TOP OF THE NEWS: Autopsy results show Sonny Bono, the hippie popster of Sonny & Cher who became a Congressman, died instantly from head injuries suffered when he skiied into a tree Monday at a resort along the California-Nevada border, authorities said this afternoon. The death was declared accidental. Bono was 62.

CHER REACTS: Cher is said to be returning to the U.S., canceling a scheduled Wednesday in-store appearance at London's Harrods department store. Cher was in London when she learned of Bono's death. She was married to Bono during their recording and TV variety-show heyday, from 1964 to 1975.

WASHINGTON REACTS: "There's a hole left in this Congress." That's the take this morning from Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on the death of Capitol Hill colleague Sonny Bono.

ACTOR ARRESTED: Actor Mykelti Williamson, best known for playing the shrimp-obsessed Bubba in Forrest Gump, has been sprung from jail in Los Angeles today, freed on $180,000 bail. Police arrested Williamson Monday night on suspicion of stalking his ex-wife and stabbing her male companion. The stabbed man remains hospitalized in critical condition.

THE GRAMMYS: Producer-turned-performer Babyface was top dog as nominations for the 40th annual Grammy Awards were tallied this morning. He led all comers with eight nods. Paula Cole, who emerged in 1997 with the hit, "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" was a surprise big winner, nabbing a whopping seven nominations.

GRAMMYS ADD: Bob Dylan finally received a vote of confidence from Grammy voters with the first-ever Album of the Year nomination of his 36-year career. Other contenders for that top honor: Babyface, Paula Cole, Paul McCartney and Radiohead.

O.J.'S MOTIVE: A theory on why O.J. Simpson would kill ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson--from O.J. Simpson himself: If he did it, the former footballer tells Esquire magazine, "it would have to have been because I loved her very much, right?"

WILD GAME: The Man has ceased to hassle Ted Nugent. Charges relating alleged deer miscounting at Nugent's game preserve in Michigan have been dropped.

OUT OF BUSINESS: Neil Simon latest Broadway play, Propals, will close Saturday, after only 76 performances and 11 previews. January is the cruelest month for Big Apple shows trying to brave the tourist drought.

MUSICAL MAKEOVER: Meanwhile, one Broadway show that's still alive--barely--has just gotten a makeover. Paul Simon's debut effort, The Capeman, has just changed directors, with Tony-winning veteran Jerry Zaks coming on board.

OBITUARIES: Singer John Gary ("Soon I'll Wed My Love") has died from cancer in a Dallas hospital. He was 65...Record producer Nik Venet, who signed the Beach Boys to Capitol Records, has lost a battle to a form of lymphoma. He was 61.

DI'S WORLD: If you watch TV newsmagazines, you probably already know this: Princess Diana was, by far, the genre's most popular subject in 1997. A stunning 696 TV stories profiled the late royal, according to a new study of tubeland mag shows. The next most popular topic: murdered pint-sized beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.

OSCAR WATCH: So, just how many feature films are eligible for the 1997 Academy Awards? Glad you asked. The total: 275. It's not known if Titanic was counted twice. Nominations will be announced February 10.

CHEERS! Ted Danson, Shelley Long and Kelsey Grammer are among the Cheers alumni slated to reunite for a special tribute to the classic TV sitcom at the upcoming U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado.

TOUTING TONTO: A Native American group plans to induct Jay Silverheels, the actor who played Tonto on TV's Lone Ranger, into its Hall of Honor. The ceremony is scheduled for next month. Unfortunately, Silverheels died in 1980.

PARTY ON: Bidding war! MTV, Lifetime, Family Channel, USA and TNT are among the cable networks said to looking at buying the rerun rights to Fox's acclaimed drama series, Party of Five. The shows would be available for air, starting next fall.

DON'T ASK: How's this for cutting-edge humor: A guy in a dress!!! Yawn. That was the reaction from channel surfers to the Sunday night premiere of Ask Harriet, Fox's heavily promoted new sitcom. The show bowed to lousy ratings, dragging down a time slot usually held by hit King of the Hill.

NEW OLD STUFF: Live radio recordings made by the Rolling Stones more than 30 years ago have been uncovered by those diligent archivists at the BBC. And like that Beatles-on-the-BBC release a couple years back, the Stones cuts may just find their way on to a CD, too.

STARRY DAY: Feel free to walk all over Bob Hope--again. More than 200 Hollywood Walk of Fame stars put in storage to make way for Los Angeles' rumored subway system--including Hope's--have been cleared to hit the streets again. Workers begin reinstalling the markers today.

MAD COWBOYS: In Texas, pre-trial arguments started today in the case of the Cattlemen vs. Oprah Winfrey. The ranchers are steamed at Oprah for giving a TV forum to a guest who warned viewers about mad-cow-tainted beef in the U.S.

DIVORCE COURT: The nasty divorce between Kirstie Alley and Parker Stevenson moved to Maine's Supreme Court Monday. At issue: Where did the couple live? She says Maine; he says California. The big deal: If California's the place, the duo will have to split everything 50-50.

HEE HELP! It was a stroke that sent beloved Hee Haw hick Grandpa Jones to Nashville hospital Saturday night. Doctors say the banjo-pickin' comic, who became dizzy during a Grand Ole Opry performance, is in critical condition. Jones is 84.

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