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Record exec/talent scout/television mogul/dedicated Kool cigarette smoker Simon Cowell is denying reports that his tantrum torpedoed an American Idol publicity photo shoot budgeted at $50K. Cowell spoke to Extra in between drags on his minty cancer stick:

"Extra" went straight to the source, and the TV mogul told us he was actually sick.

Simon was laid up for four days and didn't pull a "Britney-type hissy fit," adding, "For the first time in six years, I called in sick."

Keep in mind, this is coming from a man who attended the mixing sessions for Ruben Studdard's debut album, so save your baseless accusations of malingering. Simon Cowell is likely recuperating with plenty of rest, vitamin C, and the smooth drag of a menthol cigarette, the medicine of choice for England's elite and this country's working poor.