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TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES? N.M. TOWN PARTIES ON

Ralph Edwards is a man who likes to party.

So at the age of 82 and in fragile health, the former toast of Hollywood returned last week to the fiesta he hasn't missed for the past 47 years."If I wasn't here, I'd probably be falling dead somewhere," said Edwards before tottering aboard a parade truck to ride down main street Saturday in the city's annual celebration.

The party began in 1950, when the popular quiz show "Truth or Consequences" hosted by Edwards marked its 10th anniversary.

Edwards, who has recovered from two bouts with cancer, said he was looking for a publicity stunt back then when a staffer suggested inviting a city to change its name to Truth or Consequences.

"In those days, nothing seemed impossible," he said. At the time, the show was wildly popular, and it remains the number one audience-participation show in history. When it went to television, "Truth or Consequences" again broke ground, filming live and using the multi-camera system.

A state senator from what was then Hot Springs, N.M., led the campaign to rename the town, and residents voted 1,294 to 295 for the change to Truth or Consequences.

Anne Welborn, 56, was 10 years old when the town changed its name - plenty old enough to have a strong opinion on the matter.

"My parents were opposed and so was I," she said. "I thought it was silly."

Welborn's antipathy persisted through two subsequent votes and even today the Geronimo Springs Museum director would just as soon have her hometown called Hot Springs again.

"It's not a big issue, but the people who were for it are still for it and the people who were against it are still against it," she said.

It's a sore issue between Wel-born and her 83-year-old friend Louise Walls.

Walls supported the name change and considers Edwards something of a hero.

"We're pretty well known throughout the entire country now, and it's all thanks to Ralph Edwards. He's our adopted son," Walls said.

There are 13 incorporated towns and cities in the United States named Hot Springs. But, said Walls, "there's only one Truth or Consequences."

Truth or Consequences - often referred to as T or C in New Mexico - is in high desert country, ringed by rugged buttes and mountains. The town is nestled between two dammed lakes on the Rio Grande that form the greatest mass of water in the state.

Bayonet-bladed yucca plants dot the landscape, and hot mineral springs bubble up into dilapidated bath houses.

It's a quiet town most of the year - people refer to the only traffic signal as "the light," and the local newspaper lists spitting on car windows and cutting classes in its crime report.

Edwards brings second-rate stars with him each year, some of whom have gone on to make it big.