Weekly Wire
NewCityNet The Dead Zone

By Frank Sennett

DECEMBER 15, 1997:  For the founders of stiffs.com, business is really dying off. Surf to the site created by three L.A. entrepreneurs and you can test the waters of the Lee Atwater Invitational Dead Pool. You've got until December 31 to send in $11 and a list of the ten celebrities you think are most likely to be knocking on Heaven's door in 1998. If everyone on your list reaches Final Jeopardy next year, you stand to win $1,500 -- along with the ire of your humanitarian pals.

The Lee Atwater, named after the late 1991 GOP honcho who appeared on an early dead-pool list of co-founder Zachariah Love, went Web only last year, when the number of entrants jumped from a handful to forty-seven. This year, 141 ghouls sent in lists. With a higher-profile Internet presence and recent exposure in the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post and Salon, Love expects the 1998 contest to grimly reap more than 1,000 contestants.

It used to be that Love and co-founder Greg Hicks were able to hash out such delicate issues as who is and is not a celebrity during the private parties that kicked off each year's event. But to go national, they had to adopt an objective standard: the death must be reported by the Associated Press. Other wrinkles include The Dean Martin Clause (no additions allowed if you submit an entry early and one of your celebrities dies before New Year's Day) and the threat of disqualification for any player who helps one of their celebrities into the Great Beyond.

"Some lawyers we know suggested that we put that in," Love says of the warning. "You take somebody like a Kate Hepburn and sneak up behind them, well, you never know what might happen."

Perhaps the saddest change in the contest is that the people who run it can no longer enter now that it's gone Hollywood, so to speak. "We play in other dead pools, though," Love says. "You have to keep your hand in."

In addition to offering official dead-pool shirts and hats at the site next year, Love says the team plans a book on the contest. A third partner dreams of a movie version of The Lee Atwater, Love says, "But Clint Eastwood already did that in the eighties. Besides, I just picture this cheesy Jerky Boys thing."

In the meantime, he isn't quitting his day job as a concert booker at an L.A. folk club. "We want this to turn into a fad -- one that lasts for a short time, of course." The secret to the contest is to really bone up on ailing celebrities. "About 90 percent of the lists we get are nothing but Bob Hope, Kate Hepburn and Frank Sinatra," Love says with disdain.

So, any tips for Chicago players? Love, a die-hard baseball fan, mentions a certain Hall of Fame broadcaster who can often be heard serenading the Wrigley Field faithful. "Every time I watch the Cubs play, I think Harry's going to fall out of the booth."

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