteed filler of column inches, wherever the vacant space happens to be.

Need a real-estate story? The Puff Daddy's got homes in Beverly Hills, the Hamptons and Park Avenue. A crime story? Some Puff Daddy associates have been charged with assaulting journalists of whose reporting they disapprove. A travel story? The Puff Daddy likes to winter in St. Bart's. A business story? The Puff Daddy's the publisher of the hip-hop magazine Notorious. A fashion story? The Puff Daddy likes to go to polo matches in Southampton.

He's also called Sean Combs, Sean "Puffy" Combs or Sean (Puffy) Combs, depending on the stylebooks of the publications that rely on him for filler. He is the CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment, the leading producer of hip-hop records.

He's 29 years old.

His own rap album, "No Way Out," has sold some 5 million copies. He's gone crossover, having joined with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page to record a tune for the "Godzilla" sound track.

He has a Dartmouth MBA.

He throws loud parties that disturbed at least one neighbor in the Northwest Woods section of East Hampton. He was held partially negligent for a stampede at a 1991 party at New York's City College that left nine people dead.

He likes the Knicks.

He dines at a restaurant he owns called Justin's. His birthday party at Cipriani last year was mobbed by more than 1,000 luminaries.

He frolicks in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Oops! That's the Puff Dragon.

The Puff Daddy has become a veritable cottage industry for some publications. The New York Times' "Public Lives" feature on page B2 -- that's the gossip column that dare not speak its name -- has made Sean Combs its one-man portal into urban culture, granting him seven mentions in 1998. While that put him slightly behind Madonna (8 mentions), Puffy managed to best Times stalwart Brooke Astor (5).

I don't know what to make of this Puff Daddy mania. He may just be the latest iteration of "safe hip" -- the contemporary equivalent of gold chains and elephant bells that middle-age copywriters took to wearing in the late stages of the Creative Revolution. (You can just hear some Ivy League-educated, commuting-in-from-Rye senior editor at People calling to an assistant, "Kimberly, we're lacking an urban culture element in our next edition. Can you telephone Mr. Combs at Bad Boy and inquire where he's taken meals this week?").

But my intuition tells me Puffy has courted the media. Yes, troubling as it may be to contemplate, I suspect the Puff Daddy has hired a publicist.

To be fair to him, he may need one. The Los Angeles Times reported recently that Puffy's dominance of the hip-hop business is being threatened by one Master P, whose productions earned him more than $56 million last year. Nothing like a little attention to keep your fans focused.

Then again, the Puff Daddy may just like the attention. Years ago, a public relations executive I know, who for obvious reasons must remain anonymous, posited to me that some people are "prathological" -- that is, they have a pathological need for p.r. When I laughed at the theory, he turned quite serious. "Oh, no. I'm sure it's real," he said. "Just look at Steinbrenner and Trump."

George Steinbrenner had 17 mentions in "Public Lives." The Donald had only six.

Donald, we hardly knew ye.

Puffy, we know ye.

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