05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
HIS PROGNOSIS IS EXCELLENT. AT 39, ER'S FORMER REBEL PEDIATRICIAN has the kind of nonchalant machismo that transports mature women back to the giggly thrill of prom night. When he takes to the high seas in June as an imperiled fishing-boat captain in The Perfect Storm, "they'll say, 'Geez, he looks awful. He's old and gray and bearded,' " offers Clooney with a laugh. Hardly, counters Storm director Wolfgang Petersen. "He looks terrific but more edgy, weather-beaten. George definitely wanted to get away from his clean-cut, perfect-guy image." But face it, how far can he go? Even deglamorized for last month's live TV production of Fail Safe (which he also produced) and in last year's Gulf War drama Three Kings, he's "a bona fide dreamboat," says Nora Dunn, who appeared with Clooney in Kings. His former ER girlfriend Julianna Margulies extols his eyelashes—so long "they're like fans"—and his "big, pretty brown eyes that stun people when they meet him." The 5'11" Clooney tries his best to keep what he calls his "advancing hairline" from blocking the view. "I always make fun of my hair because I have so much of it," he says. "I'm going to wake up one day and literally my face will be completely engulfed in hair." But he's not complaining. "As long as it sticks around, I'll be happy. Bring on the gray, I can take it," he says. And so can those watching. ER story editor Linda Gase finds Clooney's salt-and-pepper spice to be quite nice. "It suits his rugged features and solid jaw," she says, "and it gives the sense that this is a man with life experience." Clooney, who has had no steady girlfriend since ending his three-year relationship with French model Celine Balitran, 25, last summer, has been working nonstop (O Brother, Where Art Thou? is due in the fall) and cutting up at the same pace. "He's damned funny," says Margulies. "A handsome man with a sense of humor. It doesn't get better than that!"