Holding On to the Memories

David Hyde Pierce likes to remember his father as "a soft-spoken man, extremely funny, enormously witty--and a real performer." But that was before Alzheimer's disease afflicted George Hyde Pierce--an actor turned insurance salesman who died last year at 88--and obliterated his personality.

"It's one of the most horrifying diseases on the planet--your loved ones are taken from you before they die, and you are taken from them as their memory fades into meaninglessness," says the 40-year-old television star who plays Dr. Niles Crane on the hit NBC sitcom "Frasier." Pierce says the illness is especially hard on caregivers. Both his mother and maternal grandmother, whose husband was also a victim, fell ill and died before their mates-- largely due to stress, he believes.

Today, along with Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), Pierce announces a new congressional task force focused on the disease, which is likely to affect more than 14 million baby boomers in the 21st century. Long active in the Alzheimer's Association, he treasures the image of his dad and mom dancing after "Frasier" won its first Emmy six seasons ago. "He was a wonderful dancer. At the Governors' Ball, people cleared off the floor to watch them. Nothing fancy--just the fox trot. But they'd been dancing for 50 years."

THIS JUST IN . . .

* Former president Gerald Ford yesterday gave Newsweek sleuth Michael Isikoff the $5,000 Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency for his role in uncovering the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "Until this moment," Isikoff told a National Press Club audience, "no president has ever shaken my hand and given me an award." Last month at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, a late-arriving President Clinton avoided giving Isikoff a different award for the same scoop.

* Stephen Jones, husband of aspiring manicurist and country singer Paula Jones, filed for divorce yesterday, the Associated Press reports.

* That was Connie Chung rushing 4-year-old son Matthew Povich to the Georgetown University Hospital emergency room over the weekend, with Matthew's worried dad, Maury Povich, speeding from the golf course to join them. Chung told us yesterday that Matthew mashed his left index finger in a bathroom door Saturday afternoon. "Nothing was broken and they put a little metal splint on it," the ABC News star confided. The Chung-Poviches were in town for the 90th birthday of Maury's mom, Ethyl Povich.

Iron Mike's Night Out

* Fresh from four months in the Montgomery County jail, Mike Tyson, accompanied by two unidentified young women and not his wife, hung out in a Washington strip club till the wee hours yesterday morning. The fun-seeking trio--minus Monica Tyson--arrived in a taxi around 10 p.m. Sunday at the Camelot Show Bar, reports The Post's Beth Berselli. They went upstairs and watched the show from a table next to the stage. The group left around 1:30 a.m. and Tyson, clad in shorts and a T-shirt, signed autographs outside for customers and even a homeless person or two. Then he drove off with his companions in a blue Rolls-Royce that was brought around by his chauffeur.

Gore's Race Has a Steady Pace

* "It's interesting," Vice President Gore mused as we dropped farther and farther behind in last Saturday's Race for the Cure. "At the beginning of the race, people sprint right by, and then by the middle they've completely broken down and you run right past them." Are you talking about the presidential campaign? "No!" Gore briskly replied, making sure we understood that he could go much, much faster if he wanted, but was sticking to this leisurely pace out of deep concern for The Source. "Are you doing all right?" Tipper Gore kept asking us. We stuck with the Gores along the 5K route through downtown and Capitol Hill, checking in with them as they get ready to start the biggest race of their lives. This one, they finished in just under half an hour. "When you report my time," the vice president admonished, "please say I got confused and didn't realize that I wasn't supposed to make two loops instead of one." Sure thing.

Believe It or Not

* Who says Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott isn't a responsive public servant? In the best tradition of investigative journalism, we've been attempting to uncover the root cause for this photo of Talbott during negotiations in Moscow--persistently asking: "Why Is This Man Laughing?" At long last, he's phoned in his answer: "I wasn't laughing. I was yawning."

CAPTION: David Hyde Pierce saw his father fall to Alzheimer's.

CAPTION: Mike Tyson, once more a man about town.

CAPTION: Al and Tipper Gore complete the Race for the Cure.