FRIENDS FEAR MINI-ME BACK ON THE BOOZE

Published on: February 7, 2003

Friends are worried that Mini-Me actor Verne Troyer has slipped back into the deadly boozing that almost killed him last August.

Just weeks after leaving a rehab center in Malibu in late November, the popular 32-inch-tall "Austin Powers" star apparently fell off the wagon, sources told The ENQUIRER -- brazenly ordering a champagne cocktail during a business flight and stopping off to buy beer at a liquor store.

Revealed an insider: "Verne's friends are concerned that after everything he has been through to get sober, Verne hasn't learned his lesson.

"He ordered a mimosa (champagne and orange juice) while he was flying to a public appearance with a friend about a month ago.

"The friend tried to stop him but Verne snapped, 'I can handle it. I know what I'm doing.' They got into a heated argument and made a big scene on the plane."

The 34-year-old actor may be buckling under his heavy work schedule, which requires him to be away from home frequently, pals say.

"Verne has been traveling a lot lately doing personal appearances," the insider said. "Maybe it's the stress that's causing him to crave alcohol."

On Thursday January 23, shortly after 4 p.m., an eyewitness spotted Verne stopping off at Oaks Liquor Store in Sun Valley, Calif., on the way to his home in the eastern San Fernando Valley.

"Verne pulled up to the liquor store on Glenoaks Blvd. in his specially equipped Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 and went into the store," the observer said. "Within seconds an Asian woman was following him out and putting a 12-pack of beer into the backseat of Verne's car for him.

"It seemed like she knew him because she was smiling and chatting."

This wasn't Verne's only booze purchase, The ENQUIRER learned -- Verne is buying beer on a regular basis these days.

"He's a regular customer at Oaks Liquor," said a source. "He comes in once or twice every couple of weeks.

"He used to buy the $22 or $28 bottle of Absolut vodka, but lately he's stopped buying vodka and started buying 12-packs of Budweiser. He purchased a Bud 12-pack about three days ago."

The star lives in a guesthouse at the home of his manager Elena Bertnolli and her actor-husband Phil Fondacaro, both "little people" who are his close friends.

The couple has been concerned about Verne lately, the insider says:

"Elena and Phil understand the pressures of being tiny in Hollywood and they've tried to help and support Verne. Now Elena and Phil are frantic that Verne may hit the booze again and kill himself. His little body can't take any more heavy drinking."

As The ENQUIRER revealed exclusively last fall, Verne nearly died from alcohol poisoning on August 28 following a drinking binge sparked by troubles with a girlfriend. He was rushed to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif., with severe stomach pains and was placed on a heart monitor to chart his shaky vital signs.

After he recovered, friends urged him to get help, and last October Verne entered the pricey Wavelengths rehab center. Yet despite weeks of therapy and the encouragement of friends like actor Robert Downey Jr. to stay sober, sources say it looks like Verne is drinking again.

"He's missing his AA meetings, which he attended so religiously for a while," said a pal of the actor.

"He has the love and support of many friends, but it just doesn't seem to be enough to help him win his battle with booze."