- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

British billionaire Richard Branson said Monday his venture to launch paying tourists into space has netted its 500th customer, and it’s none other than Ashton Kutcher.

According to the Associated Press, Mr. Branson made the announcement on his blog, saying he gave the actor a quick call to congratulate him.

“He is as thrilled as we are at the prospect of being among the first to cross the final frontier (and back!) with us and to experience the magic of space for himself,” Mr. Branson wrote.

Mr. Kutcher is among dozens of Hollywood types, international entrepreneurs, scientists, space buffs and others who have made deposits to be among the first to reach the edge of the Earth on Mr. Branson’s Virgin Galactic space line.

Mr. Branson has said the aim is to one day make traveling to space safe and affordable for the masses, not just those who can afford the current $200,000 ticket price.

The company will launch its spacecraft from Spaceport America, a specially designed terminal and runway built in a remote stretch of desert in southern New Mexico.

The company plans to begin commercial operations next year. Mr. Branson said he and his children plan to be on the first commercial flight.

Dame Edna prepares final stage show tour

Dame Edna Everage, the Tony Award-winning drag act known for her purple hair and oversized rhinestone eyeglasses, will soon open her final stage show tour in Australia.

Barry Humphries, the actor and satirist who created Australia’s self-proclaimed housewife-superstar 57 years ago, wants to take the farewell show, “Eat Pray Laugh,” to Britain and New York over the next two years after the two-month Australian tour that begins in Canberra on June 22, his publicist Kerry O’Brien said Tuesday.

At 78, Mr. Humphries said, the time has come to retire all his various alter egos from the stage, the most famous of whom is Dame Edna.

“She’s a little weary of touring and strange hotels,” Mr. Humphries told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio in Canberra, explaining his most enduring character’s decision to retire.

Another of Mr. Humphries’ characters, drunken Australian cultural attache Sir Les Patterson, will join Dame Edna on the farewell tour.

Dame Edna was a staple of television and stage in Britain and Australia before Mr. Humphries won a Tony Award in 2000 for his Broadway show “Dame Edna, The Royal Tour.” Its 2004 sequel, “Dame Edna, Back with a Vengeance,” was nominated for a Tony.

Herbie Hancock establishes International Jazz Day

Herbie Hancock believes what the world needs is a little jazz diplomacy.

The renowned jazz pianist’s first major initiative since being named a UNESCO goodwill ambassador in July is to establish International Jazz Day to be held on April 30 of every year. That date coincides with the last day of what has been celebrated as Jazz Appreciation Month in the U.S.

According to the Associated Press, this year’s inaugural event - organized by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in partnership with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which Mr. Hancock chairs - will include star-studded concerts in Paris, New Orleans and New York as well as jazz-related events in several dozen countries including Algeria and Uruguay.

Mr. Hancock said he had little difficulty lining up support for his proposal from the 195-member U.N. cultural organization “because so many countries have been affected in crucial ways over the years by the presence of jazz.”

Sean Penn’s work in Haiti honored by Nobel laureates

Actor Sean Penn is being honored by a group of Nobel laureates for his relief work in Haiti after the country’s devastating January 2010 earthquake.

Mr. Penn is to receive the 2012 Peace Summit Award at the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the Associated Press reports. The event will be held in Chicago next month and is expected to draw such luminaries as Poland’s Lech Walesa and the Dalai Lama.

Mr. Penn arrived shortly after Haiti’s quake and established an aid organization now known as J/P Haitian Relief Organization. The group has provided schools, medical care and housing to thousands of people displaced by the quake.

The actor issued a statement Monday calling the award an “extraordinary honor.”

George Michael to resume illness-shortened tour

George Michael said he is in good health and resuming a concert tour cut short when he contracted life-threatening pneumonia last year.

The former Wham singer was in the middle of an extensive tour when he fell ill in Vienna, Austria, in November. He spent several weeks in a hospital, and later said his survival had been “touch and go.”

According to the Associated Press, he announced Tuesday that the “Symphonica” tour would resume with two shows in Vienna on Sept. 4 and 6. Mr. Michael says he will give 1,000 tickets for the first concert to medical staff who helped treat him.

Compiled from Web and wire service reports.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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