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Cruise looses prod. deal

LOS ANGELES (Reuters): Paramount Pictures is severing its 14-year-old ties to Tom Cruise's production company because of his off-screen behavior, the chairman of the studio's parent company said today in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The report signaled the end of one of the most lucrative production deals commanded by any A-list Hollywood star and followed other signs that Cruise's public stature had been damaged by his conduct during the past year. Cruise's representatives and officials from Viacom and Paramount did not have any immediate comment on the report.

Days after his latest film, Mission: Impossible III, opened to lower-than-expected domestic ticket sales in May, an opinion poll showed his star power in the eyes of the public had dimmed considerably. And last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that Paramount Chairman Brad Grey had informed representatives for Cruise and his production partner, Paula Wagner, that the studio planned to slash the amount it spends on their company, Cruise/Wagner Productions. Months ago, Grey was one of several movie industry executives who publicly rallied to Cruise's defense to insist that his status and popularity were undiminished.

They were reacting to a USA Today/Gallup poll in which half of those surveyed registered an ''unfavorable'' opinion of the actor. Many cited his off-screen behavior during the past year, including his outspoken defense of his religion Scientology and his blunt criticism of psychiatry and actress Brooke Shield's treatment for postpartum depression. Cruise also became the butt of jokes for his manic, couch-hopping appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show last May to declare his love for actress Katie Holmes, who recently gave birth to Cruise's first biological child, a daughter they named Suri. ''As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal,'' Redstone was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal report e-mailed to reporters. ''His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount.''

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