An Excellent Dude Goes to Hell

UPDATED 08/12/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/12/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

THE EXTERIOR OF THE THREE-STORY clapboard house in sea-breezy Venice Beach, Calif., may look decidedly nonbodacious, but inside, it is truly a home fit for one excellent dude. Sinister Balinese ceremonial masks dot the walls, and a monkey skull peers from a shelf. Over in the easy chair, Alex Winter is thinking lite for a snack. "M-m-m-m-m," he says, hungrily eyeing the errant gnat buzzing him. "Dinnertime!"

Winter, the 26-year-old blond half of the summer sizzler Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, is, for the most part, just goofing. But his interest in the bizarre is right in character. In the sequel to 1989's sleeper hit Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill and partner Ted (Keanu Reeves) tackle hell in the only summer movie that asks the eternal question, "How's It hangin', Death?"

If Winter has a slightly skewed take on the world, then perhaps it's because of an upbringing that was, well, likewise. He was born in London, where his New York—bred mother, Gregg Mayer, a former Martha Graham dancer, founded a modern-dance company in the mid-'60s. Her Australian husband, Ross Winter, who danced in the troupe, recalls his son's childhood with wry humor. "His mother and I had a British approach to upbringing—strict," he says. "Alex was simply more important than the family dog."

When he was 5, the family (including elder brother Steven) moved to St. Louis, where the Winters formed the Mid America Dance Company. "Whenever other companies would tour St. Louis, these crazed bohemian dancers would sleep all over the floor," says Alex. "My memories of childhood are of waking up with a foot in my face." In 1973, the Winters divorced, fairly amicably, says Alex. "I handled it pretty well. It made me fiercely independent."

And it didn't stop his household pranks, especially those aimed at Mom. "She didn't dig the fake barf on the bedroom floor," says Alex. "I was the little brother from hell."

Drawing on the family penchant for performing arts, young Winter hit the stage himself at 11, playing a street urchin in a local production of Oliver! with Vincent Price. Soon after, he was on Broadway in The King and I with Yul Brynner and at 14 was soaring as John Darling in Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan. After graduating from high school in Montclair, N.J. (where he moved with his mother after her divorce), Alex signed up at New York University film school, only to drop out because of "complete financial breakdown." In 1985, he won the role of a rapist in Death Wish III and still jokes about his "relationship" with costar Charles Bronson, which ended with the film. "Yeah, we pal around a lot. Actually, Chuck's upstairs nappin'. We were up late. You know how it is—he's a real party animal." In 1989, three years after he moved to L.A., Excellent Adventure made tubular history.

Playing Bill hasn't slowed Alex down. Winter has directed several music videos and recently wrapped a half dozen Idiot Box episodes for MTV. This fall he's set to star in and codirect a film he cowrote, titled, appropriately enough, Freaks. "I'll play a jaded actor who promotes toxic chemicals in South America and learns his lesson when he's thoroughly disfigured," says Winter, barely concealing his glee.

So far, Alex hasn't had to erect the high fences to ward off fans. "I don't get noticed much," he says. "Unless I go to a place targeted to our audience—like a mall or a water-slide park. Then I get mobbed."

Clearly, Winter wants to live at least some semblance of the quiet life. He collects underground comics and primitive Tibetan art. But he also hangs with cutting-edge musician friends, including members of the Meat Puppets and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose guitarist, Flea, says of Alex, "He's this pop celeb guy, but he doesn't gallivant around town being a movie star.

Instead, most nights Alex can be found with his girlfriend of several years, artist Petra Slowik. So far, no one's talking about a journey down the aisle. "I'd like to settle down at some point—I mean, not settle down, just raise a family," says Alex. "I don't think settling down is something I'll ever do."

SUSAN SCHINDEHETTE
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles

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