People talk 4/11/02

Celebrity sidekick takes company to court

LOS ANGELES -- Ed McMahon has filed a $20 million lawsuit against his insurance company, claiming he was sickened by toxic mold that spread through his Beverly Hills home.

The lawsuit seeks damages for alleged breach of contract, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

McMahon and his wife, Pamela, said a plumbing pipe burst in July, flooding their den with water. Mold was found in the den a month later, the lawsuit says.

The couple alleges the mold spread to other parts of the house, including the air conditioning ducts.

They claim they became seriously ill and their dog died from mold-related illness.

The 79-year-old McMahon, best known as the sidekick to former "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson, said he was coughing and congested for months, forcing him to cancel several speaking engagements and take antibiotics.

They've moved out of the 8,000-square-foot home and are renting a $23,000-a-month house as they try to resolve their dispute. The removal of the toxic mold has not been completed, said McMahon lawyer Allan Browne.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Superior Court, names American Equity Insurance Co., two insurance adjusters and several environmental cleanup contractors. A spokeswoman for the insurance company declined to comment.

'Foolish' album gives singer top spot

NEW YORK -- Ashanti's fans are no fools -- they bought more than 500,000 copies of her debut album during its first week in stores. The R&B singer's self-titled "Ashanti," which features the hit single "Foolish," topped the album charts for the week ending April 7, according to industry figures released Wednesday.

She also topped Tweet, another R&B newcomer, whose debut album, "Southern Hummingbird," sold 195,000 copies in its first week.

Celine Dion, who was No. 1 last week, fell one spot with "A New Day Has Come." Dion's first studio album in five years sold about 263,000 copies.

Actress used courage to overcome adversity

MUNCIE, Ind. -- Deaf actress Marlee Matlin said having the courage to dream helped her overcome her disability.

Matlin told Ball State University students and others Tuesday that being deaf gave her the courage to take up acting because she realized that barriers can be broken.

"I am living testimony to that," said the 36-year-old actress, who has been deaf since she was 18 months old.

Matlin, who plays Joey Lucas on NBC's "The West Wing," won a best-actress Oscar for the 1986 film "Children of a Lesser God."

During her visit Tuesday to the Muncie campus, she asked audience members to hand sign the words "courage," "dream" and "success."-- From wire reports