Ages of Man
updated 11/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST
In 1991, as the tantalizing cowboy in Thelma & Louise, he was a sight to send any woman over a cliff. Those long blond locks falling through '94's Legends of the Fall made a middling movie a hit. Most recently, the 34-year-old actor (about whom Sleepers castmate Dustin Hoffman famously said, "Next to that kid, we all look like onions") exudes a serene romanticism in Meet Joe Black. But however the particulars change, the charisma remains. "He has that magic combination you find in people like Redford and Newman and Harrison Ford, which is the man-boy," says Robert Markowitz, who directed Pitt in 1990's Too Young To Die? "Women want to take care of him, but at the same time, they want to have him."
E/R tanked after one season. No, not that ER, but the 1984 sitcom that cast Clooney as Ace, rock and roll medical technician. Just as well, for he of the new-wave hairdo and homespun folksiness, now 37, quickly grew into the kind of brooding good looks that separate the men from the boys. In roles on Roseanne and Sisters, he gradually acquired those adorably gray-flecked temples and the wryly bemused air he brought back to the ER in 1994 as pediatrician Doug Ross. "He has a classiness that makes him very special," says Salma Hayek, who appeared with him in 1996's From Dusk Till Dawn. Not to mention his notoriously mischievous spirit. As The Washington Post said last year: "He's not so much a guy to make a woman melt as he is a guy to persuade her to go bungee jumping. Naked."
From his first season on TV's St. Elsewhere in 1982 to his powerful turns in 1992's Malcolm X and 1996's Courage Under Fire, Washington has radiated both smoldering heat and steely coolness. Now 43, he has what his Much Ado About Nothing director Kenneth Branagh labeled "intellectual weight, spiritual gravity and a powerful sexual and romantic presence." Producer Debra Martin Chase (The Preacher's Wife) agrees: "As he's gotten older, more of his soul and character has shown on his face." And what a face. As Julia Roberts, who costarred in The Pelican Brief, said in 1996: "Referring to Denzel Washington as simply sexy is like saying Ernest Hemingway was a good fisherman."
The eyes have it. And the killer grin. As they have since the start of his 17-year career. Not that the youthful Cruise relied overly on sex appeal. While filming 1983's teen drama The Outsiders, he shunned bathing and had a cap removed from a front tooth. Revisiting the film last year, The Detroit News found it "darned cute to see Cruise working to get noticed" as a greaser alongside Matt Dillon and Rob Lowe. But once he cleaned up for Risky Business later in '83, he didn't have to work at it again. Casting agent Donna Isaacson, who worked on 1985's Legend and 1988's Cocktail, thinks maturity makes Cruise, now 36, "sexier than when he was more of a kid." Jeanne Tripplehorn, his co-star in 1993's The Firm, agrees: "He's absolutely gotten better through the years—and seems to be evolving into a man of great character."
"I suppose more than anything else I'd like to be an old man with a good face, like Hitchcock or Picasso," Sean Connery told The Saturday Evening Post in 1964. Now 68, with a rugged countenance and an appeal so torrid he was named PEOPLE'S Sexiest Man Alive in 1989, it's safe to say he got his wish. The Scotsman has stirred (never shaken) female ardor for 36 years, from his first appearance as the elegant British agent James Bond in the 1962 classic Dr. No to his recent roles in films like The Rock and The Avengers. "Sean is one of the few men who get better with age," says his Never Say Never Again costar Barbara Carrera. "Women just love him terribly."
At 61, Warren Beatty is not afraid to say it: "I'm an old white guy," he cavalierly told The Washington Post in May. Yet with those spellbinding blue eyes and sensuous lips, Beatty maintains a flair for flirtation. Nearly four decades after his performance in 1961 's Splendor in the Grass first made him the most lusted-after man in America, it wasn't all that surprising that Halle Berry fell for him in this year's Bulworth. "His charm is predicated on how he makes women feel when he talks to them," his Bugsy costar Wendy Phillips told PEOPLE in 1992. "There are a lot of beautiful men in Hollywood, but they're not Warren Beatty."
Wearing Armani or nothing at all, Richard Gere steamed up the big screen as the coolly handsome escort in 1980's American Gigolo, prompting costar Lauren Hutton to dub him "a sexpot" and making millions of women unable ever to look at a set of Levolors the same way again. His subsequent turns as the vulnerable Navy cadet in 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman and the dashing corporate raider who swept Julia Roberts off her feet in 1990's Pretty Woman hinted there was heart underneath that magnificent skin. Now 49, Gere is showing his soul as well, letting his hair gray naturally as he divides his time between acting and working for Tibetan causes. "He was like a beautiful wild animal in American Gigolo" says Bai Ling, his costar in the 1997 thriller Red Corner. "Now he's much more mature. He has more life there than before."
"Kirk Douglas, Van Johnson and JFK, all rolled into one," blared a Hollywood columnist in 1962, when Redford, then 26, made his debut in War Hunt. Thirty-six years later his face is weathered, but his smile is still brilliant, his physique still athletic, and his red-blond hair still lush. Not that he tries to erase time's footprints. "I'm not afraid of aging," Redford, 61, told PEOPLE earlier this year. "It's a fact of life." Then again, age has hardly withered his allure. Karen Black, who appeared with him in 1974's The Great Gatsby, refined a screenplay last summer at Redford's Sundance Institute. Of the star then and now she reports, "He's always a gentleman. He just happens to be a stud, too."
With his dark Irish beauty and lanky 6'1" frame, Brosnan seems as custom-built for Bond films as one of Q's inventions. But he was 43—and had prepped for five years as a TV man of action on Remington Steele—before he got to slip on 007's white dinner jacket in 1995. Michelle Yeoh, his costar in last year's Tomorrow Never Dies, thinks the timing was right. When he played Steele, she says, "he was too pretty. Now his face is more angular; it has more character." Brosnan, 46, "can play Bond as long as he wants to," she adds. "He's got that look and that magnetism."
As fiery-haired Ziggy Stardust in the early '70s, David Bowie often seemed more alien than alluring. But that didn't stop women from seeking close encounters with the British glam rocker-actor. "He was very sexy, even though he looked like he could be from another planet," recalls Candy Clark, his costar in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth. "The guy's just gorgeous." His more sophisticated '80s look won fans in less expected quarters ("I'd probably turn to peanut butter [if I met him]," Lassie's June Lockhart raved to PEOPLE in '87), but it's his current sleeked-down style that most impresses his wife, model-entrepreneur Iman. At 51, Bowie "is happy in his own skin in a way that only comes with maturity," she says. "We've been together eight years, and he still makes my heart skip a beat."
In the 1970s and '80s, Sylvester Stallone literally muscled his way into Hollywood, knocking out naysayers with his high-testosterone performances as boxer Rocky Balboa and ex-Green Beret John Rambo. But the actor hasn't rested on his glutes. His vanity-eschewing performance as a paunchy, insecure sheriff (he gained 40 pounds to play the role) in last year's Cop Land won acclaim for his acting skills, and seemed proof of his long-stated resolve not to end up "like James Brown, still doing splits at 60." Not that he couldn't, if he wanted to. At 52, his body is as honed as ever. "I've got to hand it to him," says Estelle Getty, his mom in 1992's Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot. "He has a gorgeous physique."
Australian-born Gibson first won international renown in 1979 as scruffy but seductive Mad Max, futuristic renegade. By 1985 he was PEOPLE'S first Sexiest Man Alive, lauded by The Year of Living Dangerously costar Sigourney Weaver as "the most gorgeous man I've ever met" and on his way to reducing leading ladies like Isabel Glasser (1992's Forever Young) to hoping "you can find your voice and not spit all over yourself" in his presence. Not that the notoriously jocular Gibson, 42, would mind. A decade of action roles has kept him fit enough to wear a skirt in Braveheart, even as flexing his funny bone has etched fetching laugh lines around his baby blues. "His sexiness hasn't changed one iota, except maybe when you look into his eyes. They seem deeper," says Richard Donner, director of the Lethal Weapon series, adding, "His humor, his wit, his appreciation of life—that's what makes him sexy."