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GEORGE AND THE BIG 40; Clooney wins $20,000 bet for not becoming a father..and he's still out there playing the field.

Byline: DREW MACKENZIE In New York

HOLLYWOOD heart-throb George Clooney will celebrate his 40th birthday today laughing all the way to the bank - after winning a $20,000 bet with Nicole Kidman and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Four years ago his former leading ladies each had a separate wager with the movie hunk that he would become a father by the time he turns 40.

And unless his gorgeous British girlfriend Lisa Snowdon has a big baby surprise in store when he wakes up this morning George will be carrying a bundle of cash to the vault.

"I'm going to win that bet," he said yesterday.

Clooney starred with mother-of-two Kidman in the 1997 film The Peacemaker and the following year with Pfeiffer in One Fine Day, playing a dedicated dad.

And after seeing him interact with kids, the screen beauties were so certain that the playboy would marry and have kids of his own that they put $10,000 each on it.

They were thrilled when he began living with French beauty Celine Balitran, and when she announced that they planned to wed and start a family as soon as possible.

But Nicole and Michelle's hopes were dashed when George suddenly got cold feet and ended the three-year romance.

Now their only hope is that the bizarre Hollywood rumour that Clooney is the father of pregnant Jodie Foster's sperm donor baby turns out to be true.

The former ER star, who one US magazine claims has had sex with more than 1000 women, admits that the main reason he doesn't want children is because he would have a difficult time staying faithful to the mother.

He says: "I have this fear of intimacy and I'm dedicated to avoiding marriage. Celine hung in there as long as she could until she finally believed that I was serious about not getting serious."

Clooney maintains that his pet pot-bellied pig Max, which sleeps with his master when there are no cuddly guests sleeping over, has a better chance of becoming a dad before he does.

"I love kids and I'm a good uncle, but I believe if you are going to be a parent, there has to be something in you that says, 'I have to have children.' You can't be half-assed about it.

"But there has never been a voice inside me going, 'Hurry up and have kids.' My friends have kids and I get along with them great, so I've got them around all the time anyway. Also, I'm barely good at keeping a pig."

Clooney vows he'll never walk down the aisle again. "I tried marriage once and I wasn't very good at it," the graying actor says, referring to his three-year marriage to actress Talia Balsam that ended in 1992.

"I take complete blame for the failure of that marriage. When it hit rough times, I ran instead of trying to figure out what went wrong and how to mend it.''

For two years he also lived with actress Kelly Preston, now married to actor John Travolta. But soon after they got engaged he realised that he only loved their porker Max and not her. Kelly agreed to let him keep the pig when they split up.

Despite his track record, mother-of-two Pfeiffer is still convinced that one day The Perfect Sperm ...er, Storm star will want to have the perfect children.

Michelle, whose actress sister DeDee is one of George's conquests, declared: "He's the kind of guy who will have several kids when he finally gets into it. Kids love him."

But it may be already too late. In recent weeks, as George approached his 40th birthday, a rumour has swept Hollywood that George had a reversible vasectomy a couple of years ago.

SINCE he gave Balitran a huge cash kissoff last year, George has had a string of romances with Hollywood's hottest beauties, including Charlie's Angels star Lucy Liu, Charlize Theron, Trayler Howard and Brooke Langton.

But in case there was any doubt, after he was pictured arm-in-arm with Kidman at the Golden Globes awards in January, George fiercely denied that he had anything to do with her divorce from Tom Cruise.

Since October, he's apparently been faithful to luscious Lisa, the 29-year-old model and MTV Europe host whom he met while they were in Barcelona filming an Italian TV commercial.

He even rushed to her side when she was taken to a Las Vegas hospital to have her appendix removed in an emergency operation.

At the time she was spending time with him while he was filming his latest movie Ocean's Eleven.

In the remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie, Clooney plays Danny Ocean, - the role originally played by Frank Sinatra - who hires a group of his old Army buddies to rob a group of casinos.

George, who has been staying at the ritzy Bellagio Hotel, is also the producer of the picture and persuaded Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Andy Garcia to work for a slice of the profits instead of their usual huge salaries.

He even talked $20 million woman Julia Roberts into playing his wife by sending her a $20 bill with a whimsical note saying: "I hear you work for 20 a picture these days."

Putting Clooney in a town like Las Vegas that never sleeps and is full of stunning women is very much like sticking a kid in a candy store. And while leggy brunette Lisa is away in London, George will play, regularly cruising the clubs late at night.

And in Atlantic City while scouting film locations, he picked up three strippers at the Naked City strip club before moving on to the Atlantic City Bar & Grill in the wee hours. So there is still life in the old boy yet.

In fact, Clooney often acts more like a kid than one who is facing middle-age. Like Mel Gibson, he delights in pulling practical jokes on his movie co-stars, especially the ladies.

For instance, he rigged a bucket of water over Julia's hotel door - only to see it soak an innocent bellman who opened it first. And then he stuck Vaseline all over the door handles of co-producer Jerry Weintraub's room.

At least when he's back in Hollywood at his eight-bedroom home which he calls Casa de Clooney, he acts like a teenager, spending most of the time with his seven buddies. Known as The Boys, they include TV star Richard Kind and actor Tommy Hinkley.

"We hang out on weekends," says the star. "We play basketball, drink some beer and watch sports on TV."

No wonder he doesn't want a kid, he's too busy being one himself. But his former ER co-star Julianna Margulies insists: "George is grown-up but with a kid's heart."

Still, Clooney is clearly beginning to feel his age when it comes to one important thing facing all men as they turn the big 4-0 - male pattern baldness.

His father Nick, a radio and TV personality, says: "He keeps checking my hairline. He wants to know if he's going be all right in a few years."

CAPTION(S):

FANCY-FREE: Although he has remained faithful to current flame Lisa Snowdon, above left, George Clooney has no plans to settle down; GAMBLER2: Michelle Pfeiffer; GAMBLER1: Nicole Kidman; SO NEAR: Celine Balitran; RECENT HIT: Brooke Langton; VIVACIOUS: Charlize Theron; ANGELIC: Lucy Liu
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 6, 2001
Words:1224
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