Bonnie's revenge? A page from Star.

There is nothing quite like a recently convicted corporate executive dropping dead from a heart attack to set conspiracy theorists running.

END RUN: There is nothing quite like a recently convicted corporate executive dropping dead from a heart attack to set conspiracy theorists running. Before Kenneth Lay’s body even had time to cool, blogs across America were asserting that he 1) faked his death to avoid going to prison and that he’s now off on an island somewhere, 2) was whacked by members of the Bush Administration to keep him from singing like a canary about White House chicanery or 3) induced his heart attack so his wife and children could collect a life insurance policy and reap the millions of dollars that would have been seized by the federal government, had he lived long enough to make it to the big house.

Memo Pad was particularly intrigued by the latter theory, but sadly, it turned out to be the most implausible of them all.

“He’d have to be very clever,” said Dr. Jeffrey Borer, a cardiologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “If he’s caught, the insurance company won’t pay off the life insurance policy.”

In other words, a massive dose of cocaine or epinephrine is out of the question — any decent toxicologist would find them in his system.

A better plan for the former Enron chief executive, said Borer, would be to literally exercise to death. “If someone has a known case of coronary disease, one thing one might do is exercise intensively, recognize the symptom and keep on going. As long as the stress is maintained, that would result in greater demand by the heart muscle for oxygen than can be effectively supplied through the blocked arteries.”

But another prominent heart surgeon pooh-poohed that theory. “It sounds pretty hit or miss to me,” said the doctor, who requested anonymity. “What if the heart attack isn’t fatal?”

Hmmm. Good point.

And Dr. John Coppola, chief of cardiology at St. Vincent’s Hospital, said that, likewise, there was little possibility Lay had swallowed a mysterious substance that then disappeared from his system without a trace. “That’s a myth,” he said, “like out of a Sherlock Holmes novel.”

This story first appeared in the July 7, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

However, Coppola was not ruling out divine retribution as the cause of death. “How about this?” he said. “It was God administering justice for all the people he screwed.”

And Borer’s wife remains suspicious about the circumstances surrounding Lay’s ultimate demise, despite her doctor-husband’s basic contention that Lay’s heart disease was simply pushed forward by the stress of his current life situation. “She says my major failing is that I’m not a good gossip,” Borer said. “She mentioned this morning that maybe he’d killed himself.”
Jacob Bernstein

BUMPY ROAD FOR STAR: Celebrity magazine editors are expert at spotting the swell of a pregnant woman’s belly — so much so that they sometimes notice it months or even years before it’s actually visible. But no one seems to detect phantom fetuses more often, or more spectacularly, than Star. Under the watchful gaze of editorial director Bonnie Fuller, no errant pouf of fabric or bulge of fat is safe from being labeled a “bump.”

But what happens when someone like Fuller gets her hands on photographic proof that what appeared to be a bun in the oven is really nothing more than wishful thinking? She publishes it, of course — and pretends it doesn’t exist.

Witness the new issue of Star, with numerous photos of a bikini-clad Nicole Kidman. In the shots, Kidman displays rippling washboard abs, apparently contradicting Star’s July 3 cover story, which claimed to offer the “1st look at her bump!” The new evidence was persuasive enough that competitor Life & Style, which had also declared Kidman to be expecting, backpedaled on that claim. Star, however, wouldn’t back down, insisting she “seems to be sporting a small bump.” Asked whether the pregnancy story was wrong, Fuller, via a spokesman, said, “Time will tell.”

Perhaps Kidman should be glad Fuller didn’t see fit to set the record straight. Actress Reese Witherspoon threatened to sue Star over a June 26 cover saying she was pregnant with “baby #3!” Star responded in last week’s issue with a retraction of sorts: an unflattering photo of Witherspoon at the beach, her paunch circled, under the headline “Reese Mystery Solved: She’s Not Pregnant…It’s Bloat!” Asked whether the insulting story was payback for the legal threat, Fuller said, “The page and the image speak for themselves.”

Speaking of setting the record straight: A June 13 item in WWD suggested Fuller might have to take a pay cut soon, quoting one source who claimed American Media chief David Pecker was “not going to renew her contract for the amount she’s getting now.” In fact, Fuller’s new three-year deal pays her the same $1.5 million in base salary, plus a guaranteed bonus of $500,000. Perhaps she could use the extra money to hire an in-house obstetrician?
Jeff Bercovici

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