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BP Works to Cap Oil Leak; Mental Health Treatment for Veterans; Gulf Spill Cleanup Health Concerns; Mel Gibson Controversy

Aired July 10, 2010 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So, Jacqui Jeras, you're looking at these images too -- boy, it looks so pretty. But come on, what would bhe the water temperature, about now, there?

JACQUI JERAS, METEOROLOGIST: I would be happy, because I like it warm.

WHITFIELD: That's right, you do, don't you.

JERAS: I like that bathwater feel.


JERAS: It does feel almost like bath water. In fact the water temperature there right now is actually warmer than the air temperature. Take a look at conditions around the Florida Keys. You can see Cuba. We have some spotty showers across the area. So that is something we are going to have to watch out. For the most part, they are up here bayside. We really think the biggest threat there for Diana would be potentially, maybe some lightning. Conditions out of Key West and maybe you can see the air temperature is 86 degrees. The water temperature is 88 degrees. There, you can see how calm those winds are across the area.

There, we put a locator on Google earth. She's about 30 miles away from the coastline. As you look at the pictures Fredricka the weather is like glass. This is as calm as it really gets. And one to two feet outside the corral reef area other wise very calm. So it couldn't be better. And that is also helping with conditions in the Central Gulf after that oil spill.

WHITFIELD: OK, good, we are going to talk a little bit more about that. In fact right now. Thanks so much Jacqui. We are going to talk with the CNN producer Vivian Kuo who can give us a better idea what we are seeing under water when we look at those images of what BP is now confirming the removal of the old containment cap to make way for the new containment cap. So Vivian, you are on the phone with me right now. Is this plan going according to how BP had expected?

VIVIAN KUO, CNN PRODUCER, (via telephone): Hi Fredricka. What we do know is yesterday, they did confirm that they were going to go ahead and proceed with replacing the current existing containment cap. Which now you see is off with a new permanent seal. They sent that message last night. Obviously, they worked on it sometime overnight, maybe into this morning and they confirmed to us, BP confirmed to us at 12:37 p.m. Central Time, the existing containment cap was removed.

This was a loose fitting seal. There was nothing physically bolting the cap in place. What they have to do next is to physically unbolt a flange that is on top of this manifold on top of the blow out preventer. There are six bolts that is connecting this flange. Kent Wells, the senior vice president of BP this morning said that one of the bolts has been loosened; they still have five more to go. This process will take them into tomorrow.

WHITFIELD: Now, which end of the process will take them into tomorrow?

KUO: I'm sorry, repeat that.

WHITFIELD: Which end of the process will take them into tomorrow?

KUO: To continue unbolting the rest of the flange. There are five more bolts.

WHITFIELD: OK. I'm not sure right now if we are seeing the taped images from earlier or from now looking at the live images. OK, live images I understand right now. We are looking at the robotic, almost like a drill that's removed; I guess that's a bolt. It's from the non expert view here. And there would be six in all as you say. It also looks like there are some clamping down or breaking of what look to be something to adhere that top portion with the bottom portion. Are you looking at the same images that I am?

KUO: Unfortunately, I am not looking at any of the images. We have been told is that the entire process from start to finish, so we know that they began to remove this containment cap today. From today and another four to seven days from now, the entire replacement will be done. Once they finish unbolting the flange, they go into a process where they take the actual permanent seal, which BP is calling the capping stack, and it's a complicated maneuver. You're going to see a lot of activity by the underwater robots on the sea floor. You can see a lot of activity in the coming days. It's going to be crucial.

WHITFIELD: Vivian, I'm probably asking dumb dumb questions. Because I think some of the images are rather confusing to me given that I haven't seen this kind of process happen before. Very few of us have. When we say that the removing of the six bolts that would hold the containment cap will take until tomorrow, why are we then seeing at the top portion of this image, what appears to be free flowing oil? Something has been removed, correct? In attempt to remove these bolts?

KUO: Yes, that is actually a good clarification. What has been removed was the existing cap. What has yet to be removed is the flange. Yes. What you are currently seeing is oil gushing freely. What was sort of inhibiting it earlier is the presence of the Discover Enterprise, a ship that was collecting up to 15,000 to 16,000 barrels a day. Well that is no longer there. They had to move the ship off to remove the current existing cap.

Now you will still see collection by the choke lines at the blow out preventer through the q-4000. That is going to give another 8,000 to 9,000 barrels a day. And as you probably talked about earlier they have another ship that is currently in the last stages of being hooked up and BP hopes to get online and working and ready to go by tomorrow, Sunday.

WHITFIELD: Vivian Kuo, thank you very much, very fascinating work. This is pain staking, too. When we hear from BP that the process of adding this new cap could be as long as a week to ten days, are they talking about including this removal of the old cap and the finalization, maybe even bolting down this new cap and at that point it will be ten days passing?

KUO: That was older guidance. They have given us new guidance that the entire process should take four to seven days including today's removal. We could see a week from now the final cap finally in place.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Fascinating. All right. Vivian Kuo thanks so much. A wealth of information there, CNN producer giving us a point to point discussion on exactly what we are seeing here. Images coming from that containment cap, a portion of it that's been removed as they make way for a new one to be put in its place. Thanks so much, Vivian.

In the meantime, of course a lot of cities along the Gulf coast are very concerned about how much longer this oil will continue to gush. Among those cities, Waveland, Mississippi, we find our reporter Ines Ferre. Where already, they are seeing quite a bit of the oil in the marshlands there, they wish it would stop. They know there will be more. I wonder how comforting this kind of news will be to them that there's an effort underway to replace the old cap with a new one and ultimately come closer to one day shutting down this oil.

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well Fred, yesterday, Mayor Longo, I had asked him, what will bring you comfort these days? They saw the water had overtopped this road where I'm at right now. It had gone into the marshes over to my left. You can see where the oil had reached the grass. You can see that line over there. He said, look, as long as there's oil that's gushing; we're going to have problems. So, they just want this well to be fixed. They want it to be capped and they want it to be contained. They want the final solution to this.

Not only him, but also I was speaking to the mayor of Long Beach where they saw tar balls several days ago. They had seen huge tar patties that would break up before coming ashore. He said the same thing. This has to be fixed. The problem has to be fixed so that we can keep on living the life that we were living before. Every day they have to clean off tar balls from the beach then you have this problem with the oil in the marshes. The real crux of it has to be that they have to seal the swell and they have to do it as soon as possible. That's a solution that they are looking for.

WHITFIELD: In the meantime, are you seeing any workers or anyone with the city there along those marshes or along the water just trying to clean up or sop up what oil has seeped into the marshlands?

FERRE: Yes, we have seen workers here. We have seen them over the past several days. We some workers actually clearing off some booms around here. Booms that had been totally drenched with oil. So they were clearing those off and putting new ones in. We see that some new booms have been put over on these marshes over here. Some workers that have been kind of tightening up what are called silt barriers to make sure that the water doesn't over top, again. There have been efforts and workers that have been here and kind of taking out old booms and putting in new ones.


WHITFIELD: All right. Ines Ferre thanks so much in Waveland, Mississippi.

We want to go to New Orleans now. That is where we find our correspondent Amber Lyon. Amber had a unique view of the water in the Gulf of Mexico right where that oil continues to gush. Amber, you and special hazmat dive suit, yesterday, descended along with oceanographer Felipe Cousteau to get a look at this water to see how the dispersants may have polluted the water, how the oil itself is mixing with that water. Any idea what some environmentalists or others might be thinking about, perhaps Felipe Cousteau about news the old containment cap has been removed by BP as they make way for the new one to be replaced?

AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, Fredricka I haven't talked to Felipe Cousteau directly but I do know he will be very happy once they seal up that leak because he wants BP to quit pumping dispersants into the water column, into this oil, because the oil kind of sticks in the water column and that is what we saw on our dive yesterday. We were diving around and we just saw little pieces of oil and according to Felipe, that oil is toxic to fish eggs and larva.

To explain that, one part per billion is about a drop of water in a swimming pool. And we saw millions of droplets of oil around us, so that has him very worried. But I want to introduce you to Buck Buchanan. This guy is a contaminated water diving specialist with Dive 911. This is the guy who kept us safe on this dive. Buck is this a new reality of diving in the Gulf? Are you going to have to throw on a hazmat suit just to get into that water?

BUCK BUCHANAN, DIVE 911: I think for the foreseeable future, we have to say yes. You have to take steps and precautions. Used to come out and jump into our bathing suits. It's not the way it is. Especially with this small oil we saw yesterday, we can now aspirate that. Where as before, I think we could see it coming and maybe move it away or avoid it. Now we can't avoid it. It's going to be there in small cuts in our bodies, eyes, nose, mouth, respiratory tract. We are going to be ingesting that stuff for a long time to come.

LYON: You are an expert on all of this and you have been hazmat diving for the last 20 years. Do you think that in certain areas of the Gulf that everyone is going to need to wear a hazmat suit?

BUCHANAN: Depends on where you are in the Gulf and how it spreads. But within the horizon zone I think you have to. Because you just don't know. We are not protecting yourselves, like yesterday; we weren't protecting ourselves from things that we knew was in the water. We were protecting ourselves from what we didn't know were there. And we don't know how these dispersants are going to act. We don't know how the long term affect on the eco system is going to be. So unless we take precautions, get a raincoat, unless you do that, I think you are going to come up and see a lot of sick people ten, 12, 15 years from now.

LYON: How is this affecting your job? You were mentioning to me that certain police departments and commercial divers have already been contacting you about getting hazmat dive training so that their crews can enter the water.

BUCHANAN: Well you know like I said, before, they could work with minimal equipment and minimal training and minimal knowledge just for the environments that they specifically worked in. Now, we just added a new phase to it. You are going to have to protect yourself. Before we considered simple evidence recovery, drop a tool over board and go get it and that was no big thing. But now, we do have containments in the water and we are going to have to take steps. ERDI Emergency Dive Response International has performed a lot of training in the contaminated water diving field. They have a program out now and it is for all the public safety just to bring them up to speed where we are today, thanks to horizon and the containments in the water.

LYON: No scientific studies have ever been done on the long term effects of that dispersing crude mixture on humans or marine life for that matter, which made wearing those suits all the more important. Thanks Buck for that. For now I will send it back to you Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Amber Lyon thanks so much reporting to us from New Orleans. So once again if you are just now joining us you are looking at these live images right there in the Gulf of Mexico, we understand according to BP that they have indeed removed the old containment cap and they are making way for the new containment cap or that is in the removal process of the old containment cap. You see robotic arms right there that are actually helping to remove some bolts. Then it will be removed completely making way for the new cap and this could be a process that spans somewhere between four days and maybe even ten days. As we get more information we'll carry that onto you. Much more from the NEWSROOM right after this.


WHITFIELD: Live pictures right now of an effort underway. BP removing the old containment cap to make room for a new one. The process is currently under way. You are looking at the live under water images. It's a process that could span between four and ten days. Meantime, in between the transfer of the old cap and the new one lot more oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico.

Meantime, let's tell you about what's taking place across the seas. Six American service members were killed in Afghanistan today. All of their deaths came in separate incidents in eastern and southern sections of the country. One of them died in an accidental explosion. The rest were killed in combat operations. Their deaths bring the total for this month to 18. In June, 60 American service members were killed making it the deadliest month since operation started in Afghanistan. New rules are on the way, in fact, for veterans trying to get help for post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, a veteran will only have to show that he or she served in a war and served a job during which traumatic events might have happened. Previously, they actually had to document a situation that caused the trauma before finally getting some assistance. Well the new rules apply to veterans of any war. President Obama talked about the change this morning in his weekly address.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S: I don't think our troops on the battlefield should have to keep notes just in case they need to apply for a claim. I have met enough veterans to know that you don't have to engage in a fire fight to endure the trauma of war. So we are changing the way things are done. On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs lead by Secretary Rich will begin making it easier for veterans with PTS to get the benefits he or she needs. This is a long overdue step that will help veterans not just of the Afghan and Iraq wars, but generations of their brave predecessors who proudly served and sacrificed in all our wars.


WHITFIELD: Veterans Affairs officials say around 400,000 veterans are getting benefits for PTS related problems right now. Joining me right now to talk about the significance of these changes is Paul Sullivan, the executive director for Veterans for Common Sense. Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So is this good news in your view?

SULLIVAN: This is great news and it is long overdue just as President Barack Obama said. It really is.

WHITFIELD: So you and others have been pushing for this kind of change for some time. In what way do you think your push actually influenced these changes?

SULLIVAN: We actually petitioned the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue these regulations based on a lot of scientific evidence. In fact the Institute of Medicine published this report more than 330 pages of scientific studies linking or associating post-traumatic stress disorder to a war zone.

WHITFIELD: So is your feeling that the way the procedure had been played out recently, it meant that a vet would have to prove their circumstance and because they had to prove their circumstance with specific instances and with war, it may have prevents many vets from getting the assistance they needed because they didn't have the measures to have that documentation?

SULLIVAN: Yes. What this regulation is going to do is cut through the red tape. That's very good news. It's what veterans; especially veterans with traumatic brain injury will want to know. It's going to be easier for them to fill out the paperwork. Veterans for common sense encourages veterans with mental health symptoms to seek care at VA. We hope that with President Obama's initiative and VA secretary's leadership that our veterans will receive the health care and disability benefits they need and earned faster and this will be easier for V.A. employees to process the claims. There will be less red tape and less paperwork.

WHITFIELD: So Paul there's also been some criticism already before it actually gets under way come Monday that the V.A., the Veterans Affairs would actually have to make the diagnosis that perhaps a private doctor would not be able to play a part in diagnosing someone as being a suffer of PTS.

SULLIVAN: We want to take a look at the regulations when they finally come out on Monday. That is a legitimate concern that maybe a private doctor or a military doctor could diagnose it. In the end, though, just for any medical condition, whether it be traumatic brain injury, amputation or even post-traumatic stress disorder, the Department of Veterans Affairs will want to confirm that the condition exists by examining the veterans. That is reasonable. Americans would expect that so that we don't have cases of fraud. I think what Americans really want to know is, are our veterans going to get faster and more accurate claims decisions? The bottom line is yes.

WHITFIELD: And the bottom line you feel like more people will be getting help that they have otherwise would not have been getting?

SULLIVAN: Yes. Veterans file disability claims of course to receive compensation.


SULLIVAN: But they also file disability claims to get health care. If we provide our returning veterans with health care sooner, that means we can reduce costs in the long term. From broken families, unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness and even suicide. This is a very good step in the right direction by President Obama based on scientific evidence.

WHITFIELD: Paul Sullivan thanks so much. Executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. Appreciate your time.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meantime, I want to keep you updated on what is taking place in the Gulf of Mexico. Images right now as it is happening, BP confirms that the old containment cap is being removed to make way for a new one. It's a process that will take a matter of days, up to ten days at the most according to some BP sources. We continue to watch the developments there.

We are reaching out to a number of experts to give a better handle on what this process is all about and ultimately what it will mean in the long term and what it means in the short term as well. We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Right now, look at our top stories. A grim day in Afghanistan. Six American troops died. Five of them in combat related incidents. The sixth was killed in an accidental explosion.

Its day 82 of the oil disaster. BP says we have removed the containment cap for their broken well in the Gulf of Mexico. They are replacing it with a new better fitting cap. According to BP officials, the switch could actually take up to a week. Until then, oil will flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

This afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard is training spotters on a slow moving U.S. Navy blimp. Officials hope the blimp will survey oil in the Gulf, guide skimming vessels to areas where they are needed most and help spot oily wildlife as well.

Twenty one years after the Exxon Valdese oil spill and a former clean up worker speaks out about health worries.


(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): I'm going blind.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): You think you were poisoned out there?

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): Yes. Yes. Silently poisoned. That's what's happening to those people down there in the Gulf.


WHITFIELD: More on his concerns and allegations, straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: All right, we continue to watch what's taking place underwater in the Gulf of Mexico. BP says they have removed the containment cap from the well and are working on the process of replacing it with a new one. It's a complicated process, as you might imagine that will take the course of a few different days, several days, maybe up to 10 days. The new cap is expected to fit tighter and stop much the oil gushing out of the well, right now.

So, looking for the silver lining in the Gulf, right now, is pretty difficult, but for people out of work, the cleanup does means a temporary paycheck. And the same happened, actually, during the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. But, 21 years later, some of those workers are still dealing with what they believe to be health problems related to that clean up. And now, some health experts are worried that it just might be happening again in the Gulf. Here's Drew Griffin with our Special Investigations Unit.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Roy Dalthorp says he started getting sick 21 years ago, when the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Alaska. But back then he thought the Valdez was a blessing.

ROY DALTHORP, EXXON VALDEZ CLEANUP WORKER: I was -- I was out of a job. I was in hurtsville. I was defiantly heading to it. I had no choices on that because I was behind in my house payments and so -- and no health insurance.

GRIFFIN: For six weeks, he worked on a ship that super heated sea water to pressure wash Exxon's crude oil off of rocks. His photos onboard show the steam that he says was an oily smelling mist, permeating the ship where he worked 16-hour days and that is when the cough began.

DALTHORP: Nobody ever checked with us, nobody. They never did a follow up on us, never asked if we ever had any consequences of it. They could a cared less. I'm serious. There was no follow up.

GRIFFIN: Exxon told us it doesn't know how many cleanup workers became sick. Dalthorp never filed a lawsuit, never filed a claim. He could never prove the work he did on the Valdez made him sick.

(on camera): Exxon did pay to study the health effects of almost every single creature that came in contact with oil in Prince William Sound; every creature, but one.

DENNIS MESTAS, ATTORNEY: From clams and mussels to fish and otters and even deer and bears, but they never studied what this oil was doing to the workers, to the human beings in Prince William Sound.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Alaska attorney Dennis Mestas represented one of the few workers who did sue, but in the process found out that hundreds of workers involved in the cleanup had fallen sick.

(on camera): And you found all of this out years later, based on...

MESTAS: On one worker that I represented.

GRIFFIN: Who is still sick to this day.

MESTAS: Who is still sick to this day. Even Exxon was forced to concede, eventually, that Gary Stubblefield was a very sick man.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Mestas' client, Gary Stubblefield, sued Exxon and the Valdez cleanup. Mestas traveled from Alaska to an Exxon office in Houston where Stubblefield's medical records and those of thousands of other cleanup workers were being held, records Exxon has asked a court to seal for privacy reasons.

MESTAS: I was shocked, yeah...

GRIFFIN: Mestas says the records revealed of 11,000 cleanup workers, 6,722 had gotten sick. It was explained away as a simple virus, the so-called Exxon crud, a flu or cold that Exxon was not required to report to federal health officials.

At the time NIOSH, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, was in agreement. MESTAS: Total bull -- BS. The only epidemiology was that there were a few head colds that they could identify and NIOSH didn't have any of the records.

GRIFFIN: Exxon never admitted fault in Stubblefield's case, but reportedly settled the lawsuit for $2 million; Stubblefield, one of the very few workers to get compensation.

Exxon says the few lawsuits brought failed to show any evidence of injuries or illnesses known to be caused by exposure to crude oil or the chemicals they used to clean it up.

Keeping them honest, Dennis Mestas, the attorney says he is concerned that workers cleaning up in the Gulf today may be headed for the same fate as the Exxon Valdez workers. They get sick while their medical records are controlled by BP.

Louisiana's Health Department has reported 128 cleanup workers believed to be sick from exposure to this spill. But BP tells us they have recorded just five illnesses related to inhalation exposures in the entire Gulf.

(on camera): BP is also insisting that government air testing is showing, "We have not had a single reading above OSHA regulations to date." And as for respirators, the company says, "There has been no demonstrated need for them, no single issue high enough to warrant a respirator."

DR. RIKI OTT, MARINE TOXICOLOGIST: On anything that I thought...

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Dr. Riki Ott, an environmental activist, studied the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill 21 years ago. With this BP spill, she says, once again, out-of-work fishermen are lining up for cleanup jobs that she says will put them in harm's way.

OTT: I'm feeling like BP is forcing them into this situation where BP holds all the cards and BP is letting these workers get sick.

GRIFFIN: Back in Alaska, Roy Dalthorp's coughing has never stopped, he now has skin rashes. His health, literally crumbling.

DALTHORP: I'm going blind.

GRIFFIN (on camera): You think you were poisoned out there?

DALTHORP: Yes. Yes. Silently poisoned, and that's what's happening to those people down in the Gulf.

GRIFFIN: Fred, BP and federal officials says it's not going to happen in the Gulf, that they're monitoring the situation, right now. But, a congressional committee does want to look at the Exxon spill, back in 1989, and see what wasn't done, apparently, in terms of monitoring these workers so they can possibly prevent mistakes from being happening again. In fact, the Commerce Energy Committee has now sent a note to the chairman of Exxon Mobile asking that company to dig up all its health records from the 1989 spill and send them to Congress so the officials there can look over what was done -- Fred.


WHITFIELD: Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

Actress Pam Grier, her acting career spans four decades. You may member her as "Foxy Brown" and now, she opens up about the men in her life in her memoir. It's more of my face-to-face interview with Pam Grier, right after this.


WHITFIELD: A look at the top stories, right now. Robots operated by BP have removed the containment cap from the leaking wellhead in the Gulf as the company prepares to put a better fitting one into place. That process is expected to take days. While the old containment cap is off, tens of thousands of barrels of oil will continue to gush freely into the Gulf.

And Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, already under fire for signing here state's harsh new immigration law, could face a tough crowd today. Latino activists have scheduled a protest while she attends that National Governors Meeting in Boston, this weekend. Immigration advocates from across the East Coast are expected to participate.

And World Cup fans are watching Germany face-off against Uruguay at this hour. The outcome will determine who will take home the third place title. Germany has been favored to win, although Uruguay has put in several good performances at the playoffs, as well. The Netherlands pits their sill against the reigning champs, Spain, tomorrow in the World Cup final.

All right, it's not often that you get to sit down with an American original. Actress Pam Grier's career spans four decades. She is probably best known for her role as "Foxy Grown." Well, I recently sat down face-to-face to talk about her career, her life, her loves and she opens up about some of the men in her life.


WHITFIELD: You have been candid about your life, your private life, your public life, your three acts that you -- that delve into in this book, the early years, the fros and the freaks, as well as the finding the balance. You are just as open about the men in your life.


WHITFIELD: Yes. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


WHITFIELD: And, you know, how did that relationship allowed you to grow and how you remember that relationship as, he never judged you, even though it meant your relationship ending because you would not convert to Islam. GRIER: And it's interesting because the relationship of being a couple ended when he didn't give me enough time to embrace Islam. He had had several years and he didn't have a plan for us as a couple. Moderate, conservative how was it...

WHITFIELD: But there was a role for you.

GRIER: There was a distinct role for women and from Eastern perspective, it's tradition, from Western it's unfair to women and I was a child of the women's liberation movement at that time. So, I was in conflict and uncertainty.

WHITFIELD: Do y'all have contact?

GRIER: We're best friends.


GRIER: And then I know you are going to ask about the others.

WHITFIELD: Freddie Prinze. He was the love of your life.

GRIER: He was wonderful. He was wonderful. We was younger and I didn't invent the cougar word, the definition. And he had this wonderful -- you love it when a man says wear that, no baby, wear that, it would look good. You know, put your hair like, oh, oh...

WHITFIELD: ...glitzy and glamorous.

GRIER: You're Pam Grier. Yeah, he loved -- and that was wonderful. He had this taste in femininity and style and it was great to see that and that I wasn't competing. Yeah, he didn't see -- he wasn't -- I think -- I wasn't a threat to him. I wasn't competing. When we'd go out, you know, Fredto (ph) is what I called him, little Freddie. And, but, at the time when I met him, he was becoming more and more successful and I could see his change, his indulging and his friends and the people -- fast lane. Really fast lane.

Three days before he passed away, he had called me and he was in a crisis, emotional crises and I didn't know how to help him. I said you need help. And I knew -- I said, you need help.

WHITFIELD: Did you think he was going to kill himself, though?

GRIER: No. Not at all. Never.

WHITFIELD: You knew that drugs was destroying him.

GRIER: Some people can manage it. You know, come people can manage it. Artists can take drugs forever and manage it and play and write and create. Our composers, our contemporary musicians...

WHITFIELD: Well, maybe it's Richard Pryor, which we'll get to, because...

GRIER: Oh, I knew you were going... WHITFIELD: You said he was like that. I read your book. So, Freddie introduced you to Richard Pryor.

GRIER: Yes. Yes. As a matter of fact, before I did "Greece Lightning," before I even met Richard. That was a riot when we Freddie picked me up to take me out to Richard's place in the Valley.

So, I get out of the car, "hi." And so, of course, Richard starts spouting out dialogue from "Foxy Brown," and like, oh, yes. Yes. "Hi, how are you."

WHITFIELD: That would be me.

GRIER: Yes, that's it. And he knew the dialogue. He says, "You do know this blank, blank, beep beep."

WHITFIELD: All in affectionately, of course.

GRIER: Yes, all in affection. And he wanted me to stay and hang out with him and I said, "No, I have to go, really. Thank you very much." And I felt uncomfortable because I know when other people are indulging and having fun and I'm not, I'm the downer, I'm the rock, I'm like...

WHITFIELD: But, you kept it clean. How is it that you kept it clean when...

GRIER: Because, I have allergies to everything. Are you kidding me? There's chlorophyll in that green stuff they smoke. Are you kidding? And you can try and be cool, but let me tell you, I just have so many allergies and I remember people put things in drinks at parties and it would dissolve. It was, "Pam, don't drink that." because they knew, I mean, I have a Epi-Pen for everything. You kidding me? I am allergic to everything.

But, I just thought, also, if I was drunk or high, someone might take advantage of me. And I don't know if I would survive it.



GRIER: I was sober at six, I was sober at 18 and then the third one, I just can't. I got to be alert. I got to -- I can't.

WHITFIELD: But he was honest with you, that he was afraid if he didn't do drugs, he wouldn't be funny.

GRIER: That was his deepest fear. If he was sober he wouldn't be talented, he wouldn't be funny. And I said, well, you won't know unless you try.

WHITFIELD: You were a good influence on him.

GRIER: For a minute. For a minute.


WHITFIELD: OK, rape survivor, cancer survivor, iconic actress, Pam Grier opening up about everything, career, life, love. In the next hour, she will talk about finding some balance in life and her friendship with the next generation of African-American artists, in particular, including rapper Snoop Dogg.


GRIER: So, they come out, coming out with great, you know, music and they have us in our videos and then, you know, he said, "Pam, I apologize for the horrible things I say about women. You're not like that at all."You know, I said, "OK."


WHITFIELD: Face-to-face with Pam Grier at 4:00 Eastern Time, don't want to miss it.

And life saving missions by a down home humanitarian. that's the focus of our "CNN Hero," when we come right back.


WHITFIELD: All right, we want to keep you updated on what's taking place in the Gulf of Mexico. We understand according to BP they removed the old containment cap on that leaking well and they are making way for the new containment cap, and there are a lot of questions in between, because this process takes anywhere between four and 10 days, so we're calling upon an expert structural engineer, Terry Anderson (ph), who will be with us in the 4:00 Eastern hour to give us a better handle as to what this process is all about, ultimately what it might mean for the short term, as well as the long- term.

Meantime, this week's "CNN Hero" is keeping critically ill patients alive on a wing, a prayer and full tank of gas. Pilot Kathy Broussard saw that there were people desperately in need of getting from point "A" to point "B," they couldn't get to their medical appointments, for example, so she decided to pitch in this way.


KATHY BROUSSARD, COMMUNITY CRUSADER: My name is Kathy Broussard. I started the Houston Ground Angels, and we provide free air transportation and free ground transportation for medical patients coming in and out of Houston area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They had nothing like this down where I live. I would have died a long time ago.

BROUSSARD: There's probably about 300 people volunteering their car, their gas, time. The volunteers, some of them, have had cancer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I see them, they give me hope. They'll tell me, "Cathy (ph), stay alive. Stay there with us, fight it." And I've been doing it.

BROUSSARD: God has bypassed me in cancer. And if I could help somebody -- and I'm sorry for crying -- but if I can help somebody make their life a little better, then that's what it's all about. It's not about me.


WHITFIELD: Kathy Broussard and her volunteers completed about 6,000 air and ground missions since 2001. To nominate someone that you think is changing the world go to CNNheroes.com.

OK, you've probably heard the talk about Mel Gibson, what he said and what it means and what's going on with him. He's getting a lot of bad press lately, but not over his latest movie, instead over a phone call to his ex. We've got the tape, straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: All right, Mel Gibson is no stranger to controversy, both on the screen and off, and now he is accused of making a bad call to his ex. CNN entertainment correspondent, Brooke Anderson, has the tape.


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not the kind of spotlight Mel Gibson wants. The actor/director is allegedly caught on tape berating and cursing at his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva while hurling a racial epithet. Entertainment outlet "Radar Online" released this explosive audio on its Web site today, a shocking conversation purportedly between Gibson and Grigorieva, who is also the mother of his young daughter.


MAN: You got out in public and it's a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) embarrassment to me. You look like a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on heat. And if you get raped by a pack of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) it will be your fault. All right?

Because you provoked it, you are provocatively dressed all the time, with your fake boobs you feel you have to show off.


ANDERSON: CNN cannot independently validate the voice is actually Gibson's and the actors reps have neither confirmed nor denied the tape's existence or authenticity. His publicist simply says, "We can't comment due to legal nature of the matter."

But the voice sounds like Gibson's, and Grigorieva's publicist tells CNN the female voice is in fact Grigorieva's. The publicist, Steven Geppi (ph), also tells CNN the transcript of the conversation on "Radar Online" is accurate, but that Grigorieva did not provide the tape to the media and doesn't know how "Radar Online" obtained it. In excerpts from unreleased portions of the audiotape, "Radar Online" reports Gibson angrily claimed Grigorieva lied about having breast implants saying in part, quote, "They're too big and they look stupid. They look like a Vegas B****, like a Vegas whore, and you go around sashaying in your tight clothes and stuff. I won't stand for that anymore."

The vitriol continues as the man purported to be Gibson abusively addresses child custody and their relationship. "Stay in the f-ing house. I'm not giving it to you, but I'll let you stay there. OK? And I will take care of my child, but I don't want you anymore."

"Radar Online" claims the source told them Grigorieva recorded the conversation because she feared for her safety. Gibson and Grigorieva are reportedly locked in a custody dispute over their child. Gibson is currently being investigated by Malibu, California, authorities for an alleged domestic violence incident involving Grigorieva in January. And CNN has confirmed entertainment agency William Morris Endeavor no longer represents Gibson.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


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