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How a Garbage Truck Driver from New York Grew Up to Become The Most Interesting Man in the World

Most Interesting Man in the World: Jonathan Goldsmith Interview
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03/11/2016 AT 06:30 PM EST

Jonathan Goldsmith has lived a life (almost) as interesting as the man he's best known for playing.

The silver-bearded actor, 78, officially retired as The Most Interesting Man in the World this week after 10 years, with Dos Dos Equis releasing his final commercial.

Though he's now consorted with presidents and movie stars, the actor's career began with a lie, when as a young man – then working as a garbage truck driver – he told the director of the classic Western TV show Gunsmoke that he could "ride horses like the wind."

Except … he couldn't.

"Kids that are brought up in New York don't necessarily ride like the wind," Goldsmith tells PEOPLE of booking the role in 1966. "I'd never been on a horse before."

He practiced for a few weeks but wasn't up to snuff when it came time to shoot his first scene.

"Horses know when you're not comfortable and off he went," says Goldsmith. "The director was setting up the shot and they kept screaming at me, 'Turn him around! Turn him around!' "

Fast forward decades later, and Goldsmith is more famous than ever thanks to his Most Interesting Man in the World character. A-list stars from Jennifer Lawrence to Leonardo DiCaprio have stopped him for selfies ("It's wonderful to be recognized by people I am in awe of" he says), and he's been a special guest at an intimate birthday party for President Barack Obama.

"My wife and I met him when he opened up his campaign up in Burlington, Vermont. We just hit it off," says Goldsmith. "He knew about the commercial and he liked it very much. He was very charming."

Six months later, Goldsmith was invited to a birthday party for Obama at Camp David, held for for 10 of Obama's closest friends – plus one surprise guest: The Most Interesting Man in the World.

"It was a great honor and it was quite a highlight in my career and my life," says Goldsmith.

Before his Most Interesting Man days, he had adventures worthy of his TV counterpart – including saving the life of a hiker who got caught in a snowstorm. As a young man, Goldsmith and his friends were climbing Mount Whitney in California when they noticed an older man coming down from the summit. He was under-dressed for time of year – September. As they continued to climb, the weather turned for the worse and on their way down it started to snow. Goldsmith knew they had to find the man or he wouldn't make it through the night.

"We found him under a rock ledge. he was dehydrated. lips were cracked. We put him in my sleeping bag. We're holding onto this guy. We put a poncho on him and socks on his hands," says Goldsmith. "In the morning, the sun came out and we were fine. The most interesting thing is the guy never even said thank you. I always remembered that."

Goldsmith admits it's tough saying goodbye to being The Most Interesting Man in the World after a decade, but he'll cherish the memories.

"I'll miss all of it," he says. "It was such a delight to bring a smile to people's faces, and that's what always happened."
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