AS A VIOLINIST, JOSHUA BELL HAS ALWAYS SEEMED FAR older than his years. A child prodigy from Bloomington, Ind., he won Seventeen magazine's annual music competition at 14 and made his professional debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra six months later. This year, Bell was praised on Oscar night by Best Original Score composer John Corigliano, who thanked him for playing "like a god" in The Red Violin. When it comes to his appearance, however, the 32-year-old Bell was a late bloomer. "At 12, people thought I was 8, When I was 20, people thought I was 14," he says. It didn't help that he entered Indiana University sporting what classmate Edgar Meyer, a bass player, calls "a bowl haircut that was irresistibly cute!" Even today the 6-ft. Bell, who still gets asked to show ID when he orders a drink, complains about having "little-boy hair" that's too fine to shape. Fans are too taken with, his sparkling blue eyes to notice. "I like that," he says. "For me with women, eyes are the No. 1 physical attribute. It's a nice compliment if someone says it to me." The son of Alan, 68, a psychologist, and Shirley, 64, a guidance counselor, Bell receives hundreds of letters a year, some proposing marriage. "Being out with Joshua is like being out with a rock star," says Sheena Macdonald, The Red Violin's associate producer. "He gets phone messages saying, 'I was the girl in the red dress in the second row.' " Since breaking up last July with a longtime girlfriend, Bell's only constant companion has been his 1732 Stradivarius. "Relationships aren't easy given my travel schedule," he explains. Fortunately, Bell doesn't have to find time to work out: "I'm drenched by the end of a concert. Sometimes I lose up to 5 lbs." But he does pay close attention to something else. "I always make sure my fly is zipped. I'm neurotic about that!" he says. "It's the last thing I do before I go onstage."
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