RICHARD DEAN ANDERSON RARELY takes life lying down, unless he's recuperating from reconstructive knee surgery. For a month last winter, the actor was immobile after blowing out his right knee while skiing. With little more to do while recuperating than reflect on his passion for dangerous pastimes (he also races cars), which have resulted in two back surgeries, a separated shoulder, two broken arms and two concussions, the now fully healed actor decided it was time to modify his madness. "I realized I need to make a gesture toward slowing down," says Anderson, 46. "I'll be the 75-year-old granddad whose grand-kids keep going, 'Mom, he won't stop making us jump out of the airplane.' "

Perhaps, but for 23 days last spring, Anderson, who often performed his own stunts in the ABC action series MacGyver, stayed put in the mocked-up cockpit of a Boeing 747 while shooting the NBC miniseries Pandora's Clock (airing Nov. 10 and 11). "This was very different from what he's used to," says David Israel, who wrote and produced the four-hour thriller about a pilot whose aircraft is prevented from landing after a deadly virus is loosed onboard. "He had to sit on his butt and act, and it worked very well."

Settling down in private life hasn't come as easily. Never married, Anderson has dated actresses Sela Ward, Lara Flynn Boyle and Marlee Matlin, and figure skater Katerina Witt, to name a few. "I live a very selfish existence and go through phases where I disappear into the woods of northern Minnesota," he says. "It's been hard to find a mate who goes along with those things." Until now, perhaps. Anderson says his current romantic interest, who is not in show business, "understands these aspects of my personality. I'm apt to be intimate with someone like that." Not that he's getting domestic. Without a permanent address until recently, Anderson now rents a three-bedroom Los Angeles home decorated in early frat house.

"I've done so much in my life, but the one thing I've really neglected is my family," says the actor, the eldest of four sons of Stuart Anderson, a jazz bass player and retired high school teacher, and his wife, Jocelyn, an artist. "I've been a vagabond and recluse all my life." To remedy the situation, Anderson spent much of last summer with his parents (now divorced) and brothers Jeff, Tom and Jim at the family cabin in northern Minnesota as well as at his L.A. home. "My brothers show up and we're just maniacal little boys again," he says.

Growing up in Roseville, Minn., Anderson, like a mini-MacGyver, enjoyed daredevil stunts such as leaping off the garage roof. "It only took a couple of broken bones to tell me gravity was not operating in my favor," he says. At Alexander Ramsey high school, he pursued his passion for hockey, but his . NHL dreams were shattered when both arms—and his spirit—were badly broken during his junior year. At 17, he embarked on a three-month-long, 6,000-mile bicycle trip through Canada and Alaska before finishing high school. After dropping out of St. Cloud State University in 1970, he moved to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury and eventually to L.A., where he scored his first show business job: holding mackerel in his teeth at Marineland for leaping killer whales. In 1976, Anderson, by then a struggling actor, began a five-year run as Dr. Jeff Webber on General Hospital. In 1985, after a couple of failed series, he tended MacGyver, which ran for seven years.

With no plans to reprise the role, Anderson, whose 1995 UPN series, Legend, lasted one season, is contemplating his next move. If it were up to his Pandora costar, Frasier's Jane Leeves, it would be a sitcom. "His timing is perfect," she says. "He's an attractive man who can be downright silly."

For now, Anderson has other ideas. "I can't deny it any longer," he says. "I've taken up golf. I know nothing about the protocol, so I still want to play in tennis shorts and a T-shirt. But evidently there's a code of dress. I'm trying to make the appropriate adjustments."

PETER CASTRO
CRAIG TOMASHOFF in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Craig Tomashoff.