ONE OF THE classier variety shows on TV each December is "The Kennedy Center Honors," and although the honorees have become more pop-culture oriented than when the event started 30 years ago - in another decade they may pay tribute to the

Pussycat Dolls

- this year's honorees -

Brian Wilson

,

Martin Scorsese

,

Steve Martin

,

Diana Ross

and

Leon Fleisher

- should lead to decent TV ratings.

Yesterday they visited the White House and were honored by President Bush, followed by an evening of celebration at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (The two-hour event will air Dec. 26 on CBS.)

Recipients are cited for their excellence in the performing arts - dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television - and selected by the center's board of trustees.

Guess ho's back

Long-time AM radio host Don Imus returns to the airwaves at 6 a.m today on WABC-AM and other Citadel Broadcasting stations around the country, ending his nearly eight-month banishment from the air.

The morning show will also be simulcast on cable's RFD-TV, owned by the Rural Media Group, and rebroadcast on radio in the evenings.

This morning's four-hour premiere is being broadcast from Town Hall in Times Square, where $100 tickets were sold to benefit the Imus Ranch for Kids With Cancer. Starting tomorrow, Imus will broadcast 6-9 a.m. weekdays, from a studio across from Madison Square Garden.

Not much is known about the show's format, but Charles McCord is back to read the news and at least one black person will participate regularly.

Unless that's Imus's brother Fred in black-face hawking his new Collard Green Salsa.

"At this point, I don't think he's very relevant," morning nemesis Howard Stern said of Imus. "People will tune out within a week. I defy you to listen. It's like a rodeo - you know, see how long you can ride a bull? See how long you can keep listening to Imus."

It's only rock 'n' roll . . .

An auction at Christie's of rock 'n' roll memorabilia from the 1960s and '70s hauled in big bucks Friday, including $20,000 for an inscribed Jimi Hendrix "Axis: Bold as Love" album and more than $4,000 for a Rolling Stones' sweater for "Goat's Head Soup."

Three cardboard posters for Hendrix concerts in 1968 and 1969 fetched $10,625, $16,250 and $18,750.

Of the T-shirts, a Yardbirds shirt worn by rock journalist Greg Shaw to the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival brought $3,000 while a maroon Led Zeppelin 1973 shirt fetched $1,625.

A short-sleeved white shirt with green sleeves with the words "War is over! If you want it" from the John Lennon song "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," sold for $1,875.

Christie's said all the T-shirts were bought by U.S. private collectors except for the Lennon one, which was acquired by an institution it wouldn't name.

If any institution we've donated money to spent nearly $1,900 on a T-shirt, they better stay anonymous.

* In other auction news, heavy metal fans turned out en masse to snatch up items put up for sale by Ozzy Osbourne.

"We had Ozzy fans bidding against these sophisticated fine art buyers, which you don't see every day," said Darren Julien, whose company, Julien's Auctions, ran the charity sale Friday and Saturday.

Bidders came from as far as Germany to try and buy belongings from the Beverly Hills mansion formerly owned by Ozzy.

Items featured on Ozzy's MTV show were the most popular, Julien said. A bat coat sold for $3,300, skull sneakers brought in $2,625 and a pair of Ozzy's trademark round glasses went for $5,250. An oversized coffee cup often clutched on camera sold for $1,625. A dog bed from Elton John fetched $2,375.

Art buyers were interested in a sculpture by Edouard Drouot ($10,500) and a painting by Gabriel Joseph Marie Augustin Ferrier ($5,312).

The auction raised $800,000 for the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

"For a celebrity garage sale, it was pretty spectacular," Julien said.

Tattbits

* Elizabeth Taylor returned to the stage Saturday night, after persuading striking TV and film writers to briefly put down their picket signs.

The Writers Guild of America agreed not to picket the Paramount Pictures lot when Taylor gave a benefit performance of A.R. Gurney's play "Love Letters" with James Earl Jones.

"This worthy event is happening solely through the efforts and underwriting of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, who is not only a longtime member of the Screen Actors Guild, but an outspoken supporter of the Writers Guild," Patric Verrone, president of the western chapter of the guild, said in a statement.

Taylor hoped the reading would raise $1,000,000 for her AIDS Foundation.

* Four years after retiring, illusionists Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn may reappear.

"A good magician never lets the cat out of the bag," Horn told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a story about a possible return to show business. "Act surprised when you hear about it."

Will the tiger tamers again play Vegas?

Tattle predicts a maul tour. *

Daily News wire services contributed to this report.

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