Go to the 1996 Year in Review Package
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By Matt Slovick, WashingtonPost.com Staff
People flocked to movie theaters for "Independence Day," continued to tune into NBC's "Must-See TV" Thursday, added Alanis Morissette's album to their collections, found out the name of their favorite "Anonymous" author and did the Macarena.
The violent death of 25-year-old rapper Tupac Shakur came in the same year that longtime entertainers Gene Kelly and George Burns passed away. A birth also made headlines when The Material Girl became a mommy.
The year also brought us two royal divorces, a wedding for John-John Kennedy, a divorce and second marriage for the King of Pop.
Mel Gibson played a famous Scotsman who flicked moons. In March, "Braveheart" won Gibson an Academy Award as Best Director and took the grand prize as Best Picture. The other big Oscar winners were Nicolas Cage (Best Actor, "Leaving Las Vegas"), Susan Sarandon (Best Actress, "Dead Man Walking"), Kevin Spacey (Supporting Actor, "The Usual Suspects") and Mira Sorvino (Supporting Actress, "Mighty Aphrodite").
NBC's "Must-See TV" lineup on Thursday nights led the way as the network won the year's prime-time ratings again. "ER," at 10 p.m., was the year's most-watched television show. With "Friends" at 8 p.m. and "Seinfeld" at 9 p.m., so-so shows "The Single Guy" and "Suddenly Susan," a new series starring Brooke Shields, finished in the Top 10 each week.
Michael J. Fox ("Spin City") and Bill Cosby ("Cosby") made triumphant returns to TV. Ted Danson's ("Ink") TV homecoming hasn't been as smooth. At the Emmy Awards, "ER" and "Frasier" took the prizes as best drama and comedy.
Off the set, "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer checked into the Betty Ford Center for treatment of substance abuse. After a car crash, Grammer was arrested and booked for investigation of driving under the influence.
And the six cast members of "Friends" demanded raises to $100,000 an episode from their original contract of $30,000. Reports said they previously had received raises after the success of the show, and they settled for $75,000 a show.
The book is being made into a film with John Travolta as president and Emma Thompson as first lady. Mike Nichols is set to direct and Elaine May is writing the screenplay.
Oprah Winfrey, the country's most adored talk-show host, was a boon to book-buying. She began devoting one segment a month on her show to a book-group-style discussion of a novel she has read and recommended to viewers the month before. The first book, Jacquelyn Mitchard's "The Deep End of the Ocean," became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. The second, Toni Morrison's 1977 "Song of Solomon," sold even better.
Actor and dancer Gene Kelly, best remembered for the memorable scene from "Singin' in the Rain," died at the age of 83. Kelly had a series of strokes in 1994 and 1995.
George Burns, the longtime cigar-smoking comedian, made it to his 100th birthday, although he wasn't able to perform on that day as he had in the past. Seven weeks later he died.
Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, died at 84. Washington earned the reputation as the nation's bluegrass capital.
Other notable celebrity deaths included Smashing Pumpkins keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin, who died of a heroin overdose at 34; Harold Rollins, 46, an Oscar-nominated actor; Dorothy Lamour, 81, the sultry, sarong-wearing sidekick of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby; Claudette Colbert, 92, the Academy Award-winning actress who was one of the queens of comedy during the golden age of movies; John W. Chancellor, 68, a retired reporter, anchorman and commentator with NBC News who was one of the most trusted figures in American journalism; Timothy Leary, 75, the former Harvard psychologist who became a national figure during the 1960s as the primary apostle of a cultic lifestyle based on the use of LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs; Ben Johnson, 77, who won the 1971 Academy Award for best supporting actor for "The Last Picture Show"; Minnie Pearl, 83, whose homespun humor and shrill "HowDY!" made her the first country comedian known worldwide; Haing Ngor, 45, the Cambodian physician and refugee who won an Oscar for "The Killing Fields, shot to death; McLean Stevenson, 66, who played Army Lt. Col. Henry Blake on the TV show "M*A*S*H"; Don Simpson, 52, the extravagant movie producer whose blockbusters included "Flashdance," "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Top Gun"; Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, 72, the symbol of the harried "Latin lover.''
Andrew and Fergie -- the Duke and Duchess of York -- also called it quits after a decade of marriage. Fergie also found herself in financial straights, filing for bankruptcy. She's now in line to have a talk show in this country.
Both Di and Fergie lost their titles of Her Royal Highness.
Divorce & Marriage
A little red, fluffy character from "Sesame Street" became the big toy for Christmas '96. The Tickle Me Elmo, which retailed for $30, didn't have much of a shelf life in stores. People reportedly were selling the doll for $200 and more.