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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profiles of Robert Downey Jr., Morgan Freeman, Rufus Wainwright

Aired August 17, 2002 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: Next, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he's one of Hollywood's A-list actors, an Oscar nominee, a Golden Globe winner, barely out of diapers when he made his big screen debut.
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JAMES TOBACK, DIRECTOR: He made you like him immensely without trying.

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ANNOUNCER: But his ability always overshadowed by his addiction to drugs.

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MICHAEL FLEEMAN, CORRESPONDENT, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: How many second, third, fourth fifth chances is Robert Downey going to get?

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ANNOUNCER: Now, he's making life changes and trying to get on with his career.

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ROBERT DOWNEY JR., ACTOR: I can honestly say that it was time to move on.

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ANNOUNCER: Robert Downey Jr., dealing with the personal demons that still haunt him. And also...

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MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: Hope is a dangerous thing.

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ANNOUNCER: ... his award winning performances and unforgettable roles have placed him directly in Hollywood's hot spotlight, but when Morgan Freeman wants to cool off, you'll never guess where he heads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FREEMAN: People ask me, when I move back home, they say, "Oh, my gosh, you could live anyplace in the world you want."

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ANNOUNCER: Driving with Mr. Freeman. And later, he's a songwriter, a singer and a talented performer, but don't call him a pop star.

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RUFUS WAINWRIGHT, MUSICIAN/SONGWRITER: I'm certainly not a pop star and I'm not an opera star, but I guess I'm a popra star -- so hey.

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ANNOUNCER: His gender bending lyrics defy the main stream.

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WAINWRIGHT: I usually start with a heartbreak.

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ANNOUNCER: Rising artists, Rufus Wainwright. Their stories and more next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

ANDERSON COOPER, GUEST HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. For Paula Zahn, I'm Anderson Cooper. If anyone knows the pitfalls of Hollywood, it's Robert Downey Jr. and the gifted actor's long history of substance abuse has been a vicious cycle of recovery and relapse. But Downey now says he's finally had enough. Out of rehab, off probation and back at work, Downey is vowing yet again to stay drug free. Here's Sharon Collins.

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SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Downey Jr. is one of Hollywood's most recognizable and bankable stars.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Onto the stage, right now. Gentlemen!

COLLINS: Academy Award nominee for his star turn in "Chaplin"...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: And the Golden Globe goes to Robert Downey Jr., "Ally McBeal."

COLLINS: ... Golden Globe winner for his role in TV's "Ally McBeal."

DOWNEY: I scheduled it for your place...

COLLINS: Ratings for the series increased 11 percent after Downey joined the cast. Yet, for all his on-screen success, Downey's life off screen has become the stuff of bad drama. DOWNEY: It's like I have a shotgun in my mouth and I've got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.

COLLINS: But this past year, Downey apparently made a dramatic change in his life.

DOWNEY: For once, I had kind of done all the work and I could honestly say that it was time to move on and I -- you know, obviously, I, for once hadn't done something that made the judge angry and he put me in jail. He took me off probation.

COLLINS: In July, a California judge dismissed drug charges against Downey and ended his three-year probation after the actor successfully completed 12 months of treatment in a rehabilitation center.

PETER CASTRO, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: It was a live-in rehab for Robert Downey Jr. and he did it for 12 months. And he did it effectively and he got through it successfully.

COLLINS: At the courthouse, Downey gave a new spin to his metaphor, saying, "It's like I lost my gun license and I'm glad." After being pronounced clean and sober for more than a year, Downey is now focused on rebuilding his life professionally. Appearing in an Elton John video and starring in his first feature film in two years, "The Singing Detective," but rebuilding his personal life proves the greatest challenge ahead.

CASTRO: Rebuilding his relationship with his son, Indio, right now is still very, very difficult. He said so. It's been really hard, but they're making progress. I mean this kid knows what his father has gone through and the demons that he has and you know, he hasn't been around for him and obviously, there's a lot of resentment.

COLLINS: Since 1996, the 37-year-old Downey has starred in as many courtrooms; it seems, as in movies. Plagued by a vicious spiral of addiction...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All rise, please.

COLLINS: ... and recovery.

COLLINS: Robert Downey's colleagues are encouraged but cautious, fully aware that addiction is too often a recurring roll. Michael Chicklis is an actor and a recovering addict.

MICHAEL CHIKLIS, ACTOR: This is no joke. This is not a guy, you know, screaming for attention. This is a guy who cannot help himself. I don't think anybody in the town wants to read that headline that he's died.

COLLINS: His arrest last year at a California motel not only derailed Downey's career, but sent co-workers into panic mode. "Ally McBeal" executives ordered last minute rewrites and reshoots to remove Downey from the series. Before his abrupt departure, Downey did receive critical praise from the industry. DOWNEY: I just want to share this with my fellow parolees -- I mean, nominees.

COLLINS: Clues to Downey's persistent battle with substance abuse may be found in his early years. Born in the Bohemian neighborhood of New York City, Greenwich Village -- 1965, a time of free expression and experimentation. His father, Robert Downey Sr., was an underground film director, his mother, an actress. And from very early on, the younger of two siblings lived an actor's life.

DOWNEY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) going to die.

COLLINS: This is Robert Downey Jr. making his film debut at age 5. He played a puppy in his father's 1970 movie, "Pound," in which the actors played dogs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have a choice in doing anything else besides going into acting?

DOWNEY: No, and I think it was supposed to be that way. I think that the very dynamics of what family I was born into played into what I was supposed to do.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The lights go out, the wind is blowing...

FLEEMAN: I mean, he was right there on the edge as an actor even as a little boy. This is what his acting began as. You know, he wasn't doing, like, little commercials or whatever. He was on the cutting edge of filmmaking from a very young age.

COLLINS: A year later, after finishing the movie "Pound," Robert turned six. It was at this tender age that he was given his first taste of marijuana -- by his father.

ROBERT DOWNEY SR., FILMMAKER: I never knew back then that these drugs were dangerous, as we, all know now. I have nothing more to say. Sure, I regret it.

FLEEMAN: This is the early '70s, late '60s, early '70s. He is surrounded by artists, he is surrounded by drugs, he is surrounded by the counterculture. This is the kind of home that he grew up in.

COLLINS: The home he grew up in would not stay intact. By 1978, his mother and father divorced, forcing the 13-year-old to move cross- country to Los Angeles to live with his director father.

Robert went to school at Santa Monica High with celebrity names like Penn, Lowe, and Estevez. The young actors all walked the same hallways as Downey. He wanted what they had -- early fame.

HOWARD FINE, ACTING COACH: He started at an early age, and he came up as a member of the -- what we called then the Brat Pack and really separated himself because of his range of talent and depth and vulnerability. FLEEMAN: He's surrounded by industry people, actors, and these actors and these sons and daughters of actors recognized his talent. So he was talented among the talented.

COLLINS: But in 1982, after just two years at Santa Monica High School, Robert Downey Jr. dropped out. He decided to pursue an acting career full time. His drug use would follow.

DOWNEY: Well, for me, you know, growing up in school was just, you know, smoking pot all the time, you know, and then went to Samo (ph) High, loved -- the friends -- drugs in my family, drugs in a lot of my friends' families, you know, drugs in the '70s, in general, at least from where I was at, and I started really young, you know.

COLLINS: This is Downey 10 years later in a documentary, "The Last Party." Candid talk, recalling what his childhood years were truly like.

DOWNEY: My dad was an underground filmmaker. My mother was an actress.

R. DOWNEY SR.: I'm just happy he's here, that's all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you ever worried that he wasn't going to be here?

R. DOWNEY SR.: Many times.

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COLLINS: When the story of Robert Downey Jr. continues, his role of an addict becomes all too real.

ANNOUNCER: And later, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, Morgan Freeman's home away from Hollywood -- good music, good friends and good times.

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FREEMAN: What in the world makes me come back here? It took me about 20 years to figure that out.

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ANNOUNCER: That's still ahead on the PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

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ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

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COLLINS (voice-over): At age 16, Robert Downey Jr. was a high school dropout looking for a job. He decided to return to New York to live with his mother. He remained focused on a career in acting.

DOWNEY: I consider myself someone who needs to express himself creatively, and acting seems to be the most lucrative and attention- getting way of working it out right now. So, you know, let's see what happens.

COLLINS: Back in New York, Robert Downey quickly found work and a girlfriend. In 1983, on the set of "Firstborn," he met a striking 18-year-old girl. Her name, Sarah Jessica Parker. A romance sparked between the young couple off the set.

FLEEMAN: They lived together for several years in New York. He was a young struggling actor. She was a young struggling actress. And he said, amazingly, you know, they were able to get along despite his problems. He was using drugs at the time. I mean he was still part of the party scene and everything.

COLLINS: But after making just one movie, Downey made a jump to the small screen and to comedy. In 1985, he joined NBC's "Saturday Night Live," the popular comedy sketch series. He was a regular cast member for one season.

DOWNEY: Hey, can we get two (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and a shotgun for my buddy here?

COLLINS: Downey returned to films the following year, taking on a dramatic role in the 1987 movie "Less Than Zero."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And you did it. You did it to yourself, and you know it.

COLLINS: He played the troubled Julian, an out-of-control addict who fights to kick his drug habit.

FINE: How much of his personal life did he bring to that character? Probably quite a bit, you know. You root for him. It's the clown, who suffers, and under the smile, there's a pain, and you get that from him. So he's got a vulnerability that makes you like him, that makes you root for him.

COLLINS: Off screen, Downey had developed his own serious cocaine problem. Shortly after completing the movie, he entered a rehab facility for substance abuse. In addition to his drug addiction, Downey had to deal with the on again off again relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker. But as his personal life was in limbo, his career was coming together.

DOWNEY: Hi. My name's Jack Jericho.

COLLINS: Later that year, Downey landed his first leading role, playing a charming womanizer in "The Pickup Artist," directed by James Toback.

TOBACK: And he walked into my office at Fox on 57th Street and literally a minute after we started talking, I said, "By the way, you want to play the lead in this movie?" And he said, "Sure." He made you like him immensely without trying.

DOWNEY: So he wasn't killed, he was maimed. COLLINS: He received praise for his role as the manic soap-opera producer in "Soap Dish."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You do want me, don't you, David?

DOWNEY: In the weirdest way.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Because you are this close.

COLLINS: As "Soap Dish" wrapped, so did his seven-year relationship with Sara Jessica Parker. He soon fell in love again, this time with model Deborah Falconer. The two married in May 1992 and had a son, Indio, a year later. At age 27, with stability in his personal life, Robert Downey Jr. prepared for the role that propelled him to Hollywood's A-list, "Chaplin."

DAN AKROYD, ACTOR: The guy I hired did the best comedy drunk I ever saw, but he was old. I don't pay a 100 a week to juveniles.

DOWNEY: He was supported by -- you know, by something beyond. It's almost like, how do you play a better person than yourself? Not better, but let's just say a -- you know, someone who is -- who walked the walk for his whole life.

RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, DIRECTOR: We now have the opportunity of what Charlie introduced to little children...

COLLINS: Director Richard Attenborough hired Downey for the role.

ATTENBOROUGH: You had to have somebody who had this passion, this driving passion to do what he wanted to do, and you had to believe there was a mind behind the eyes. The camera, when it comes in close and it's in here, you can't deceive the camera.

COLLINS: Robert Downey Jr. was at the pinnacle of his career. He received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in "Chaplin." But away from the cheers and the cameras, he continued to be drawn to life in the fast lane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I read this article where you were quoted as being this bad boy of Hollywood and partygoer and this whole -- where is this guy?

DOWNEY: Oh, he's around, you know, and he'd be happy to jump back in at any time. I would just say that, you know, how long can danger work, you know. It ain't over till it's over. I hope it's over.

COLLINS: But in fact, it wasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you feeling, Robert?

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COLLINS: When we return to the story of Robert Downey Jr., drugs land the troubled actor in prison, and he reaches out to a psychiatrist for help.

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DR. MANIJEH NIKAKHTAR, PSYCHIATRIST: I said, "Robert, I believe that you have bipolar disorder." He said, "Yes, I do have bipolar disorder. There are period of times that I just -- I am so hyper, and I spend a lot of money, I'm irritable, and there are period of times that I go down."

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COOPER: In 1985, Robert Downey Jr. was just one of a group of up and coming comedians on "Saturday Night Live," which leads us to ask "Where Are They Now?"

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ANNOUNCER: In the 1980s, Anthony Michael Hall personified bumbling adolescence in movies like "The Breakfast Club."

ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL, ACTOR: And the school comes equipped with fire exits at either end of the library.

ANNOUNCER: In 1985, the 17-year-old actor joined Robert Downey Jr. on the cast of "Saturday Night Live". He, too, left after one season. So where's Anthony Michael Hall today?

Michael Hall, as he now prefers to be called, is still playing the acting field. He played Whitey Ford in HBO's "61" and appeared in "Freddie Got Fingered" and "Caveman's Valentine." Currently, he stars as Johnny Smith in USA Network's "Dead Zone." It's his first regular gig on a dramatic television series and was USA's most watched debut ever. He also plays guitar, sings and writes songs for his rock band, Hall of Mirrors.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will be right back.

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ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

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SEAN PENN, ACTOR: His particular case concerns me a great deal; because he's somebody I know personally and care a great deal about. I think he is a poster boy for the fact that prison doesn't cure it.

ROBERT SHAPIRO, ATTORNEY: I am shocked and saddened by the sentence today. I think it is wrong. I do not think it meets the ends of justice. It does not serve the community. It certainly does not serve Mr. Downey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you characterize the mood and the state of Mr. Downey right now? DANIEL BROOKMAN, ATTORNEY: Mr. Downey is very optimistic. He's upbeat about this. He's committed to moving on with his life.

COLLINS (voice-over): A life, which, in recent years, has been plagued with deep personal problems. His 7-year-old son, Indio, born in 1993, is now the centerpiece of a bitter divorce between Downey and his estranged wife, Deborah Falconer. The two separated in 1996.

TOBACK: The relationship I saw with him and Indio is as good a father-son relationship of -- as I've ever seen. I mean, they have a great rapport, and he treats his son with respect.

But Robert Downey is not ignorant of his life, of his habits, of who he is or what he is. No one can tell him stuff he doesn't know. It's a choice that he's making and that he's free to make and should be free to make, except as the law steps in and says, no.

COLLINS: The law has certainly been Downey's shadow. In 1996, the actor violated his probation when he fled from a detox center. His rehab stemming from several drug and weapons arrests, but a judge sent him back. A year later, he skipped a court-ordered drug test and spent the next four months in the L.A. County Jail.

In 1999, Downey skipped another drug test and was sent back to rehab, but this time a judge gave Downey hard time, state prison for nearly one year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I believe that concludes proceedings.

NIKAKHTAR: For the past several years, he's just going through the revolving door of rehab program and being arrested, which is too sad. Such a bright person and he's not a criminal. He is a victim of the drugs.

COLLINS: Downey wrote to Dr. Nikakhtar from prison, not as a patient, but to request information about her methods of treatment. Nikakhtar never became Downey's doctor, but she believes after three months in her care, he would have been clean.

NIKAKHTAR: Nobody uses drugs just for sake of using drugs. Nobody's using drugs to be arrested or saying be proud that I'm using drugs. They usually hide using drugs. They feel bad about using drugs, but why they use drugs is not a good piece of chocolate or pastry that tastes good. They use it to change their feelings. They're self medicating.

COLLINS: Thanksgiving weekend 2000, just four months after his release from state prison, Downey was busted again, this time in Palm Springs for cocaine possession and being under the influence of drugs.

FLEEMAN: He gets very complicated after he gets to Palm Springs. Strip clubs are involved. Strippers are involved. Next thing we know, there's a 9-1-1 call, saying there's a guy with drugs and guns at the Merv Griffin Resort. You better, you know, check it out. They show up. They knock on the door. He opens it up. He lets the cops in and they find the drugs.

COLLINS: He pleaded not guilty to the charges. A July 2001 court date was set. Downey remained free awaiting trial. Despite all his legal problems, despite his repeated pattern of relapsing into drug use, Hollywood keeps taking Downey back.

CHIKLIS: Hollywood has got a real short memory, you know. Well, because, you know, to a degree, it lives up to its cliche, it's vacuous.

FLEEMAN: Is Hollywood an enabler in all this, by giving him jobs, by telling him he's great and everything is fine and not using tough love? On the other hand, the guy's got to make a living. The interesting thing is that he never really had a problem in terms of his career and the drugs. It was always between jobs that he would have the problem

COLLINS: April 2001, Robert Downey was arrested yet again, this time in an alley outside a Culver City, California motel, allegedly under the influence of a controlled substance. Results from a voluntary urine test found that Downey had cocaine in his system the night of his arrest.

With a trial already pending, prosecutors chose not to file additional criminal charges, but the producers of "Ally McBeal" were not were not as forgiving. They released Downey from the show.

FLEEMAN: What were they going to do? They had no choice, but to try to change things around and continue without him. I mean they just -- they couldn't put it off. They had to complete the season.

CHIKLIS: I think there is a point of no return for some people. I think that sometimes people go so far and do so many things that they just feel like they can't come out. But in the case of Robert, I really don't think so. I think this guy probably has a lot of self hate about a lot of the things that he's done, but forgiveness is a huge thing.

DOWNEY: No contest.

COLLINS: July 13, Robert Downey Jr.'s day in court.

UNIDENTIFIED JUDGE: Mr. Downey, I want to tell you, this is not a gift.

COLLINS: Days before the trial, the California legislature passed Proposition 36, a law calling for treatment rather than jail time for non-violent drug offenders. Downey got three year's probation and was ordered to continue his treatment.

JAMES EPSTEIN, DOWNEY'S ATTORNEY: He's very motivated to overcome the problem he has and we're all very encouraged.

COLLINS: Court officials were also encouraged. At the actor's hearing last month, positive probation reports ended his three-year probation. CASTRO: It's impossible to tell with Robert Downey Jr. if this is really the last time because he has disappointed us so many times. But that said he seems like he's really together and on the road to recovery finally.

COLLINS: Robert Downey's future seems to be looking up. He just finished shooting a feature film produce by Mel Gibson, once again taking the leading role on screen and trying to take control of his own life.

DOWNEY: Things are a little different now than they were a couple years ago, you know. I'll just keep doing what I have to do to keep it that way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Although Robert Downey Jr. has wrapped filming on "The Singing Detective," the movie isn't expected out until sometime next year.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Morgan Freeman's got the blues and he couldn't be happier.

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FREEMAN: The smartest moves I've made in life is to come back home.

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ANNOUNCER: And you won't believe where home is when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Actor Morgan Freeman is a highly regarded and successful actor with yet another summer blockbuster on his hands. "The Sum of All Fears" has earned more than $100 million in the U.S. alone. So why would Freeman have the blues? Well, it has something to do with the unlikely place he calls home. Here's Bruce Burkhardt.

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FREEMAN: Hot car! Hot!

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Morgan Freeman likes it hot and that's a good thing because it's hot here in Mississippi.

FREEMAN: This is downtown Clarksdale, the center of what's happening now.

BURKHARDT: A man of his accomplishments and wealth could live anywhere. With three Oscar nominations, a pimp, a prisoner and a driver of Miss Daisy, the respected actor chooses to live in the hot and humid Mississippi delta.

FREEMAN: People ask me when I moved back home, they said, "Oh my God, Mississippi, well, Jesus, you could live any place in the world you want. Why are you moving to Mississippi?" And I said, "Precisely because I can live any place in the world I want."

BURKHARDT: Freeman's ancestors were slaves who worked the fields of the delta. He spent 18 of his growing up years in Mississippi. He graduated from the Separate But Equal Black High School in Greenwood. He went to the movies and sat in the balcony. The ground floor was for whites only.

(on-camera): That didn't bother you?

FREEMAN: No, I went -- it can't bother you if that's the way life is. If you were raised up in Africa and you ate worms, it wouldn't bother you, would it? Would it? It's the same thing. If you're growing up in a segregated society, that's the way life is. It's -- I wasn't thinking about rising up and going to the Paramount and demanding to be led into the ground floor. I just wanted to go to the movies.

BILL LUCKETT (ph), FRIEND: This railroad track is what divided white and black Clarksdale when I was growing up.

BURKHARDT: Clarksdale lawyer, Bill Luckett (ph), also grew up in the delta.

LUCKETT (ph): Cam Grocery (ph), where I buy beer when I was 16. Here's the Blues Crossroads, this little place that's got the sign now that says Blues Shangri-La and we had some fun in there. Morgan and I had really had some great times listening to Super Chicken and some other bands.

BURKHARDT: Freeman and Luckett (ph) lived in paralleled universes, one white, one black. Now, the two are best friends.

FREEMAN: I have a dinner party to go to that night. He's not white.

BURKHARDT (on-camera): He's not?

FREEMAN: No.

BURKHARDT: What is he?

FREEMAN: Bill Luckett (ph). I don't look over and see a white guy. Does he look over here and see a black guy?

LUCKETT (ph): I don't see a black guy in him. We're just friends. We have a lot of similar interests. We like good food and good conversation, and lively crowds and having a good time together.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): The two turned their love of a good time into business ventures, a blues club called Ground Zero because Clarksdale, they say, is Ground Zero for the blues and an upscale restaurant, Madeedee (ph), just down the street from the club.

They've created jobs in an area that needs them, but Freeman downplays that. He says his motivation was selfish. He got tired of driving so far for good food and good music.

FREEMAN: The blues club is a necessity because we see so many people coming through here looking for the storied delta blues.

BURKHARDT: Freeman never thought he would end up here in Mississippi, but the delta kept calling him back.

FREEMAN: My aim in life when I graduated from high school was to get out of Mississippi. I started coming back in about 1979 because my parents moved back, which I couldn't understand. What in the world would make you come back here? It took me about 20 years to figure that out.

BURKHARDT: Freeman's first exposure to an integrated society was in 1955 when he joined the Air Force after high school. Many southern blacks discovered democracy in the military, Freeman found racism. He describes a conversation with a bunkmate from California who had a few misconceptions about black people.

FREEMAN: He told me all the things he had heard about, you know, just awful stuff to think about people. And in his last line -- and that was, "You're cleaner than I am." I thought, well, OK. Fine. That's one that sticks with me, that, you know, he's raised up to think that I was some kind of animal, you know.

BURKHARDT: To this day, Freeman believes Mississippi and the south are less racist than the rest of the country.

FREEMAN: I grew up in a segregated society, and that was purposely, obviously, openly segregated and I wasn't given any Business about or anything else. And then, it went up to the north and you see it and it's insidious. And it's painful and it's insidious, because you want to think something else is going on and it's not. You want to think you're free there. You're not.

LUCKETT (ph): We are much more integrated here than a number of cities. Right here, you'll drive on a street like this; there will be a white family, black family, white family, black family, right down these streets. This neighborhood, which for its entire life, until the last few years, was all white, is now a mixed race neighborhood.

BURKHARDT: But Luckett (ph) says the country club still has no black members, only black employees. And Freeman was thrown for a loop last spring. He got politically active on the issue of the Mississippi state flag. He wanted to get rid of the Confederate battle flag in the corner.

FREEMAN: The flag, the stars and bars has personal resonance for me because, to me, it doesn't represent so much the south as a very negative mindset that is not necessarily southern because you see that flag wherever you see skinheads and radical right wingers, neo-Nazis any hate group. BURKHARDT: Politicians put to it a statewide referendum. By an overwhelming 2-1 margin, Mississippians voted to keep the old flag. Black voters did not turn out. The flag didn't mean as much to them as it does to Morgan Freeman.

FREEMAN: It's pitiful. They still feel that they do not have a say. That's why they don't do it. That's the apathy part of it. It just doesn't matter what I -- you know, it's not going to change anything.

BURKHARDT: Freeman is putting his money where his mouth is to change Mississippi. His nonprofit foundation has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to schools and universities. Mississippi legislature officially acknowledged Freeman's dedication to education.

FREEMAN: One of the smartest moves I've made in life is to come back home.

BURKHARDT: On a full moon night, Freeman and Luckett (ph) did what generations of deltans have done, listen to somebody sing about feeling bad in hopes of feeling good. It's time to party. The occasion, the one-year anniversary of their blues club, Ground Zero. The crowd was mostly white. The owners hope that will change.

The next morning, Morgan Freeman made headlines in the Clarksdale "Press Register." By the afternoon, he was pumping his own gas. The delta is not colorblind yet, but for a man who grew up in a shotgun house in the segregated south, it, and he, have come a long way.

FREEMAN: This is home. This is the way I grew up. This is what I know. It's Mississippi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: He is one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood, but Morgan Freeman says he still worries that it could all be over tomorrow, that he could be out of a job. It's unlikely considering that Freeman already has two films slated for next year, including Stephen King's, "Dream Catcher."

ANNOUNCER: Coming up on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, Rufus Wainright's unlikely mainstream appeal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAINWRIGHT: ... and my new grandma...

I'm a popra star. A friend of mine actually invented that term. And it seems to have stuck.

... is the longest death...

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ANNOUNCER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

COOPER: It certainly seems an odd combination, a hint of opera and a touch of pop, but it works for Rufus Wainright. Coming up, a singer/songwriter whose father had an offbeat hit, but first here's this week's "Passages."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Ozzie Osbourne is welcoming another member on board the crazy train. Ozzie's wife, Sharon, tells the "New York Post" that the family has taken in 18-year-old, Robert Macado (ph). Macado's mother died of colon cancer last week -- that's the same type of cancer Sharon has. Macado (ph) has already been on the family's hit MTV show and will appear on next season's installments of "The Osbournes." Sharon says they want to send him to drama school, as if there isn't enough drama already in the home.

Adam Ant, the swashbuckling early '80s pop sing singer known for his song, "Goody Two Shoes" is apparently anything but. He pleaded guilty Tuesday to brawling in a London pub this past January. When the 80's rocker walked in wearing western garb, patrons reportedly began giggling and whistling the theme to the spaghetti western, "The Good The Bad and The Ugly." The 47-year-old singer reportedly left the bar, returned a short time later and threatened to shoot patrons with a starting pistol. So much for his song "Prince Charming."

Friends of the queen of cooking toasted Julia Child, who turned 90, on Thursday. Celebrations for the renowned chef included a birthday party in Napa. On the menu, a cake in the form of a stove. A Smithsonian opening Monday features the Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen Child cooked in on her famous TV show. As Child would say...

JULIA CHILD, CHEF: Bon Apetit.

ANNOUNCER: For more celebrity news you can sink your teeth into, pick up a copy of "PEOPLE" magazine this week.

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ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

COOPER: Rufus Wainright's musical style has been described as both lyrical and operatic. It is an unusual combination in the world of pop, but then again, Wainwright isn't your run-of-the-mill pop persona, which makes him one of our "People To Watch."

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WAINWRIGHT: Cigarettes and chocolate milk...

JASON FINE, SENIOR EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE" MAGAZINE: When we named Rufus Wainwright the Best New Artist of The Year in '98, there was nothing like him out.

WAINWRIGHT: Everything, it seems I like to...

FINE: You know he's a singer/songwriter but he makes lush pop music that's driven by piano and not by guitars.

WAINWRIGHT: I consider myself, on the one hand, I am a songwriter and I'm doing my thing, but I all do consider myself a singer as well.

LARRY SUTTON, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Rufus Wainright has a great musical pedigree. His dad is Loudon Winger III (ph). He's a folk singer who's still out there singing folk songs. His mom is Kate McGairgle (ph). She and her sister, Anna (ph) -- Kate and Anna McGairgle (ph), had a number of minor hits, I would say, in the '70s and '80s.

WAINWRIGHT: When they came out, when their careers started, there was a real movement. I mean it was the folk. It was in, you know, the early '70s and late '60s. And I -- on the other hand, I'm really fighting to survive. Musically, doing very well. I mean I'm happy with how it's going, but it is kind of a battle to just win the hearts and minds of people these days.

SUTTON: If you listen to Rufus Wainright, you can hear the melodies of his mother and the tone of his voice is very similar to his father's voice, very distinctive. You hear it and you know that's Rufus the moment you hear that voice.

WAINWRIGHT: I usually start with a heartbreak or some kind of devastating feeling. I feel like this odd machine that, you know, you put in heartbreak and then I write a song and I feel better, but then the song is kind of like the by product.

FINE: He's openly gay and he sings songs that are not, you know, gender ambivalent and he's very upfront and open about all that in his songs and that's what makes the songs so personal and so strong in some ways.

WAINWRIGHT: Honey, I'm a roller country clover...

WAINWRIGHT: Yes, they're pretty autobiographical in the sense and I try to erase a lot of the lines of whether it being now, then, or in my imagination or the subconscious because it seems like -- it seems like the older I get, the more unreal the world becomes.

WAINWRIGHT: ... but be where my heart can be up in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SUTTON: He's building a reputation for himself. He had a minor hit by doing a cover version of the Beatles song, "Across The Universe," which was played a lot on the radio. I think that got his name out there.

WAINWRIGHT: Nothing's going to change my world. Nothing's going to change....

I think my central mission is that I would just love to be able to be appreciated for the fact that I can just play a song, either with an orchestra, a band or alone at a cocktail party or by a fire and the songs themselves are -- you know, are good enough that they can be shown in many different lights.

One way is Rome and the other way is Mecca. Oh, read the sign. Oh, read the sign around (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SUTTON: On his latest album "Poses," there's more kind of popish feel to it.

WAINWRIGHT: In this one, I wanted to basically try and scale it down a little bit or it have be a little more subtle in its arraignments, and also just have my voice be the main focus of the album.

SUTTON: I think what Rufus Wainright is trying to do is become a little more mainstream.

FINE: He loves opera music. He loves dramatic music, but he also writes these very elegant pop melodies.

WAINWRIGHT: I'm certainly not a pop star, and I'm not an opera star, but I guess I'm a popra star -- so hey.

If I sane or wise -- let's say as a better word -- I would stop now, or I would realize that this is the best time of my life and that this is the best possible amount of fame and recognition to have. But, unfortunately, I'm -- and I think this is probably the same with any performer. I mean you just -- you always want that next carrot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Rufus Wainright's latest CD "Poses" was awarded this year's Outstanding Musical Album at the 13th GLAAD Media Awards, which are sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Well, that's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Next week, rock royalty from Bono to Bowie. I'm Anderson Cooper, thanks for joining us. We'll see you next week.

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