AFTER A FRIENDLY DINNER AT a seaside restaurant in the summer of 1995, Dr. Steven Hoefflin was strolling along the Santa Monica Pier with TV medical reporter Bruce Hensel and his pal Heidi Fleiss (aka the Hollywood Madam) when he heard a splash and a cry for help. A man had handcuffed himself, jumped into the water and was now apparently reconsidering his decision. While Fleiss ran for assistance, Hoefflin leapt from the pier into the choppy waters below and, with the help of Hensel and a harbor-patrol officer, dragged the 200-pound man to safety. "It felt so good to be doing a good thing," Fleiss, who remains in prison for tax evasion and attempted pandering, said at the time. "But the true hero was Dr. Steven Hoefflin."

A hero in many stars' eyes, Hoefflin, 51, is the plastic surgeon the celebrities turn to when they want to save face. But these days the medic known as Doc Hollywood (he even consulted on the 1991 Michael J. Fox movie by that name) is the one who finds himself in troubled waters. Acting on a complaint received in July 1996, the Medical Board of California is investigating the physician—who counts Michael and Janet Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Ivana Trump among his clients—for a list of allegations that would furrow the smoothest of brows.

In documents filed in superior court by the state attorney general's office, a Board investigator says that the complaint alleged "that Dr. Hoefflin had fondled and photographed patients (many of whom were in the entertainment industry) while they were under the effects of anesthesia...[and] that the patients' private parts were exposed while they were being operated on for a facelift." She adds that the complaint "made other allegations regarding drug abuse and tax evasion on the part of Dr. Hoefflin." (The attorney general's office has asked a state judge to order four of Hoefflin's former employees—all of whom threatened to sue the doctor last year for sexual harassment before reaching a confidential settlement—to testify about their claims before the medical board investigator.)

Hoefflin told PEOPLE his record is blemish-free, and his supporters argue that it would be impossible for him to behave so unprofessionally under the watchful eye of his operating-room team. Of all the allegations, Hoefflin says emphatically, "They're lies, and it will be proven that they're lies." Colleagues and longtime friends—among them Joan Rivers (the pair cowrote an as-yet-unpublished book titled Your Complete Plastic Surgery Guidebook), Phyllis Diller and Tony Curtis—have come to his defense. Curtis, 72, a pal of 15 years, calls the surgeon a charming man with an impeccable professional demeanor. "His work is wonderful," adds Diller, who, after a breast reduction, tummy tuck, two nose jobs, cheek implants, a browlift, eyelift, two facelifts and a chemical peel, might qualify as an expert witness.

A fitness fanatic, sky diver and vegetarian who last year bared his toned torso in a bodybuilding magazine, Hoefflin says his own features are strictly original issue (though he admits he wouldn't be averse to having his "love handles" worked off down the track). Immaculately groomed, he's a self-confessed perfectionist and workaholic who puts in 14-hour days at the office. "Here's a guy who one day decided to get in shape, and two months later he's [training for] an Ironman contest," says friend Dennis Gilbert, an L.A. sports agent. "The guy is a machine."

Discipline was taught early on in the Northridge, Calif., home of Hoefflin's parents, David, now 82, a retired real estate broker, and homemaker Gloria, 76. "You were at dinner at a certain time," Hoefflin recalls. "You were in bed at a certain time. You did your homework at a certain time." Growing up on an acre of land with four brothers and a passel of horses and chickens, Steven "always wanted to be a physician," says his brother Richard, 48, an L.A. attorney. "He would extract BBs from the chickens who unfortunately got in our line of fire."

Descended from U.S. President Benjamin Harrison (1889-93), as well as from Don Luis Terrazas Fuentes, a 19th-century cattle baron who became governor of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Hoefflin began his medical studies south of the border in Guadalajara. He completed them at UCLA, where he graduated at the top of his class in 1972. He married Linda Manus while still in college, and they had two sons before divorcing in 1976. (He says that as a doctor building a practice, "I just did not have time to nurture a relationship.") Jeff, 26, is a student at Finch University's medical school near Chicago. Brad, 22, who suffers from a degenerative neurological disease, lives with Hoefflin and his second wife, Pamela Wilson, 40, in their Tudor-style home in Bel Air.

After switching specialties from cardiology to plastic surgery to satisfy an artistic bent (performing a facelift, he says, "is like painting a portrait"), Hoefflin spent his early career working with burn victims and performing reconstructive operations. His career took another turn in the late 1970s. "I started performing a lot of breast enlargements," explains Hoefflin. It was around that time that a colleague introduced him to Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, who invited the doctor to several of his fabled parties. There, Hoefflin met such future clients as Curtis and porn star Amber Lynn. ("Dr. Hoefflin is like a father to me," she told The Washington Post.) Though Hoefflin won't rat on the bunnies by revealing cosmetic secrets, he considers Hefner a kindred spirit. "My job is to create beauty and make men and women happy," he says. "It's not unusual for people in that field to develop a mutual respect."

Before long, Hoefflin found himself entering the orbit of Hollywood's brightest stars. He was reportedly responsible not only for transforming the looks of Michael Jackson—who is rumored to have had six nose jobs—but also for giving the reclusive singer, whom he affectionately dubbed Meat, friendship and guidance. "I could tell Michael relied on Steve for an awful lot of personal advice," says Gilbert, who once dined with the pair. When the singer's hair caught fire while he filmed a Pepsi commercial in 1984, Hoefflin rushed to his side, repaired the damage with skin grafts and briefed the media on his progress.

The attendant publicity raised Hoefflin's Hollywood profile even higher. Joan Rivers once claimed that the carpet at the discreet celebrity entrance to the red-brick Hoefflin Building in Santa Monica was wearing thin. By 1995, when he met Pamela—who admires how he "treats his patients with tender loving care"—Hoefflin had achieved a celebrity all his own. Their August wedding, a black-tie affair in Beverly Hills, was attended by the likes of Vanna White, Buzz Aldrin and Montel Williams and was widely covered by local media.

Some suggest that Hoefflin's growing celebrity may have sparked the complaint to the Board. "A lot of people around town kind of felt he made the mistake of considering himself a star," says a colleague who has known the doctor for 18 years. "Or maybe he wasn't as wonderful and as innocent a person as he appeared."

Whatever the outcome of the Board's investigation, Hoefflin is gearing up for a face-off—Hollywood-style—having engaged the same damage-control PR firm that Christian Slater hired when he hit the skids (and, allegedly, his girlfriend) in August. In the meantime, Hoefflin takes comfort in his many hobbies: sculpting, drawing and demonstrating the occasional sleight of hand. A certified amateur magician, he can make coins vanish and objects float on air. "Magic," he says, "adds some enjoyment to life." Even if it can't make his woes disappear.

ANNE-MARIE O'NEILL
LYNDON STAMBLER. JULIE JORDAN and JEFFREY WELLS in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Lyndon Stambler,
  • Julie Jordan,
  • Jeffrey Wells.