'Benson' & 'Star Trek' Actor Rene Auberjonois Dead at 79 ... Son Cites Lung Cancer

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Rene Auberjonois -- who starred in "Benson," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and several other hit shows over the decades -- has died.

The veteran TV, movie and voice actor passed away Sunday at his L.A.-based home after a battle with metastatic lung cancer, according to his son, Remy, who spoke to the Associated Press.

Auberjonois is perhaps best known as Clayton Endicott III on "Benson" -- the snobbish chief of staff to Governor Eugene X Gatling in the hit '80s sitcom -- which itself was a spinoff of "Soap." He played the role for 6 seasons, acting in 135 episodes through 1986.

In the '90s, he went on to play Odo on 'Deep Space Nine' opposite Avery Brooks -- starring in all 173 episodes. His TV career was even more prolific beyond that though -- Auberjonois had supporting roles in hits like "NET Playhouse," "Rhoda," "Charlie's Angels," "Frasier," "Starsky and Hutch" "The Jeffersons," "L.A. Law," "Matlock," "Boston Legal," "Madam Secretary" and many, many more.

As far as movies are concerned, he might be best remembered as Father John Mulcahy in "M.A.S.H." ... and for voicing Chef Louis in "The Little Mermaid." He acted in plenty of others too -- 'Police Academy 5," "King Kong," "The Patriot," "Eyes of Laura Mars," "Batman Forever," etc.

The guy might've been an even busier voice actor, having lent his talents to animated series like "Jonny Quest," "Pound Puppies," "The Looney Tunes Show," "Scooby-Doo," "Archer," "Justice League" and a bunch of others. In short, he worked a lot ... and had an extensive resume.

Auberjonois is survived by his wife, Judith, his 2 children and three grandchildren. He was 79.

RIP

Big Bird Puppeteer Caroll Spinney Dead at 85 ... 'Sesame' Resident Since '69

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Caroll Spinney -- the guy who manned Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on "Sesame Street" for nearly half a century -- has died.

Spinney passed away Sunday at his Connecticut home after living with Dystonia for a while, according to Sesame Workshop ... the nonprofit org behind the hit children's television show. Dystonia is a movement disorder in which a person's muscles contract uncontrollably.

Incredibly, the longtime puppeteer worked on the show for 49 years ... and retired from 'Sesame' just last year. He had been on the show since its early days in 1969. Besides being the man behind Big Bird, Spinney also handled and voiced Oscar the Grouch.

The legendary Jim Henson brought Spinney on-board, and by most accounts ... he struggled bringing Big Bird to life at first and having him resonate with the audience. Eventually, Spinney said he turned BB into a "big kid" character -- and the rest was history.

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He starred in thousands of "Sesame Street" episodes -- more than any other cast member -- and it was certainly no walk in the park controlling the 8-foot bird costume. Spinney said he would have to hold the 5-pound head up with his right hand and work the mouth and eyebrows on that end ... while controlling both arms with just his own left one.

There was a fishing wire that connected both extremities inside the suit, and Spinney would operate both by using just his left side. Oscar, no doubt, was much easier to work.

He's survived by his wife, Debra, and his three children. Spinney was 85.

RIP

Jeff Ross Welcome to the Jewish Tribe, Tiff ... Come One, Come All!!!

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Jeff Ross is welcoming Tiffany Haddish to the Jewish faith with open arms -- and he's also inviting anyone else of color to get on-board and enjoy the perks of Tribe membership.

The comic gave us his two cents Saturday outside of his Roastmaster's pop-up coffee shop on Ventura Blvd. in L.A. -- telling us what he made of Tiff recently embracing her Jewish heritage and celebrating it with a Black Mitzvah in conjunction with a new comedy special.

Watch ... Jeff seems ecstatic over the news and gives her a couple tips on how live like a Jew. He also has a message for other black celebs who are thinking of converting ... which sounds like great material he might use in a roast setting. That's sorta his thing.

Our photog pivots to Hanukkah, asking if Jeff thinks TH might enjoy that over a traditional Christmas. He's got a hilarious take on that too ... comparing Tiffany to a menorah.

'Tis the season ... to let the edgy jokes fly. Happy holidays!!!

Ex-'Bachelor' Chris Soules Surfaces in H'wood 1st Time Since Fatal Crash

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Chris Soules seems ready to put his recent past behind him ... showing face in Hollywood for the first time since he was busted for fleeing the scene of a fatal crash.

The former 'Bachelor' was out Friday night at KIIS FM's iHeartRadio Jingle Ball in L.A., where he certainly didn't shy away from the cameras ... posing for pics as he went in with a full smile on his face. It's his first major public appearance in Tinsel Town since 2017.

While it might've looked like a comeback attempt, Chris told ET he wasn't attempting to return to the spotlight ... and that he was just tagging along with other 'Bachelor' pals.

You'll recall ... Chris was arrested in April 2017 after cops said he'd rammed his pickup truck into a John Deere tractor and sent the driver flying into a ditch. The man ultimately died.

Chris stuck around on the scene until EMTs showed, but bounced before the police could arrive. They caught up to him later at his house and made the arrest. Just earlier this year, Chris finally accepted a plea deal from prosecutors that kept him out of jail.

He was handed down a 2-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury ... an aggravated misdemeanor.

Ron Liebman 'Friends' & 'Norma Rae' Star Dead at 82

Ron Liebman, the award-winning actor who starred in 'Norma Rae,' has died in New York City ... according to his family.

Ron passed away from pneumonia on Friday in his hometown after a long and illustrious career on stage, film and TV.

He costarred with Sally Field as Reuben, the union rep who inspires the title character in 1979's "Norma Rae." He also had important roles in "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Night Falls on Manhattan" and "Garden State."

Younger audiences will recognize Ron as Rachel's often-disappointed dad on "Friends."

He won an Emmy in 1979 for his starring role in "Kaz" ... a short-lived drama he co-created and wrote -- and also won a Tony for "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches" in 1993.

Most recently, Ron was the voice of Walter, Malory Archer's husband, on the FX hit animated comedy, "Archer."

He's survived by his wife, actress Jessica Walter, whom he married in 1983.

Ron was 82.

Justin Hartley I'm Moving On From My Wedding Ring ... After Filing For Divorce

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Justin Hartley is getting back to work after filing divorce docs, and he's doing it with a little less weight ... on his left hand.

Check out these pics of Justin Thursday on the set of a photoshoot -- you can clearly see his wedding ring is now MIA, which, honestly ... is to be expected at this point. As we first told you ... the "This Is Us" star filed to divorce actress Chrishell Stause 2 weeks ago ... after 2 years of marriage.

Justin's filing appears to have blindsided Chrishell ... because there's a huge 5-month difference in their accounts of when they separated. He says they separated on July 8, but in her response, she lists it as Nov. 22 ... the day Justin filed the divorce petition.

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The breakup is proceeding quickly now. Chrishell packed up her things Wednesday and moved out of the former couple's L.A. home and into a place of her own.

Justin ditching his wedding ring, publicly, the very next day is a sure sign he's moving on too.

'Greenleaf' Star Lamman Rucker I Feel Sorry for Kid Rock ... But Lay Off Oprah, Man!!!

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Lamman Rucker's got mixed reactions to Kid Rock's drunken rant -- he sticks up for his "aunties," Oprah and Joy Behar ... but says he feels compassion for whatever the rock star's going through.

The "Greenleaf" star -- whose show airs on Oprah's OWN channel -- was at LAX Wednesday when we asked about Kid Rock's latest controversy ... he tells us it makes him uncomfortable. He says he can't understand why the musician would attack these 2 women ... but suggests maybe he's not in a good state of mind.

On the plus side, he doubts Oprah's losing any sleep over the situation ... and believes she's got love and understanding for whatever KR's dealing with.

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We broke the story ... Kid Rock went off on Oprah and Joy at his Honky Tonk bar in Nashville last week, and many thought his rant got racist despite his insistence it wasn't.

The backlash was severe regardless, especially in his hometown of Detroit, and led to his decision to bail on his Made in Detroit restaurant at Little Caesars Arena.

Kid says he's still got love for the city, but he's learned to "go where you're celebrated, not tolerated," adding, "I guess the millions of dollars I pumped into that town was not enough."

He also insists, again, he's not racist and supports the black community.

Sounds like he could have an ally in Rucker ... but only if he leaves Oprah alone from here on out.

'Tarzan' Star Ron Ely Police Video from Fatal Encounter with Actor's Son

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"Tarzan" star Ron Ely's son's fatal encounter with cops was caught on camera ... and you can hear police giving commands before unloading a deadly barrage of bullets.

TMZ's obtained police footage of the officer-involved shooting that killed Ron's 30-year-old son, Cameron Ely, outside his parent's California property after Cameron allegedly stabbed his mother, Valerie Lundeen Ely, to death.

While you don't actually see Cameron get shot to death, the video rolls from the hood of a police cruiser through the whole incident. You hear a deputy clearly order Cameron to keep his hands up before dozens of gunshots ring out.

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Another deputy then says there's a gun under Cameron -- but cops later concluded Cameron was unarmed -- and only faked having a weapon.

As we reported ... police rushed to Ron's Hope Ranch property after Cameron called 911 at some point after killing his mom. The operator said Cameron was crying and out of breath.

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Ron, who played "Tarzan" on the 1960s TV series, was not hurt during the incident and there's no mention of him in the police footage.

Waka Flocka Flame Gabrielle's Firing Was Racist, IMO ... Black People Should Boycott 'AGT'!!!

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Waka Flocka Flame believes there were clear racial motives behind Gabrielle Union's 'AGT' firing, and says it's now on the black community to stop supporting companies that have problems with the culture.

Gabrielle's feud with 'AGT' is striking a chord with Waka, and he unloaded when we got him in Atlanta -- telling us he's proud of Gabrielle for speaking out about what was allegedly going down at 'AGT.'

As you know ... Gabrielle feels she was given the boot because she complained to NBC and 'AGT' producers about racially insensitive situations on set -- including producers giving her excessive notes about her hair, wardrobe and physical appearance.

Waka says Gabby's a role model -- because black people in similar situations need to push back and stand up for themselves when someone asks them to change who they are.

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Gabrielle also had issues with Jay Leno joking about Koreans eating dogs while he was guest judging. Jay won't say if the joke is racist, and has been mostly mum on the whole controversy.

We ask Waka if we're living in a society that treats racism as a joke, and he says anyone over 40 who is still acting racist is "f***ed up," and needs to stop teaching racism to younger generations.

Pretty fascinating conversation, and Waka doesn't hold back at all.

Heather Locklear 'I Feel Fabulous' ... All Smiles at Joe Rogan Gig

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Heather Locklear seems to be in great spirits these days, and that's thanks, in part, to a little old-fashioned comedy.

We got the actress leaving the Hollywood Improv Tuesday night, where she took in a Joe Rogan show. Judging by Heather's reaction, Rogan must have killed it. She's a fan.

Heather tells us she feels fabulous and is doing well ... and even hints a showbiz comeback of sorts could be in the works. She also says she'll be spending the holidays hanging with her fam.

This is the second time we've seen Heather on an upswing -- in October she was celebrating her daughter Ava's 22nd birthday and looked happy then, too. Great to see after what's been a rocky last year.

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We broke the story ... Locklear was ordered to a mental health facility in August by a judge in her police battery case. She spent 30 days there in order to avoid jail after pleading no contest to 8 misdemeanors, including 6 involving battery on a police officer or EMT.

She was hospitalized for a psych evaluation right before her June arrest and was also placed on a psychiatric hold in November 2018.

Clearly, Heather's doing much better now ... and that's indeed fabulous.

Sherri Shepherd Husbands Buying Pelotons for Wives Are Living Dangerously!!!

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Sherri Shepherd has some advice for hubbies looking to whip their wives in shape for the holidays with the help of a new Peloton -- go for diamond earrings instead, pal.

We talked to the comedian Tuesday night about Peloton's new severely mocked ad -- in which a wife documents the highs and lows of her fitness journey a year after her husband gifted her the workout bike for Xmas. It's hilariously awkward.

Sherri's take on the spot -- that might be why she's single. She mockingly said who wouldn't love a bike instead of diamonds and jewelry. Sherri added, she wishes a future husband would buy her a Peloton ... but you have to see HOW she says it.

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If you haven't heard the criticism so far, the general idea is that this fake TV husband is pretty freakin' tone-deaf with his gift. As for the wife ... well, people think she's not all there either with how gung-ho she seems to be about the suggestive surprise.

The criticism has hurt the company's bottom-line too -- its stock price dropped about 6 percent on Tuesday.

Sherri's got a hilarious explanation about why husbands should accept their significant others for who they are. Fellas, before you order that bike ... at least listen to her take. Could save ya in the long run.

Originally Published -- 8:19 AM PT

Jay Leno Calls Gabrielle Union a 'Great Girl' ... Mum on 'AGT' Firing Her

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Jay Leno's trying like hell to put a positive spin on the firestorm around Gabrielle Union's 'AGT' firing and his role in it, but for the most part ... he's at a loss for words.

Leno was asked point-blank Sunday night about Gabrielle calling him out to 'AGT' producers for making a joke about Koreans eating dog. On his way out of the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, CA ... Jay would only say he enjoyed working with Gabrielle, and she's a "great girl."

As for Gabrielle, and others, labeling his joke racist ... Jay pleaded the Fifth, but in his own unique way.

As we've reported, prior to her firing, Gabrielle complained to 'AGT' honchos about the workplace environment -- due to Leno's joke and what she reportedly called "excessive notes" from producers about her hair, wardrobe and appearance.

The insinuation from Gabrielle's camp is she was fired because she complained.

The photog asks Leno if he thinks Union was treated fairly -- he's refusing to commit one way or another.

Either way, her firing has garnered a lot of attention, and SAG-AFTRA has even announced it's investigating the matter ... but so far, it has nothing to report.

Felicity Huffman Lets Her Hair Down ... Sophia Picks Up a Book

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Felicity Huffman and her daughter were on the same page this weekend, but in different books -- with mom focused on getting a fresh 'do, while her kid zeroed in on studying.

The actress was out with 19-year-old Sophia Sunday at a beauty salon in Bev Hills ... where they were both preoccupied with their own activities. Felicity intently scrolled through her phone getting her hair done, and Sophia had her nose buried in a notebook.

It also looks like she was crunching some numbers on a calculator. Unless she's getting an early jump on taxes this year ... she might very well have been cramming for an exam of some sort.

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That's interesting, of course, because we know Sophia just graduated high school ... and didn't enroll in a university this past fall in the wake of her mom getting indicted -- and later convicted and jailed -- for paying $15k to fix Sophia's SAT score.

Lucky for her, the College Board is willing to give Sophia another bite at the apple with a legit SAT test in the future ... and she reportedly does want to attend college.

It's unclear if she was studying for an entrance exam -- but we checked, and there is an SAT scheduled for this upcoming Saturday.

And yes, old folks, you're allowed to bring a scientific calculator in for the math section.

Shelley Morrison 'Will & Grace' Star Dies at 83

Shelley Morrison -- who famously starred on "Will & Grace" as the maid, Rosario -- died Sunday from heart failure ... according to her publicist.

Shelley passed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her publicist, Lori DeWaal, told AP, the actress had a brief illness before her heart gave out at the hospital.

"Will & Grace" fans remember Shelley's role as Rosario Salazar from the show's original airings ... from 1999 to 2006. The story goes ... the show's writers only had the character in one episode, but her chemistry with Megan Mullally was so popular ... they kept writing her in more episodes.

Shelley would go on to appear in 68 episodes during the show's 8-year run. Debra Messing tweeted about her "dear Rosie" after getting the news of her death.

Now, Morrison was already a veteran actor by the time she became famous as Rosario. She'd started landing TV roles in the early 60s, and worked steadily as a charter actress in shows like, "Dr. Kildare," "Gunsmoke," "My Favorite Martian" and "The Partridge Family."

Shelley was 83.

RIP

'PLL' Star Ashley Benson Greets Super Fans with a SuperCall ... Makes These Kids' Day

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Ashley Benson brought holiday cheer early this year for a group of people who need it the most -- calling sick kids across the country ... and then popping into a hospital for some one-on-one time as well.

The "Pretty Little Liars" star recently partnered up with this new app called SuperCall, which gives people the opportunity to talk to their favorite celeb via FaceTime. On Thursday and Friday, Ash and SuperCall decided to ring up 50 hospitalized children with varying illnesses.

The result, as you can see, was nothing short of a tug of war at the heartstrings.

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Ashley spoke to each kid via SuperCall for 90 seconds, and it sounds like the topic of the day was Thanksgiving and favorite holiday meals. AB's is mashed potatoes, classic. On top of the call, Ashley and SuperCall also sent these young folks brand new iPhones.

As part of the initiative -- which was aimed at raising money that was donated to charity -- Ashley went ahead and visited the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and talked to a bunch of the patients, including some of the kids selected. Of course, everyone got a pic too.

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While there, it looks like Ashley took time to check in on the neonatal intensive care unit ... where premature babies are cared for. She's been open about the fact she herself was born prematurely, so clearly that hits home for her.

Good deeds, good causes ... good stuff all around.

Gabrielle Union 'AGT' Firing Jay Leno Joke Was NOT Racist ... Says Alonzo Bodden as Ellen Pompeo Backs Gabrielle

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Gabrielle Union's claims of a toxic workplace at 'AGT' has Ellen Pompeo sounding off in support of Gabby -- but now someone's also defending Jay Leno, saying his Korean joke wasn't racist at all.

You'll recall, Gabrielle reportedly feels she was canned because she complained to producers and NBC about racially insensitive situations on the 'AGT' set -- among them a joke Leno made, while guest judging, about Koreans eating dogs.

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We got comedian Alonzo Bodden -- himself a "Last Comic Standing" champ -- at the Laugh Factory and he stood up for Jay, explaining why he feels it was NOT a racist joke. In a nutshell, he says there's a big difference between playing off a "common stereotype" and attacking a specific person over race.

The Leno joke was edited out and never made air, but Alonzo still laughed off any thoughts of a 'Cancel Leno' movement. He also added Leno was the least of Gabrielle's issues on the show.

She reportedly also had issues with producers' "excessive notes" about her physical appearance, wardrobe and hair -- and Pompeo weighed in Thursday, calling Gabby courageous for taking a stand.

The "Grey's Anatomy" star also called out NBC for not changing "practices or culture" after Matt Lauer's sexual misconduct scandal.

Pompeo called for all women -- especially "white girls" -- to stand up for Gabrielle, and even Ariana Grande's now speaking up, too.