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MacGyver, Not the Average Joe Who Plays Him.
Inside a Pasadena police station, under a thicket of klieg lights, MacGyver is rehearsing.
Richard Dean Anderson, who plays the brainy TV detective, is supposed to walk past an
identically dressed decoy carrying a briefcase full of vital information, and, without
missing a beat, grab the briefcase and keep walking. "Okay, Richard," says the
director, "when you walk by, give him a nod, a subtle one." Anderson
acknowledges, walks past the decoy and then, unsubtly, begins flailing his arms as if he
were dancing the Mashed Potato.
MacGyver is that kind of show; Anderson that kind of guy. Star posturing doesn't fit the
picture. After a slow start, the series -- now in its second season -- is shaping up as a
hit for ABC. Anderson doesn't hide his regard for the character he plays. "He's not
one of those super macho guys with their shirts unbuttoned to their navels, who bounce
bullets off their chests and wear 400 tons of gold," he says. "Our show teaches
a different attitude," he adds, "which is that you think before you punch
someone in the face."
Critics have hailed MacGyver as an "adventure series for thinkers" and praised
Anderson's shy sexiness and aw-shucks charm. Says one crew member, "Other TV actors,
after two years on a hit show, develop an attitude. But not Ricky Dean." The
co-executive producer, Henry (the Fonz) Winkler, concurs: "We went through about 100
actors, and then Richard came in to audition. He immediately had to go into his briefcase
to find his glasses so he could read the script. I thought, 'We've got something
For Anderson, 36, the hit was a long time coming. In 1976 he won a good role as Dr. Jeff
Webber on the smash soap General Hospital but quit five years later when he felt
overshadowed by the Luke-and-Laura plotline. Then he suffered through two prime-time
disasters, the wholesome Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and the loathsome Emerald Point
N.A.S. MacGyver has brought success and with it a frequent 14-hour workday. Says his
girlfriend, actress Sela (Nothing in Common) Ward, who played his sister on Emerald Point,
"We live for weekends." Anderson has had to cut down on some of his favorite
sports, including scuba, hockey and motorcycle racing, at Winkler's request. "Henry
always says, 'Please, don't.' I have to be responsible to the show."
Ironically, Anderson injured his back last September, while filming a MacGyver stunt.
Running toward the camera, he accidentally tripped into a hole. "I did a perfect
shoulder roll, but I knew I had tweaked something," he says. A few months later, his
left leg still felt partly paralyzed. Diagnosed as having traumatized his spinal cord, he
underwent medical treatment. He is still in pain and has even tried acupuncture to
expedite a healing process he finds "too slow for my level of patience."
Anderson, whose mother is an artist and father a jazz bass player (they're now divorced),
was raised in Minneapolis. Dad, when not accompanying the likes of George Shearing and Mel
Torm�, supplemented his income by teaching. He also directed school plays, and Richard,
the eldest of four sons, hung around backstage. But the boy was more at home outdoors. At
16, he broke both his arms playing hockey, and that killed his No. 1 career goal. At 17,
he rode his bicycle nearly 6,000 miles through Canada to Alaska (his cautious father sent
spare tires to cities along the way). Richard spent three years at two colleges, but quit
and moved to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. "Drugs were rampant, and I
was living in the middle of it," he says (but adds that he's now totally anti-drugs).
Anderson later moved to L.A., where he joined a troupe performing at Marineland. Several
times a day, he stood on a ladder and "had a mackerel snatched out of my teeth by a
pair of killer whales." Jokes Anderson: "I still have an aversion to
Let's face it, the guy is so clean he squeaks. You can't even call him on a vanity charge.
Unlike most others in his line, he doesn't preen when he passes a mirror, and he
steadfastly avoids the Hollywood party circuit. "If I had pursued the obvious
available vices, I'd be burned out by now," he says.
Anderson does not qualify as a big spender. "I have a very protective attitude about
money," he admits. His only luxury is a new Jeep. He still lives in a two-bedroom
West Hollywood apartment, unshared -- by mutual agreement -- with girlfriend Ward, who
lives around the corner. "I've never been big on living together," she says,
"unless you're ready to get married. Neither one of us is ready." Still,
Anderson longs for fatherhood. "I want two children," he says. "I'm almost
jealous that I can't have a baby myself." Let's see you try that one, MacGyver.
Suzanne Stevens. People Weekly. 19