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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 9, 2003

Ripped roarin' and buffed to hunky success

By Jeannine Stein
Los Angeles Times

Muscled model Michael O'Hearn is moving into movie roles. He prides himself on not bulking up to extremes.

Los Angeles Times

Michael O'Hearn walks with the confidence of a man who knows he's won the DNA lottery: 6-feet-2, 255 pounds, with a perfect T-shape, biceps that make grown men green with envy and a Dudley DoRight chin line. He's aware of the dropped-jaw stares but doesn't bask in the awe. He's used to it.

O'Hearn is a fitness model, one of a handful of people who grace the covers of such serious body-building magazines as Muscle & Fitness, Ironman and Muscular Development. He has had 463 covers, including foreign publications, in a dozen years. Sometimes only O'Hearn's headless torso appears, but evidently even that's recognizable: "People in the fitness industry who know me," he says, "see it and say, 'Hey, you're on the cover again!' "

But O'Hearn, 33, doesn't possess the sort of freakishly large body usually associated with muscle magazines; his physique is ripped but not over the top. His appearances in magazines in the early '90s pushed emerging trends that embraced less-bulked-up body types. Although some magazines refused at first to hire him, most eventually came around. O'Hearn says he was never tempted to go the steroid route and pack on 60 or 70 more pounds of muscle. The magazines "wanted their body builders to be bigger and better," he says, "and I understand the 5 percent of people who want to look like that, but I'm going for the 95 percent who don't."

"There were readers who were interested in looking like him," says Bill Geiger, executive editor of Muscle & Fitness. "He opened up the way to a new type of noncompetitive physique. Guys who weren't going to get on stage would say, 'Hey, I want to look like that.' "

Despite his success in bodybuilding and fitness circles, O'Hearn's name commands little more than a quizzical look outside that arena. Still, he elicits the is-that-someone gawk while sitting in a West Los Angeles Starbucks a couple of blocks from his home, where he's trying to find a comfortable position in a chair not built for someone his size.

He talks about where his career started: rural Kirkland, Wash., growing up the second-youngest of nine kids, where Dad, a schoolteacher, and practically every sibling was into bodybuilding, weightlifting, football or martial arts.

"I had no choice," he jokes. "It was either pick up the weights or move out."

Throughout high school, college and after college, he continued to train or compete in bodybuilding, power lifting and martial arts. At 21, he was spotted by bodybuilding industry mogul and publisher Joe Weider during a competition in Chicago. Weider asked him do a magazine shoot for Muscle & Fitness in Cabo San Lucas.

O'Hearn later moved south, putting in 17-hour days working as a personal trainer while making magazine contacts and finding modeling jobs. "There are so few models with the kind of package he brings," Geiger says, "being both in shape and handsome. Every month we try to find cover models, and we always seem to go to back to him." He's appeared on 17 covers of the publication.

Eventually he augmented magazine work with more lucrative advertising and catalog shoots, which led to a stint from 1995 to 1998 posing for more than 300 romance book covers for Topaz, publishers of titles such as "Lady Shadowhawk."

He went from making $500 for a magazine cover to making $10,000 a day pretending to rip bodices. He found that aspect of modeling "cool" and says, "I could deal with the female models being a little shallow and smoking cigarettes. It was probably weird for them, too. People are looking at this big, buff guy saying, 'Can he talk? Has he got a brain?' It's one of those stigmas that's there, and you've got to break it."

O'Hearn's workouts aren't grueling all-day sessions of sweat and pain. He shows up at Gold's Gym in Venice daily at 4 a.m. for an hour and a half — one hour of cardio, plus abs and weights. He goes back in the afternoon to weight train for about 45 minutes with bodybuilder and "Incredible Hulk" actor Lou Ferrigno. O'Hearn can maintain his physique on an hour of training a day, but when he's preparing for a bodybuilding competition or a shoot, he ups the cardio, goes easy on the carbs and whittles his body fat down from 6 percent to 1.6 percent. His occasional moments of gluttony find him indulging in a lethal combination of Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread), vanilla ice cream, strawberries and brownies. "How bad is that?" he asks with pride.

O'Hearn finally quit personal training in 1997 when he joined the cast of "American Gladiators" (he played Thor), then "Battle Dome." Although he continues to model and compete (he has four Mr. Universe titles and won the California State Powerlifting Championships three times), acting has always been in his sights. No surprise that Arnold Schwarzenegger is his role model.

O'Hearn's first film, "Barbarian," a Roger Corman production, is due out next month, and his second, "Keeper of Time," comes out next year. While harboring a dream of a Schwarzenegger-type breakthrough, he has no plans to turn his back on modeling. "I still love doing it," he says. "I know Louie (Ferrigno) is still shooting, so that's a good sign. But I've done that part, and if it doesn't continue, I'm OK with that. ... I was given something and I'm trying to do the best with it. It's fun so far."