He's just FAB!O

Cover-guy hunk promotes book he didn't write, record he doesn't sing on, but hey, nobody much cares

Model Fabio attends the benefit for Homeless Children on January 4, 1995 at the Old Homestead Steakhouse Restaurant in New York City.

Model Fabio attends the benefit for Homeless Children on January 4, 1995 at the Old Homestead Steakhouse Restaurant in New York City.

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty

Shuffling through press clips on Fabio, you come across at least one writer who was dying to interview him not because she was dazzled by his curvaceous bulk but because she couldn't wait to lampoon such a vacuous sex symbol.

And what did Fabio do?

Charmed the pants off her, so to speak, and seemingly all the other reporters, too.

So the thought of spending 30 minutes in the back of a limo with the world's most-drooled-after male sounded like a hoot.

Flirt with me, you devil. Melt my journalistic ice.

The 32-year-old hunk made his fame as a swashbuckling model for romance novel covers and attracted a sort of cult following. Now he's on the road promoting his own romance novel and a Versace cologne, Mediterraneum.

There's also a Fabio record out - he doesn't sing the songs but talks in between them - a calendar and a 900 number, on which he coos about romance.

Coming soon: the fitness video.

When the blond superman walks off the plane at Intercontinental, he had the slow-moving schlep of someone who's been breathing a lot of bad cabin air and that slightly dazed look people get when they've been traveling for a long time.

That's not to say he was looking bad. How could he? A perpetual tan bronzes over any tinges of fatigue. Spectacular muscles prop up a frame that looks incapable of stooping. And if his long hair's messed up, so what?

There aren't many women in the airport, but the men turn their heads to look at him, even though he is, for Fabio, rather demurely dressed in a blue jacket and a crisp white shirt that plunges mere inches into his rather orange chest.

His manager, a Versace representative and the driver hustle him out of the airport and into a limo - they'll deal with luggage later - because women have been waiting at Foley's since 9 a.m., and the plane has made him late.

Once he's plopped in the back of the car, Fabio finally looks over my way and sees the tape recorder.

"Oh no. She's a reporter, " he groans.

That's OK. He's about to greet strangers and sign autographs for seven straight hours in three different locations before attending a cocktail party. He hardly ate breakfast and there's no time scheduled for lunch. It will be at least nine hours before he can stop catering to people vying for his attention. Who can blame him for wanting a moment of peace?

Still, he's Fabio. Seduction is his job - and effective PR.

It must just be a matter of time before the famous blue eyes burn into my soul.

Fabio yawns.

"Did you see the best-seller list?" asks his manager, Peter Paul, sitting across from us and pulling USA Today out of his briefcase. He's sprawled out on the seat, occasionally pulling out a laptop, doling out the latest clips from Fabio's tour and interjecting the right words into the model's dialogue.

Is this the kind of book you would read in your free time? I ask the author of "Pirate" to find out what kind of books he likes, or if he reads at all.

"I would read most of my book. A few parts I don't agree, but for a special reason."

(This is starting off like a bad date. I'm nervous. He's exhausted and bored, and I have no idea what he's talking about.)

We work through it. See, the book Fabio wrote didn't turn out the way it would have if Fabio had written the book.

The ideas were his, and he wrote some of it, but he's been on the road for more than a year, so there was a limit to how much time he could devote to it, he says. In the end, the book was in the hands of his co-writer and the publisher, Avon. He's unhappy with the heroine's age, for example (she's a mere 12 at the start), but he did insist that the pirate wear condoms and not smoke.

"It's a fantasy, " says Paul, lest there be any confusion. "So if the pirate has safe sex or if he doesn't smoke, why not?"

It was important for the pirate to wear condoms, Fabio says (and they "did" have them in the 18th century), because the media have to be careful about the messages they're sending out. And this was an important one.

What's wrong is all the violence in the media, he continues. That's why the world's in such a terrible state, with gangs killing each other and all that.

The problem is violence in the media.

But isn't the TV show he appears on, "Acapulco H.E.A.T., " a bit violent itself? "That's why I'm so little in "Acapulco H.E.A.T., " because it was always in my agreement left out from violent scenes."

But the show is pretty violent.

"Have you ever seen me running around with a gun or something? No. Because that was the um . . . "

"Condition, " says Paul.

"Condition. I say, I will do it, but I don't want to get . .."

"There's no graphic violence, " says Paul.

"There's no graphic violence, " says Fabio.

Change of topic

OK. Change of topic. How'd we get on this anyway? This is Fabio; we're supposed to be talking about what he looks for in a woman, what he eats for breakfast and the size of his arms.

How's he supposed to flirt when he's berating violence?

I remember a Joan Rivers show on which Fabio appeared. It was memorable because it had one of those rare, genuinely awkward television moments. Rivers had invited a bunch of women on the show who were dying to meet him. She asked an older woman why she liked Fabio so much, and when the woman answered, it was clear that this romance novel cover boy was so important to her life that it was almost heartbreaking. Even Rivers was speechless.

At the mention of this show Fabio grins. His eyes light up.


"That's Gerrie, " he says, becoming more animated. "I spent the afternoon with her yesterday."

He digs through his bag to find a card from her, written in small, neat script.

"She had lost her husband, was totally alone. She was not living. She didn't know what to do with herself. I told her, 'Don't cry about the past, because the past is past.' "

He gave her his home phone number. They became friends.

"And now she's even dating somebody and it's so funny. She totally changed her life, and she's happy now. And now she sees me always working and not having a life. 'You're the one who totally changed my life, ' she says, 'and now you don't have a life.' "

For Fabio, this is what it's all about. He has friends who are celebrities who hate this stuff, he says, meeting the public, signing autographs, giving a lonely person a thrill.

For him, this is the good part.

What do women want?

And what do all those women standing in lines in grocery stores and cologne departments want from him?

"They need a little of attention. It's amazing with such little attention how you can make people happy."

Suddenly downtown Houston's skyscrapers start whizzing behind Fabio's tanned face. We're here already? What about the important questions like: What does he do on a date? Out of all those women, how does he pick one to go out with? How does he stay in shape?

There's just time for one more:

If you had some free time, what would you do with it?

"First of all, I would sleep for a week."

"We're here, " says Paul as the limo pulls up to Foley's, where a small crowd is standing outside.

As soon as he steps out of the car, Fabio is encircled by a phalanx of suited protectors and TV cameras and sucked like a whirlpool through a stream of squealing, clapping women to a ministage in the Ralph Lauren boutique, where he will hold court for the next hour or so.

Women sacrificing their lunch hours and clutching calendars with 12 months of Fabio in various states of undress snake through the men's and cosmetics departments. They're charged up.

But there are so many women - about 1,000 is the store's estimate - and so little time.

"Tell him he can't do that, " Paul snaps to the Versace rep when Fabio scoops up a middle-aged woman, her eyes dancing to the snaps of the flashbulbs.

"I already did, " says an exasperated Michael Fama.

Even Hillary?

It's THE shot, Fabio cradling a woman in his arms. He's done it to Dr. Ruth, Ivana Trump - even, Paul says, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But there's no time for fans to get swept off their feet today. Or to pause for a picture. There's no time for a hug or a kiss. Get your autograph, your smile and keep moving.

Paul stands to the side, making sure the people responsible for keeping the line moving keep the line moving and pitching Fabio's attributes, which are more profound than he has been given credit for, he says.

Fabio has an important message to get out, he says, and people in the media don't listen to what he's saying.

"This is a man who's promoting a book he didn't write and a record he doesn't sing on. What kind of depth are we talking about here?" I ask.

"Because he's in a pretty package, people won't listen to him, " Paul counters.

"If he had something to say, why didn't he say it in the book?" I think I'm raising my voice.

"The book was a novel."

Why are we even having this discussion?

Fabio looks over now and then. I feel guilty. Can he hear us?

I don't want to hurt his feelings. There he is sitting on that platform in the spotlight, looking tired but not too tired to dole out warm smiles for the flustered admirers getting autographs or gawking at him from behind red ropes.

Most of all, what Fabio is great at is being Fabio, and that means bringing more love and romance into the world, says Paul. "And that's the point. He's being Fabio. He's not being John Steinbeck."