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Saldana and Del Toro help open new Disney 'Guardians' ride

Stepping inside Disney's latest theme park attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT!, is like being thrust into one of blockbuster films' pulsating, action-packed trailers.

Music blares throughout the tower drop ride as guests are treated to a visual feast of images from the "Guardians" universe, as well as cameos by series stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and others. The motion of the ride, set primarily in a prison tower elevator, depends on which of six songs from the '60s, '70s and early '80s is playing. That variety is what Disney is hoping will keep guests returning multiple times.

The attraction, Disney's first based on its slate of Marvel films, debuted Thursday night for journalists and VIPs at an elaborate grand opening.

The ride at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim opens to the public on Saturday.

The attraction offers numerous visual and audio treats, starting with the 8-foot (2-meter) gilded statue of Benicio Del Toro's flamboyantly-dressed character, The Collector, which greets visitors when they walk in.

Del Toro called the statue, which he saw for the first time inside the attraction Thursday, surreal. "Actually I look pretty cool in that statue," he said. "The whole thing and then the ride, it's a blast."

Saldana, Del Toro, Michael Rooker and "Guardians" director James Gunn were among the celebrities attending Thursday's opening.

The attraction is housed in a 183-foot (55-meter) tower that's been transformed into a prison where Guardians characters are held by The Collector. Riders are told they are part of a VIP group touring The Collector's latest acquisition, the Guardians, before being enlisted in a plot to help the heroes escape.

In keeping with the film, music and irreverent humor are frequently used throughout the ride.

The ride's action is centered in an elevator that ascends and drops through the tower during the rescue mission. The elevator's movements change depending on which song is playing. On one ride guests might get an experience tailored to Elvis Presley's "Burning Love" while others will have the elevator controlled by the rhythms of a hit from The Jackson 5 or Pat Benatar. The media preview was set to Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

The ride was developed with Gunn's assistance. Through two "Guardians" films, he's transformed the characters from little-known denizens in Marvel's universe into household names. Gunn directed scenes with Pratt and other characters during shooting of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," which has earned more than $300 million in its first three weeks in theaters.

Gunn said working on the ride was radically different from filming a movie. "Everything is a little bit bigger, everything is a little be more grand than it is in the movies and the actors reflect that and so that was a lot of fun for me because it was creating a lot of the kabuki theater version of the Guardians which was really cool."

The ride is housed in a redesigned drop tower structure that once housed the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction.

Part of the makeover included adding Del Toro's Collector character and other Easter Eggs from the films. Rocket, a lethal wise-cracking raccoon-like creature voiced in the films and ride by Bradley Cooper, is brought to life through animatronics.

The ride is Disney's major addition to its West Coast theme parks. Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, is opening a 12-acre attraction, Pandora — The World of Avatar, this summer.

Saldana also experienced the Pandora attraction this week. "I know that for me I was very thrilled by it, because even though I was part of this movie, I didn't get to experience it like that," she said. "We got to imagine it but we never got to walk in it."

Saldana said she was grateful to Gunn and Disney for immortalizing her and the rest of the Guardians cast with the new ride.

Disney isn't done transforming its films into interactive them park experiences. It's scheduled to open two new "Star Wars" parks at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida in 2019.

Homer Simpson to be ‘inducted’ into Baseball Hall of Fame 

Homer Simpson will get his day at Cooperstown on Saturday as he will be inducted into “inducted” into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 25 years after the “Homer at the Bat” episode of “The Simpsons”aired on Fox.

>> Read more trending news 

“Homer at the Bat” aired on Feb. 20, 1992, and featured the voices of Ken Griffey Jr., Wade Boggs, Ozzie Smith, Don Mattingly, Roger Clemens, Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco and Steve Sax, ESPN reported.

In a prepared “statement,” Simpson said it is “truly an honor for me to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame.” 

“My record for eating hot dogs will never be broken. I've been a fan for 40 years, which is how long some games take. And I can't wait for the ceremony in Canton, Ohio.”

D’oh! The Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, not Canton (the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame).

The episode will be shown Saturday in its entirety on an outside screen at baseball’s shrine. Simpson’s induction will include his onscreen acceptance speech, Hall of Fame officials said.

Sax, who won two World Series rings and was a five-time All-Star, said he gets asked more about his role in “The Simpsons” than about his career.

"I get asked as much about being on `The Simpsons' as I do about baseball," Sax told ESPN. "They don't want to know how it was to hit against Nolan Ryan. They want to know about being on that show."

In the episode, Simpson pinch hits for Strawberry with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning. He gets hit in the head with a pitch, giving his Springfield team a 44-43 victory.

Shawn Mendes: 'You should never be afraid to enjoy music'

Days after the deadly bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in England, Shawn Mendes says fans should "never be afraid to enjoy music."

Fan video shows the 18-year-old Canadian pop singer delivering that message Wednesday night at his show in Paris, where nearly 90 people were killed during an attack at an Eagles of Death Metal concert in 2015.

After mentioning Monday's attack at the Grande concert, Mendes called music "one of the very rare things in life that can bring people together in a way that words cannot describe, but we can only feel."

A suicide bomber killed 22 people during the attack outside the arena in Manchester, England, just after Grande's show ended.

Grande canceled subsequent shows but plans to resume her tour in Paris on June 7.

Denis Johnson, author of 'Jesus' Son,' dead at 67

Denis Johnson, the prize-winning fiction writer, poet and playwright best known for his surreal and transcendent story collection "Jesus' Son," has died. He was 67.

Johnson died Wednesday, according to Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. No other details were immediately available.

"Denis was one of the great writers of his generation," Galassi said in a statement Friday. "He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was."

The son of a State Department liaison, Johnson was born in Munich, Germany, and lived around world before settling in Arizona and Idaho. He was a graduate of the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop and studied under Raymond Carver, whose raw accounts of addiction and recovery would be echoed in Johnson's work. In a 1984 interview with The New York Times, he cited a wide range of influences.

"My ear for the diction and rhythms of poetry was trained by — in chronological order — Dr. Seuss, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, the guitar solos of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and T.S. Eliot," he said. "Other influences come and go, but those I admire the most and those I admired the earliest (I still admire them) have something to say in every line I write."

Johnson was intensely admired by readers, critics and fellow writers. He won the National Book Award in 2007 for his Vietnam War novel "Tree of Smoke" and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for "Tree of Smoke," and, in 2012, for his novella "Train Dreams." His other works include the novel "Laughing Monsters" and "Angels," the poetry collection "The Veil" and the play "Hellhound On My Trail."

But many remember him for "Jesus' Son," which in hazed but undeniable detail chronicled the lives of various drug addicts adrift in America. The title was taken from the Velvet Underground song "Heroin" and the stories were sometimes likened to William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch." Much of "Jesus' Son" tells of crime, violence and substance abuse. But, as related by a narrator with an unprintable name (his initials were F.H.), the book also had an underlying sympathy and sense of possibility.

"Mr. Johnson's is a universe governed by addiction, malevolence, faith and uncertainty," James McManus wrote in the Times in 1992. "It is a place where attempts at salvation remain radically provisional, and where a teetering narrative architecture uncannily expresses both Christlike and pathological traits of mind."

The book was adapted into a 1999 film of the same name, starring Billy Crudup. In 2006, the book was cited in a Times poll as among the important works of fiction of the previous 25 years.

___

This story has been corrected to say he died Wednesday.

Pennsylvania man sets Plinko record on ‘The Price Is Right’

A Pennsylvania man was feeling pretty chipper on “The Price Is Right,” as he won a record $31,500 playing Plinko on the daytime show, TMZ reported.

>> Read more trending news

In the segment that aired Thursday, 23-year-old Ryan Belz of Millerton was animated from start to finish as he dropped five Plinko chips down a zigzag maze to win cash prizes of various amounts up to $10,000. The Penn State graduate broke the previous mark of $30,500, KCBS reported.

The game debuted on the show in January 1983. A player technically could win $50,000 if all five chips hit the $10,000 slot in the middle of the board. 

Belz hit the $10,000 spot on his first chip, then added $1,000 with his second. He connected for $10,000 on his third attempt and then added $500 on his next try. On his final try, Belz kissed the Plinko chip and let it go. It went straight to the $10,000 spot again, and Belz, who had been demonstrative throughout his appearance, kicked his excitement into overdrive.

Belz plans to use his winnings to pay off his college loans, TMZ reported.

Private service, public viewing for Cornell planned Friday

Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell is being laid to rest Friday at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Representatives for the late singer-songwriter say a private memorial service Friday will be followed by a public viewing of Cornell's burial site at 3 p.m. PDT.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery is the final resting place for numerous stars, including Jayne Mansfield, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and Cecil B. DeMille.

Cornell, 52, was pronounced dead May 18 after he was found unresponsive in a Detroit hotel room hours after performing a concert with Soundgarden. Coroner's officials released say preliminary autopsy results show the singer hanged himself, but full toxicology results remain pending. The singer's family has disputed the findings and claim Cornell may have taken more of an anti-anxiety drug than he was prescribed.

The Seattle native was a leading voice of the grunge movement in the 1990s. Besides Soundgarden, he scored hits as a solo artist and with bands Temple of the Dog and Audioslave.

He is survived by his wife and two children.

Vicky Cornell penned an open letter to her husband that was posted online by Billboard on Wednesday in which she promised to fight for him and take care of their children.

"We had the time of our lives in the last decade and I'm sorry, my sweet love, that I did not see what happened to you that night. I'm sorry you were alone, and I know that was not you, my sweet Christopher. Your children know that too, so you can rest in peace," she wrote.

UK campaigning resumes 4 days after concert attack

Four days after a suicide bombing plunged Britain into mourning, political campaigning resumed Friday for next month's general election with the main opposition leader linking deadly terrorism at home to foreign wars like the one in Libya.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn risked being assailed for politicizing the attack on Manchester Arena that killed 22 people by claiming in his first post-atrocity speech that his party would change Britain's foreign policy if it takes power after the June 8 vote by abandoning the "war on terror."

"Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home," he said as national campaigning resumed after a hiatus to honor the victims in the arena blast.

Salman Abedi, the bomber who struck the Ariana Grande concert on Monday night, had strong links to Libya. His parents had been born there before moving to Britain and he traveled there on occasion.

While Corbyn may face criticism for his comments, he is trying to win back the many Labour supporters who turned away from the party in the aftermath of then Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to back President George W. Bush in the 2003 Iraq war. More than 1 million protesters marched on Britain's Parliament to condemn Blair's move, which proved hugely controversial, in part because the case for war was built around the idea that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

When none were found, Blair faced widespread criticism and his popularity, which saw him lead the Labour Party to three straight election victories, eroded. There was then also heated criticism in some quarters that the July 7, 2005 public transport bombings in London came as a result of Britain's involvement in the Iraq war.

The Labour Party under Corbyn has trailed Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives in the polls, but has begun to make gains in the last week. It is unclear how the worst attack in Britain in more than a decade will impact voter sentiment.

British police investigating the Manchester bombing made a new arrest Friday while continuing to search several properties.

Seven other men are being held on suspicion of offenses violating the Terrorism Act. Their ages ranged from 18 to 38.

A 16-year-old boy and a 34-year-old woman who had been arrested were released without charge, police said.

Authorities are chasing possible links between the Abedi and militants in Manchester, elsewhere in Europe, and in North Africa and the Middle East. Britain's security level has been upgraded to "critical" meaning officials believe another attack may be imminent.

Abedi, a college dropout who had grown up in the Manchester area, was known to security services because of his radical views. His parents came to Britain early in the 1990s.

He reportedly was in contact with family members just before the attack.

The name of the man arrested in the early hours Friday and those of the seven others in custody were not released. No one has yet been charged in the bombing.

London police say extra security is being added for major sporting events this weekend including the FA Cup soccer final at Wembley Stadium.

Chief Superintendent Jon Williams said Friday extra protection measures and extra officers are being deployed throughout the capital because of the increased terrorist threat level.

He said fans coming to soccer and rugby matches this weekend should come earlier than usual because of added security screening.

Williams said "covert and discrete tactics" will also be in place to protect the transport network.

He says police want the approach to be "unpredictable" and to make London "as hostile an environment as possible to terrorists."

British police working on the case have resumed intelligence-sharing with U.S. counterparts after a brief halt because of anger over leaks to U.S. media thought by Britain to be coming from U.S. officials.

British officials say that have received assurances from U.S. authorities that confidential material will be protected.

___

Rob Harris reported from Manchester.

Italian fashion designer Laura Biagiotti dies at 73

Laura Biagiotti, an Italian fashion designer who conquered global markets with her soft, loose women's clothes and luxurious knits that won her the nickname "Queen of Cashmere," died Friday following a heart attack. She was 73.

Biagiotti suffered the heart attack Wednesday evening at her estate outside of Rome. Doctors were able to resuscitate her but by then serious brain damage had occurred. She died in a hospital in the capital.

Her daughter, Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna, announced her mother's death on Twitter, conveying the news with a Biblical passage: "In the house of my father there are many places. If not, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you."

Biagiotti began designing women's clothes in the 1960s and by the 1980s was making her mark.

In 1988, she became the first Italian designer to put on a fashion show in China, presenting dresses and blouses in silk and cashmere, and in 1995 was the first to have a show inside the Kremlin walls in Moscow.

She expanded into men's clothing as well, and created a plus-size women's line, Laura Piu, and a line for children.

Her company produced sunglasses and other accessories and perfumes, including the popular "Roma" fragrance, named after Biagiotti's home city.

Born Aug. 4, 1943, Biagiotti studied to become an archaeologist but abandoned those plans to help her mother run a dressmaking business.

In those early years, she traveled frequently to the United States to learn business and technology. After collaborating with such famous fashion houses as those of Emilio Federico Schuberth and Roberto Capucci, she presented her own collection in Florence in 1972.

"Being a fashion designer is like taking vows. It becomes your religion for life," she told The Associated Press in 1987.

She was always deeply proud of her native Italy, and for years wore a cashmere shawl woven in the red, white and green colors of the nation's flag.

"I'm convinced that the true gold mine in our country is the 'Made in Italy' label," she said in 2011.

Biagiotti was a pioneer in the now-established practice of fashion houses' sponsoring restoration of monuments.

Her perfume brand contributed to the restoration in 1998 of the ramp-like staircase, designed by Michelangelo, that leads to the top of the Capitoline Hill. Years later, Biagiotti contributed to the restoration of the delightful 17th-century, twin fountains that top ancient Egyptian granite baths in front of Palazzo Farnese, considered the finest Renaissance palace in Rome and home to the French Embassy.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on Friday paid tribute to her as a "generous supporter, involved in a first-hand way, in caring for Italian cultural patrimony."

Biagiotti lived in a medieval castle on a hilltop outside of Rome that she had restored, and which was the headquarters for her business.

Her husband, Gianni Cigna, who had also been her business partner, died of leukemia in 1996.

She is survived by her daughter Lavinia, who works as the fashion house's creative director.

___

Frances D'Emilio contributed to this report.

A sister uses her gifts to send messages to fallen soldier

She begins each time by sharpening her tools, with the sound of metal on metal echoing through the sunlit old house she calls both home and workshop. Making a violin is a methodical art. For Sonja St. John, that structure is a necessity — and the routine, in many ways, a saving grace.

"It's a way to stay on track even when chaos can be happening right outside," she says.

She finishes each new violin with another ritual, by gluing a small, handwritten message inside. This began as a light gesture, with favorite fortunes from cookies placed inside with a wink as hidden signatures of sorts from her, the violin maker. But the notes she leaves now have become far more personal and meaningful.

Each is different, but they are often a tribute to those who've given of themselves in some way, members of the military included. Her most recent one reads: "In honor of past, present and future souls of courage and wisdom."

The person foremost on her mind when she writes those messages is her brother, Jon St. John, an Army specialist who died a decade ago when a roadside bomb exploded near the military vehicle in which he was the gunner.

Jon, Sonja's only sibling, was 25. She was 22 and just beginning her career after graduating from the Chicago School of Violin Making. She has a vivid memory of sliding to her kitchen floor, her back against the cupboards, when her parents shared the news in a phone call.

This was her big brother, her fishing buddy and protector, tall and strong-willed but also kind in sometimes surprising ways. Her favorite photo of the two of them together was taken at one of her violin recitals in 2002. He'd come home from college, wearing what she figures was probably his nicest sweater, and brought her flowers.

"He was just always a good friend to have around," she said, noting how music had always been a bonding point for them. He'd teach her about his favorite rock bands. She introduced him to jazz violin.

But in the years after his death, Sonja stopped playing, as grief enveloped her.

She got married in 2008 and divorced seven years later. After moving back to Neenah, her Wisconsin hometown, to be near her parents, she increasingly tried to drown that grief with alcohol, so much so that she checked into rehab more than once.

"I was very sick for quite a long time," she said.

Her grandmother had died of heart problems shortly after Jon's death but, as Sonja saw it, she really died of heartache. Truth was, her own heart also had been broken for years.

Then, last fall, she received a note from Jason Moon, a musician and himself an Iraq war veteran whom she'd first met as a teenager, when they played music together. Moon had had his own struggles, with PTSD, after coming home from the war. He hadn't been able to offer much support when Jon died, he said, but things had changed for him in recent years.

Now the head of a nonprofit arts organization for veterans, called Warrior Songs, Moon asked Sonja if she'd be interested in helping create a song for his group's second album. This one will focus on telling the stories of women in combat, as well as the mothers, wives and sisters who've lost loved ones to war.

The Warrior Songs CDs are given free of charge to veterans and are intended to be a source of support and healing.

In honoring Jon — and telling her own story — Sonja, now 33, also saw a chance to move forward and to stay sober.

"I just really woke up when I realized I know that my brother was willing to die for me and our country," she said. "I better be willing to live and take advantage of what I DO have."

She agreed to play a violin solo for the song and soon began practicing again.

She also began building a new violin, work she'd set aside to focus on instrument repair.

This winter, Moon recorded an interview with Sonja, and she gave him some of her journal entries. He then shared those materials with songwriter Kevin Welsh, who wrote the resulting song, titled "Star in the Dark."

"Hey brother, where you gone?" the song begins.

"It's been too long since you've been home.

"They called it 'casualty.'

"It doesn't seem casual to me."

This month, Sonja recorded the violin accompaniment for the song at a studio in suburban Milwaukee. Her parents, Kay and Jon Sr., were there, too. They recalled the son who, in 2005, showed up with Army brochures to tell them he'd be leaving in 36 hours for basic training at Fort Hood, Texas.

"You know there's a war going on?" his mother recalled saying to him.

"Yes, I do," he said with a determined look. Though worried, his parents gave him their full support.

Now their daughter is the major focus.

"Who knew what kind of healing would come from this process?" Moon said of Sonja's personal journey in helping create the song, which is being released this weekend on the Warrior Songs website.

Still, it was clear that she was nervous. She'd never played in a recording studio before and was still feeling rusty.

To help keep her calm, she placed photos of Jon on a nearby music stand. Then she played a solo that would, like the song itself, become a message of another kind, much more public than those slips of paper hidden inside a violin that may never be seen.

As she finished, audio engineer Jonathon Leubner smiled. "That's lovely," he said. "I can't thank you enough."

"Well," she replied through a studio microphone, "let's all thank my brother."

____

Online:

Warrior Songs: http://www.warriorsongs.org

Sonja's site: http://www.sonjaviolin.com/

___

Carrie Antlfinger, an AP reporter based in Milwaukee, contributed to this multiplatform report. Martha Irvine, an AP national writer, can be reached at mirvine@ap.org or at http://twitter.com/irvineap

JFK’s daughter, grandchildren pay tribute in video

The centennial of John F. Kennedy’s birthday is Monday, and in an early Memorial Day tribute, his daughter and grandchildren reflected on the life of the 35th president and the impact he had on their lives. 

>> Read more trending news

At the start of a video created by the JFK Library, Caroline Kennedy said she has thought about her father “and missed him every day of my life,” Today reported.

“Growing up without him was made easier by all the people who kept him in their hearts, who told me that he inspired them to work and fight and believe in a better world, to give something back to this country that has given so much to so many,” she said in the video.

Kennedy, 59, recalled hiding under father’s desk in the Oval Office, and spoke about the generation her father inspired, Today reported.

"As my father said in his inaugural address, 'This work will not be finished in our lifetime, it's up to us to continue to pass these values on to our children and grandchildren,'" she said.

In the video, Tatiana Kennedy Schlossberg spoke of her connection to her grandfather, then described her unique connection to one of the nation's most historical figures.

"One of the defining relationships of my life is with someone I've never met, my grandfather, President John F. Kennedy," she said.

“To me, that is where he lives, as a historical figure rooted in the past, but also as a person connected to so much of what came after him,” she said in the video. “But while my grandfather had reverence for the past, and the lessons it could impart, he also knew that America was a country where change was possible. That we aren't bound solely by tradition if we understand the past with which we are breaking."

Tatiana's sister, Rose Schlossberg, also described the need to reflect upon the past to help shape the future.

"My grandfather would be proud of how far we’ve come as a nation since 1963, but he’d have been the first to tell us that we have a long way to go,” she said.

The president's only grandson, Jack Schlossberg, said his favorite speech by John F. Kennedy was about sending a man to the moon, "not because it would be easy, but because it would be so hard."

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