Newsmakers

Dancer in the Dark

Luther Vandross's 15th album, "Dance With My Father," is already gold with a million copies presold--and it doesn't even hit stores until Tuesday. But the achievement is bittersweet: the 52-year-old R&B crooner is still in the intensive-care unit of a New York hospital, in a state of semiconsciousness, two months after suffering a massive stroke.

His good friends Aretha Franklin and Cissy Houston (Whitney's mom) each held candlelight vigils for him, and Vandross's nieces have filled his hospital room with some of his favorite music--by Dionne Warwick and the Shirelles. "I hold his hand and pray with him,'' says his mother, Mary Vandross. "Right after the stroke, he was in grave danger; it was very touch and go. But I feel that it is just a matter of time before he improves. I believe there is nothing too hard for God.''

Last week the singer gave his family a glimmer of hope when he opened his eyes and appeared to recognize faces for the first time since the stroke. But doctors still don't know his chances for recovery, and they've had to deal with a number of complications, from his blood pressure to his diabetes. He's also battled pneumonia, which required a tracheotomy.

Vandross, who'd been planning a tour for his new album, was particularly proud of the wrenching title track, written in honor of his late father. That's one reason his mother insisted that J Records release the album as planned. "We didn't really know what to do,'' said a spokesperson for the label. "But she knew what this album meant to him and wanted it to be out when he awoke.'' This week Queen Latifah, Eve and Beyonce Knowles (who joins Vandross on the album in a killer cover of "The Closer I Get to You") will host the record's launch in Chicago. But without the soulful star of "Here and Now" there and then, it's likely to be a poignant party.

--Allison Samuels

Matthew Perry

On hiatus from "Friends," Matthew Perry is making his stage debut in London, playing a snide seducer in David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." The show's a surprise hit, proving that the Brits adore Chandler Bing almost as much as they do Prince William. NEWSWEEK's Sean Smith chatted on the phone with Perry backstage at Comedy Theatre just before curtain.

You just broke the record for advance-ticket sales in London theater history. How'd that happen?

That is just insane. I had no real idea of the success. I was just trying to learn my lines and not vomit in the wings.

In fact, you broke the record set by Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith in "Breath of Life." You kicked the asses of two of the greatest lights in British theater!

Yeah! Last night they showed up, and I did that literally. When you're fighting Judi Dench, you gotta go to the body.

"Friends" is huge there. So is the play a hit because you're in it--or will Brits see anything with "sexual perversity" in the title?

[Laughs] I think people will see anything with me and "sexual perversity" in the title. You know, the play is a brutal look at relationships. It's a very raunchy, chaotic view, which is startling to some London audiences.

It's been almost 30 years since Mamet wrote this play. In your experience, have relationships between men and women changed much?

Well, my character isn't allowed to go up to women and say, "Hi, I'm on 'Friends.' Wanna go out?" So that makes it, uh, harder.

Speaking of "Friends," this year will be your last season. Are you ready to let it go?

It's definitely going to be sad. But I think it's time to be done. When the universe shuts a door, another one opens somewhere, and it's your job to find where that is. One of the wonderful things about this experience is that I've realized I love acting on the stage.

So Dames Dench and Smith should be worried. Is there anything they could beat you at?

[Laughs] They're absolutely brilliant. I could beat them at tennis, maybe, and that's it.

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