Former California Congressman Gary Condit has settled an $11 million defamation lawsuit he filed against Dominick Dunne for comments the writer and Vanity Fair correspondent made about Condit’s alleged role in the 2001 disappearance of intern Chandra Levy, whose body was found in a park in Washington, D.C., in May 2002.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Dunne, who must pay an undisclosed sum and issue an apology, said in a statement that he did “not say or intend to imply that Mr. Condit was complicit in her disappearance, and to the extent my comments may have been misinterpreted, I apologize for them.”

In his lawsuit, Condit said he had no involvement in Levy’s disappearance or death, contending Dunne’s statements led millions of people to believe he was criminally involved.

Tolkien ready to stage

The long-awaited musical adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” is finally ready to take the stage. The $22 millions show, which is riding hard on the heels of the mega-successful Peter Jackson-helmed film adaptations, is set to open in Toronto next March and travel to London six months later.

“We are going to have to break new ground. It is a hybrid of text, music, spectacle and physical theater,” producer Kevin Wallace said Tuesday.

But lest “Dungeons & Dragons”-playing Tolkien purists stage an armed revolt, Wallace vowed that “there will be no singing-and-dancing Hobbits. The music will be in a very traditional mold and draw on ethnic traditions.”

‘Idol’ Mario at all-time high

It looks as if Mario Vazquez’s abrupt decision to quit Fox’s “American Idol” on Sunday may have been the best career move the 27-year-old singer ever made. Mario fever is at an all-time high, as every conscious being in the universe continues to utter the dude’s name and ask, “Why?”

“I know that people find it a bit crazy and they don’t understand,” Vazquez, who was favored to win on “Idol,” told the New York Daily News.

He’s right. Trillions of fans have posted countless messages rife with befuddlement, disappointment and sadness – not to mention half-cocked theories – on “Idol’s” Web site. Some say Vazquez left because he didn’t want to be trapped by the “Idol” contract – the winner must sign a record deal with the show’s executive producer that some believe is restrictive.

Others speculate he has nasty or just plain embarrassing skeletons in his closet. But Vazquez tells The Associated Press that’s simply “crazy.”

Then there’s the Michael Jackson connection. Vazquez sang backup on “Whatever Happens,” from Jackson’s 2001 “Invincible.” Which means – of course – that Vazquez, like every single person Jackson has ever met, will have to testify in Jackson’s child-molestation trial.

“Crazy, that’s how it goes,” Mario sings in reply. “No, I’m not.”

Dropping out is just the beginning. There’s no greater proof of that than an invitation from David Letterman: Vazquez was scheduled to deliver the Top 10 List on Tuesday night’s “Late Show” on CBS.

WHO’S THAT MERMAID?

From dancing Hobbits to rockin’ mermaids: The Hollywood Reporter says Roger Daltrey of iconic rock band The Who is set to star as the bad guy in a mermaid-drama pilot for the WB.

The “Splash”-esque tale sounds like an instant classic: Nathalie Kelley will play a scaled and tailed sea lass who tries to live life on land in Miami, with Daltrey ostensibly saying and doing mean things to her.

SCENTED CASTING

The Hollywood Reporter says there’s a green light for a film adaptation of novelist Patrick Suskind’s exquisitely twisted international best-seller “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman of “Harry Potter” films.

Tom Tykwer, of “Run Lola Run” fame, will direct the flick, which is set in 18th-century Paris and is about a man’s obsessive quest to bottle the scent of a beautiful young virgin.

Billy Joel checks in

There shall be no bottle of white – or red or rose – for Billy Joel. According to his rep, the Piano Man, 54, “has checked himself into an undisclosed rehabilitation facility for treatment of alcohol abuse.”

Joel was rushed to the hospital last month after experiencing severe gastric pains. He’s been in rehab once since February 2002, and hospitalized twice as a result of car accidents.

And yes, Billy, we ­- still – like you just the way you are.

Willis gropes Lohan

So did Bruce Willis and teen sensation Lindsay Lohan have what the New York Post has described as a “gropefest” at a party for the opening of Willis’ latest action flick, “Hostage”?

Sorry, we offer no salacious details. There wasn’t even an errant look between the action god, who turns 50 on Saturday, and the 18-year-old star of “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.” It’s the innocence here that’s touching: The Post says Lohan is buds with Willis’ eldest daughter, Rumer.


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