Halle Berry's ex, Eric Benet, talks about his 'Love & Life'

CELEBRITY NEWS

August 06, 2008|By LIZ SMITH | LIZ SMITH,Tribune Media Services

The earth moved! Eric Benet, promoting his new Love & Life CD, showed up at the Manhattan offices of Essence magazine last week, and wowed a roomful of female journalists by launching into an a cappella version of his new song, "Chocolate Legs." At the climatic musical moment when it seemed like Eric had made 20 intimate friends for life, news came of the L.A. earthquake. Eric put an instant stop to the mass swoon, and called his 16-year-old daughter, India, frantically. She was fine. "Oh, Daddy, it was no big deal!" Reassured, Eric returned to seduction mode. The Essence ladies were even more impressed. Sex appeal and the right priorities!

Earlier in the day at East 38th Street's El Rio Grande, I'd had lunch with Eric and his ravishing lady love Manuela Testolini. (She used to be married to Prince!) They make a traffic-stopping couple. I've never enjoyed swifter service at El Rio!

I first met Eric a couple of years ago, in the immediate wake of his highly publicized breakup with Halle Berry. He was singularly concerned about the effect of any negative publicity on his daughter. (India's mother was killed in a car accident.) He spoke well of Miss Berry and still does. I had a strong feeling, on that initial encounter, that there was another side to the Benet/Berry story - his side. But Eric wouldn't go there. Now, that drama is behind him. (And also behind Halle; she's blissful with her new love and baby.)

Eric and Manuela, survivors of high-profile spouses, have great chemistry. She is a businesswoman/ philanthropist and admirably grounded. She and Eric have been together about a year and a half. "I'm in a good place now," Eric said sharing a steamy stare with Manuela. I busied myself with the tostadas. Despite his flashy face and body, Eric's manner is self-deprecating and modest. His only personal trauma of late was teaching his daughter to drive. "Terrifying at first, but now she's so good she can take me to my gigs!"

There's a big Michael Buble/Josh Groban vibe around Eric - he's on the cusp. Audience reaction to him in the flesh is intense. Advance buzz on Love & Life indicates a smash hit.

I asked him what he'd like to do next? "Well, touring for this one, of course. And I want to do an album of R&B classics, a collection of great American pop standards - Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, like that. And I want to do a Christmas album. The problem is," and Benet gave out a big laugh, "I want to do it all in the next three months!"

Still causing a stir

Sharon Stone has raised something like $100 million battling the worldwide scourge of AIDS over the past 12 years. Sharon has traveled everywhere, lobbied strenuously and presided over countless events where her take-no-prisoners auctioneering is legendary.

Sharon, for all her good intentions, has always been a bit wacky. She's an "out there" kind of woman and speaks right off the top of her head. Miss Stone's careless "karma" remark after the big earthquake in China is still biting her in the well-toned tush. Stone has apologized again and again. But 1,000 Chinese earthquake victims say "sorry" is simply not enough. They say they'll sue Sharon Stone!

Such silliness! Simply have Sharon host a fundraiser/auction for survivors of the earthquake. If she is only half as effective as when she goes all-out for AIDS, it'll be a good deed in a very naughty world.

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