- - Sunday, November 25, 2012

Imagine having William Shatner supply your outgoing voice-mail message. Or maybe you’d prefer Morgan Freeman coolly telling callers to wait for the beep. Or perhaps having Betty White joke around is more your speed.

All it takes is $299 and some luck.

The advocacy group Autism Speaks is offering custom-recorded messages from those celebrities as well as Will Ferrell, Carrie Fisher, Tom Hanks, Derek Jeter, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart and Ed Asner.

From Dec. 3 through 9, a limited number of 20-second-long MP3 messages will be recorded by each celebrity on a first-come, first-served basis for fans to do with as they wish. All requests must be of the PG variety.

Mr. Asner, the curmudgeonly Emmy Award winner of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant,” dreamed up the unusual fundraiser with his son Matt, who works for Autism Speaks.

“I think people will get a charge out of it,” said Mr. Asner, who is currently on Broadway in the play “Grace.” “I’ll probably say, ‘What are you wearing?’ Or, ‘Take it off.’ Something like that.”

All proceeds will support autism research and advocacy efforts.

If he could get a message from one of the other stars participating, which would Mr. Asner want?

“I’m awfully stuck on Will Ferrell, having been subjected to him in ‘Elf,’ ” Mr. Asner said. “But they’re all such standouts — Patrick Stewart, Leonard Nimoy, Shatner. The list doesn’t stop.”

‘The Power of One’ author dies of cancer at age 79

One of Australia’s best-selling and most popular authors, Bryce Courtenay, who shot to prominence with his first book “The Power of One,” has died at age 79, his family said Friday.

The South African-born Mr. Courtenay, who moved to Australia in the 1950s and sold more than 20 million books, had been suffering from stomach cancer and died at his Canberra home on Thursday.

“We’d like to thank all of Bryce’s family and friends and all of his fans around the world for their love and support for me and his family as he wrote the final chapter of his extraordinary life,” his wife, Christine, said on Facebook.

Mr. Courtenay’s biggest success was “The Power of One,” about a young English boy raised during the apartheid era in South Africa.

It was made into a successful movie starring Stephen Dorff, John Gielgud and Morgan Freeman, with James Bond star Daniel Craig appearing in his first major film role.

Mr. Courtenay did not let his fight with cancer slow him down, with his final book, “Jack of Diamonds,” being released this month.

He knew he was dying and in a moving epilogue in the book he wrote: “It’s been a privilege to write for you and to have you accept me as a storyteller in your lives.

“Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, ‘Thank you.’ You have been simply wonderful.”

Chris Brown cancels show in Guyana after protests

Organizers say R&B star Chris Brown has canceled a stadium concert in Guyana after local protests over his 2009 beating of then-girlfriend Rihanna.

Mr. Brown was billed to headline a Dec. 26 show, but he drew the ire of women’s rights groups and opposition lawmakers who said he would not be welcome in Guyana three years after his assault of Barbadian superstar Rihanna.

Concert promoter Hits & Jams Entertainment said Thursday that Mr. Brown backed out, citing discomfort with the protests, The Associated Press reports.

In 2009, Mr. Brown hit, choked and bit Rihanna during an argument in Los Angeles. He later pleaded guilty to assault.

Since then, Mr. Brown has worked to repair his image, undergoing violence counseling and putting out a new album. He has a duet with Rihanna on her recently released record.

‘Life of Pi’ star struggling to keep up with college

He may have shot to fame in one of the year’s most anticipated films, but the 19-year-old Indian star of “Life of Pi” appears to be having less luck with his academic career.

Suraj Sharma beat 3,000 other hopefuls when he was 17 to play the lead role in the Ang Lee-directed movie, but promoting the film around the world means he looks to lose a year at his New Delhi college.

The first-year philosophy student missed his first examination on Wednesday and was denied admission to appear for an exam Friday after apparently failing to produce assignments, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

“We all want to help him out. I was told he never submitted his assignments. He, in turn, says he lost them,” said vice principal Clement Rajkumar at the elite St Stephen’s College in the Indian capital.

In the film released last week, Mr. Sharma stars as Pi Patel, who travels from a zoo in India across the Pacific, where he survives a shipwreck and is cast adrift in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for company.

Shot in India and Taiwan, the 3-D flick is based on the best-selling book by Yann Martel that won the Man Booker Prize in 2002.

Mr. Sharma, who had no previous acting experience, has described the experience as a “life-changing journey.”

“Everything was so new and different and there was so much to learn. It completely changed who I am,” he told the Hindustan Times.

Mr. Lee, who won a best director Oscar for his gay cowboy romance “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006, said this month the film “depends” on its young star.

“I would not shoot the film if it weren’t for this person and his talent,” said the Taiwanese-born American filmmaker.

Compiled from Web and wire reports