His stationery—and his station—are now much improved. Not since Jerry's nemesis Newman or the infamous Soup Nazi has a minor player struck such a resonant chord with Seinfeld fans. Warburton, 33, often hears his trademark Puddyisms—"Hey, babe," "Let's make out" and "High five"—replayed on KKLQ, a San Diego radio station. ("They'll even call me up and ask me to do lines from the show," he says, and he obliges.)
His legion of Puddyphiles includes Seinfeld himself, who first cast Warburton as Elaine's unlikely beau in a 1995 episode and more recently tapped him for the voice of Superman in a new American Express ad campaign. "He's always been supportive," says Warburton. As for the show's announced May farewell after nine seasons, the actor shrugs. "I just think Jerry's exhausted," he says.
Warburton, however, is exhilarated. His recurring role on Seinfeld has been a financial boost for him and Cathy, 30, a homemaker he married in 1991 after they dated for seven years. The couple share a five-bedroom San Fernando Valley house with their son Talon, 5, and daughter Alexandra, 3, and are expecting another baby in May. "Patrick is very bright, very sensitive, and he's a big family man," says golfing buddy John O'Hurley, who plays Elaine's boss, J. Peterman. Warburton's sensitivity was on display when he escorted his oldest sister, Mary Voss, to her 10-year high school reunion a few years back. "He wound up sitting with the girls who didn't have dates," she says. "I think he knew what it was like to feel ignored."
Growing up in Huntington Beach, Calif., Warburton admits he "was kind of a nerd." His parents, John, now 63 and a doctor in Gold Beach, Ore., and Barbara, 60, a former stage and TV actress (Broadway's Romanoff and Juliet), are "strict, devout" Catholics, he says, who sent their only son to a Catholic high school in Anaheim, Calif. "I was 105 pounds with bottle-cap glasses," he recalls. Bullies swarmed over him like sand flies. But after transferring to a public school in nearby Newport Beach in his junior year, Warburton donned contact lenses, started lifting weights, gained 30 pounds and began to excel in track and wrestling. "He developed overnight," says Mary, now 32 and a suburban Atlanta homemaker. "My friends were like, 'That's your brother?' "
No less impressed was Warburton's mother, who introduced him to a modeling agent in 1984. Then 20, Warburton was studying marine biology at Orange Coast College when he met Cathy, a high school senior. But he soon dropped out to model for Parisian fashion spreads and appear in TV ads back home for, among others, Certs mints and Bugle Boy clothes. At age 22, he made his film debut in Dragonard, a low-budget historical drama shot in South Africa, where he bonded with his bon-vivant costar Oliver Reed. "I spent four months drinking with this guy every night," says Warburton.
But as the parts got better—guest shots on Ellen and Grace Under Fire and a recurring role as Harry Anderson's buffoonish neighbor Eric on Dave's World in 1994—his drinking increased. Shortly after his second Seinfeld guest shot in '95, "I just hit rock bottom," he says. "It was pretty much breakdown time."
Warburton, who says he has been sober for the past two years, credits much of his recovery to Cathy. "When I was having really rough times in my head, she held the family together," he says. "Pat could go to any level of hell and back, and she was always there for him," confirms Mary. "Now I see him goofing around with her and the kids, and he seems genuinely happy." Even the uncertainties of life after Seinfeld—he's talking with writers about developing a sitcom for himself—leave Warburton unfazed. "I don't want to get all Zen and weird, but I'm striving for peace within myself," he says. "I'm trying to be less stressful and more thankful." High five!
MICHAEL A. LIPTON
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles
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