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Vampire novelist Anne Rice cleared of libel, invited to search for Lestat

September 27, 1997

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A judge ruled Friday that vampire novelist Anne Rice did not libel a restaurateur when she ridiculed his cafe as gaudy, tacky and less dignified than a flophouse.

But now that the case is over, will the author take Al Copeland up on his offer to dine at his restaurant and search for her fictional vampire, Lestat?

The judge dismissed claims that Ms. Rice libeled and used unfair trade practices against Copeland, founder of the Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken chain, when she took out a full-page newspaper advertisement in February.

In the ad, Ms. Rice called his Straya California Creole Grand Cafe an abomination and said she was humiliated by its flashy facade on historic St. Charles Avenue. She said it had less dignity than a flophouse.

The judge agreed with Ms. Rice that her remarks were constitutionally protected.

``We were delighted and we think that the legal system worked in a very efficient and proper manner,″ said Lance Arnold, Ms. Rice’s lawyer.

Copeland said he won’t appeal if Ms. Rice doesn’t pursue the matter.

``I don’t think people have the right to knock you in any way. But I do respect the First Amendment. I think the thing now is to just have some fun with it.″

With that said, he invited Ms. Rice to dinner at his restaurant and issued a challenge. ``I personally invite you to help us find Lestat during the month of October. Dinner’s on me.″

In 1995, Ms. Rice’s answering machine message to her fans said Lestat was gone and that his farewell came after he saw his reflection in a window of the building that later became Copeland’s restaurant.

``She lost Lestat there. He’s trapped there in the novel. Al’s inviting her to find Lestat,″ said Copeland spokeswoman Kit Wohl.

Copeland went to court Feb. 10, three days after Ms. Rice took out a full-page ad in The Times-Picayune’s Mardi Gras weekend tabloid. He added the unfair business practices claim a few weeks later when Ms. Rice’s answering machine message to her fans said she was planning to open a restaurant six blocks away from his cafe.

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