That big bland celebrity flip book's annual celebration of the Sexiest Man Alive isn't valuable because of its dazzling spreads of razor-sharp abs. It offers tangible proof that women (and gay men, and anyone else who casts a vote in that process) can be just as drably one-dimensional as any straight man who ogles Pam Anderson. In its 20-plus years documenting hot, they've been about as imaginative as a Whitman's Sampler, about as adventuresome as a 10-minute roll with the lights off, about as mentally stimulating as Matthew McConaughey.
Sure, McConaughey, the 2005 winner, is easy on the eyes, and his cleavage is every bit as remarkable as Anderson's. But he's the latest in a long line of vanilla eye-candy actors (Ben Affleck, Mark Harmon, Patrick Swayze, Harry Hamlin -- seriously, in 1987, Harry Hamlin) whose shiny good looks fuel a fantasy thought or two before we wonder how much product they put in their hair. (And really, quit selecting George Clooney already. He's the zenith of sex appeal -- picking him is cheating. Get some guts over there, girls, or else turn the poll over to the interns.)
Tired of that array of pretty boys, we came up with a list of guys who really rattle our chains. Warning: There are no abs ahead. But sometimes a good lyric, a good laugh, a well-articulated theory on the existence of man ... yowza, let's just say not all turn-ons start with a spray-on tan.
And so, without further ado, the winner of our First Annual Sexiest Man Living Award is ...
No. 1 Sexpot!
Who: Stephen Colbert
Know him as: Star of the "The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central)
It sneaks up on you, the idea that this geeky guy in glasses and overgelled hair mocking Bill O'Reilly and other TV blowhards every night is, well, hot. When it hits you, you're sure you're the only one who feels it. In fact, you start to believe you're the only one he's talking to, night after night. So many of his crazy jokes are just for you. Who else laughed till they cried when he took the E Street Band off his "On Notice" list, and then had Steve Van Zandt explain how the band members phone-treed one another to make sure everyone got the good news, Clarence phoning Patti, and Patti phoning Bruce, and so on, while the geeky guy in glasses kept insisting the big tough "Sopranos" star, known as "Little Steven," call him "Big Stephen" (and he did).
Then you tell a couple of people about your crush, and you're crushed by the reaction: Lots of women think Stephen Colbert is sexy, and more than a few men do too.
So I don't have him to myself. So what. As a matter of fact, he's married, and as a good Catholic girl who recognizes the good Catholic boy in Colbert (he's a composite of several of my grade-school crushes, in fact), I'm going to keep this appreciation chaste, the way he'd like it. No lurid loofah fantasies here. But even that nod to the real Stephen Colbert triggers another frisson of confusion and dizzy doubt: Exactly who do I think is sexy? The crazy guy who calls me a "hero" every night? (I love that!) The sweet, old-fashioned family-man comic who plays him? The slender, willowy alpha male who stood up to the bullies of the Bush administration and their Stockholm syndrome victims in the press corps last May? Or all three? Ah, romance unravels if you think about it too much ... whatever the magic is, bring it on.
Colbert's allure comes from the physical comedy that's always threatening to take over his body. From the prankish, mismatched ears to the cowlick that stands up no matter how much he gels his hair, he looks like he just can't contain himself. That slightly feminine face in perpetual motion -- eyebrows up, lips curled, eyes alight with a crazy joy that every once in a while seems to break character, for a split-second of intimacy, to say (only to me?): Yes, I know how hilarious this is! Plus, those large but graceful ever-moving hands! Also: He can dance! And tumble!
Only a few guests over the last year have made me jealous: Sure, people made fun of Connie Chung when she asked him to take off his glasses, but ... thanks, Connie! Now I live for the moments when he takes off those rimless specs and shows us his eyes. And Eleanor Holmes Norton can claim she wasn't attracted to a "plain, vanilla man," but c'mon, she was undressing him with her eyes. Maybe hardest to watch was the recent show in which Ron Reagan got to do Colbert's hair, mussing it up and re-gelling it and combing it into a Ronald Reagan-style pompadour. The sexiest part of all? It wouldn't stay that way. But if I could have gotten my hands in all that hair, I know it would have done my bidding, or I'd have worn myself out trying...
In the end, what makes Colbert sexy and not merely altar boy-adorable (OK, he is that, too) is the ever-present sense of comic danger he conveys, the threat that, really, he just might do anything to make you laugh. Who wouldn't want to come home to that? The great thing is, I do, Mondays through Thursdays anyway. And Nation, I'm willing to share him, because deep down I still feel like it's just him and me late at night, and if you understand anything about his liberating doctrine of truthiness, that means I'm right!
-- Joan Walsh
Who: Sacha Baron Cohen
Know him as: Comedian, actor and star of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"
Sacha Baron Cohen is an exhibitionist, and we're not talking about the various ways he's always showing off his ass, whether in his neon green thong-spenders or epic naked wrestling match in "Borat," or his artful moon in the opening credits of "Da Ali G. Show." In his comedy, we get a full-frontal eyeful of pure id. You sense that he's so fully engaged in the joke that there's no premeditation involved -- even in his most rigged gags -- at all, just his own lewd subconscious. It's impossible to believe, as whiny killjoys on the left and right claim, that he's calibrating his humor to humiliate foreigners or to pander to lefty culture warriors; and it also seems unlikely that he's really a swashbuckling advocate of social justice, challenging stereotypes and exposing truth. It seems a lot more likely that Baron Cohen is acting out his own unique issues -- concerns with his Jewish identity, that naughty British schoolboy obsession with showing his bum, a dash of giggly straight-guy angst about gays, which he explored to delirious lengths as the scene-stealing Jean Girard in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." But it's that emotional honesty that gives his docu-sketch comedy the ring of truth, and such an explosive energy. Sure, as his dutiful fans will argue (as Baron Cohen does) he exposes the ugly truth in many of the people he sabotages. But he's also exposing all the taboo thoughts going on inside his own head, and lord knows there's not much hotter than that.
And, OK, yes: He's got a great ass.
-- Salon staff
Who: Alton Brown
Know him as: Chef, star of "Good Eats" (Food Network)
For a lot of us, the sight of a spatula in a guy's hand has the same libido-loosening effect as roughly two margaritas and a Barry White album. There's just something irresistible about a man who cooks. But Alton Brown doesn't simply prepare food. He doesn't merely enjoy food. No, Alton Brown understands food.
On his Food Network show "Good Eats" and his wildly successful "I'm Just Here for the Food" cookbooks, he delves deeply into the mysterious alchemy of cooking, explaining why things brown or separate or emulsify or caramelize with a passion that's infectious. He may dole out wisdom in friendly, funny nuggets, but when he explains in serious, caressing detail the differences between a chewy cookie and crunchy one, it's downright hypnotic. And when he strides around kitchen stadium as commentator of "Iron Chef America," he's a reassuring authority, an eager fan, and a conspiratorial insider letting you in on the secrets of taming fire itself. He's the ultimate caveman and the uptight professor, and if that's not a twofer fantasy figure right there, I don't know what is.
The landscape of celebrity chefdom doesn't lack for eye candy, and the more chiseled forms of Tyler Florence or Rocco DiSpirito may hold an allure for others. Brown lacks the jaw line of Anthony Bourdain and the lady-killer swagger of Bobby Flay or even Mario Batali. What he has, on first inspection, is a thinning hairline, glasses and unfortunate taste in shirts. It doesn't matter. He also happens to be as well put together as great lasagna, with an easy, crinkly smile, broad shoulders and possibly the most beautiful pair of hands ever to touch a stockpot. Brown is not the guy you fall for in spite of his looks. He's the rare man so comfortable being goofy, so confident briskly whisking roux, so intense when he gets going about oven temperature, you might be forgiven for overlooking that he's also incredibly attractive. Then you remember, he also knows how to make his own bacon. And you fall in love all over.
-- Mary Elizabeth Williams
Who: Neil Patrick Harris
Know him as: Actor
I've never heard of another woman who, as a teenager, had dreams like mine about Neil Patrick Harris. Common objects of teenage lust included Johnny Depp (brooding on "21 Jump Street") and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (young, but so strong-jawed, on "Saved by the Bell"), not to mention the newly arrived dreamboats of Beverly Hills: Jason Priestley and Luke Perry. But for me, it was Doogie Howser all the way. On my luckiest nights, I would dream of riding the freight-style elevator up to Doogie's apartment, where he -- with help from his friend Vinnie -- would have a candlelit dinner waiting for me. He was a doctor, after all -- no Friendly's for us!
Of course, "Doogie Howser" went off the air in 1993 -- and I went off to college to obsess over Billy Corgan. For the last dozen-odd years, we've really only been able to sneak peeks of Harris here and there -- in guest roles on shows like "Will & Grace" and "Boomtown." There was his hilarious turn in "Starship Troopers," of course, but it was his over-the-top, pure-camp portrayal of himself -- on Ecstasy -- in "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" that finally made us all see that Neil Patrick Harris wasn't Doogie anymore. In his current role as rabid womanizer, one-liner-slinging Barney on the charming, post-"Friends" sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," Harris' deadpan interpretation of the frat-boy cum lawyer is one of the most surprising, winning things on television. It's a clichi, but what could be sexier than a man who makes you laugh, from your gut? A man who can actually make you -- forgive me -- snort?
I have one idea, actually. And that is a man who is comfortable and confident in himself, who doesn't lie, who isn't afraid of being exactly who he is. When Harris came out to People magazine a few weeks ago, after much speculation by the media and fans about his sexuality, I swooned all over again. "Rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me," he said, "I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest." No one was threatening him; he came forward, I imagine, with that perfect, broad smile on his face, his eyes crinkled at the corners. I don't care that he plays for a different team: Sexy is about a lot more than just sex.
-- Hillary Frey
Who: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Know him as: Actor, Oscar-winner for "Capote."
When you're talking about the physicality of an actor, man or woman, the last thing that matters is physique. And when you're talking about men, specifically, it's not that chiseled muscles aren't beautiful to look at. But an actor who wears his muscles instead of using them is less than useless.
By that standard, Philip Seymour Hoffman is all muscle. His sensuality is right there in his carriage and movement, an out-in-the-open secret. I've often watched him in movies -- as a villain in "Mission: Impossible III," as Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous," as a humbly compassionate hospice worker in "Magnolia," as a lovestruck porno-film crew guy in "Boogie Nights" -- and wondered why the whole world isn't hip to his foxiness. Even in "Capote," certainly not a movie designed to trigger ardor in straight women, or maybe anyone, his bearing alone speaks of the longing, and the cautious fearfulness, behind sexual desire. His openness to his character is sexy in itself.
And what about the fact that Hoffman, with that mischievous half-smile, is just damn cute? Not to mention that he's got that great Saturday morning, other-side-of-the-bed voice, the voice of a guy who'd automatically hand you your favorite section of the paper (even if it's his favorite section, too).
I've occasionally seen Hoffman in New York, around Times Square, probably on his way to work at one theater or another. Most people working in New York have to carry a lot of stuff, and that probably applies to working actors too, which means that even Philip Seymour Hoffman sometimes has to schlepp a backpack. Backpacks are very practical, but the last thing they are is hot. Still, even with his backpack, Hoffman always looks like a movie star to me. If you can make schlepping sexy, you've really got something.
-- Stephanie Zacharek
Who: Sufjan Stevens
Know him as: Singer/songwriter.
In that airy realm where the brain competes on a level field with the body for the libido's attention, rock stars and gloomy literary types are two time-honored favorites (cf. Bukowski, Keith Richards). But what if you could have both types at once?
Sufjan Stevens may be the least angry rocker of all time, but he's still got the indie cred and musical chops down cold, and his glowing, literate songwriting (he has an MFA in creative writing from the New School) comes close to the best that fiction offers -- a potent double-threat. The whole piercing green eyes and charmingly scruffy chin thing doesn't hurt a bit, either -- doleful, with a dreamy faraway cast to his eye, he's got the alterna-rocker man/boy look all sewed up. (Yes, we know, he's a deeply religious Christian, but come on -- the challenge of seduction just adds to the allure!)
Stevens catapulted into our hearts with 2003's "Michigan," the first entry in his project to record one album for each of the 50 states (cute!), and proved with last year's "Illinois" that he's no one-note wonder. His songs conjure a landscape of intimate moments and emotions, and who could fail to love a man who can write lines like: "I can see a lot of life in you/ I can see a lot of bright in you/ And I think that dress looks nice on you."
-- Salon staff
Who: Richard Dawkins
Know him as: Evolutionary scientist and author, most recently of "The God Delusion."
Wonder is sexy. Knowledge is sexy. And embodying both as much as any man in the world today is a man in a tweed jacket riding his bike around the Oxford University campuses, the damp English breeze sweeping a curtain of silver hair from the delicate bones of his face. Yes, those cheekbones, those piercing eyes, that pursed bow of a mouth -- but that brain, oh that brain, oh, god, that brain -- is what makes Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and the most famous atheist in the world, the sexiest man around.
Dawkins is the professor I never had an affair with, whose very sentence structure threatens to weaken my concentration on the content of his words. Call me deluded: I ache for his atheism; I reel from his reasoning. He is my James Bond, a well-attired, fearless seeker of truth in the face of nihilism.
I dream of his perfectly-accented voice -- Oxbridge softened by a childhood spent in, sigh, East Africa -- whispering to me from his latest book, "The God Delusion," a defense of endless curiosity in the face of omnipresent theism. "If the demise of god will leave a gap, different people will fill it in different ways. My way includes a good dose of science, the honest and systematic endeavor to find out the truth about the real world." Take me with you, Richard: You put the "sex" in sexagenarian. Let us clinch in a godless embrace, crying out to what we know does not exist, searching, searching evermore.
-- Lauren Sandler
Who: James Blake
Know him as: Tennis star
James Blake has such an inspiring narrative it's almost comical to read over it. Inspired to play tennis after hearing Arthur Ashe speak in Harlem, he kept at it through five years during his teens -- the key development period for a tennis player -- while wearing a full-length back brace 18 hours a day (he took it off for practice). His smarts and big forehand got him to Harvard, but he dropped out soon to try his hand at the professional tour. No flash-in-the-pan phenom, he slowly but surely scythed his way up the rankings, but during his big break in 2001, as he pushed No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt to five sets at the U.S. Open, the match was marred by Hewitt's obnoxious accusation that a black line judge was favoring Blake. After he cramped up and lost the match, Blake gallantly accepted Hewitt's apology, and gave tennis fans the first glimmer of his style and class. He rose from No. 212 at the end of 2000 to No. 28 at the end of 2002, and began seeing his chiseled features and kilowatt smile featured in major magazines. But then came 2004, a dark year that saw him break his neck in a freak practice accident, develop a debilitating case of shingles that blurred his vision and kept him off balance, and, tragically, lose his father to cancer.
When he returned to the tour full-time, there wasn't a lot of optimism that Blake, now in his mid-20s, could really recover his mid-20's ranking. But the past two years have seen him burst into the top 10 (as high as No. 5) and become the top-ranked American player. And best of all, he's done it all with charming modesty and ego-free thoughtfulness. Grace under true pressure, resilience to life's random cruelty, and biceps like bronzed cantaloupes. Now that's hot!
-- Salon staff
Who: Bruce Springsteen
Know him as: Rock god
A year ago, I sat in the front row of a Bruce Springsteen concert in Atlantic City, N.J. I've spent dozens of nights with Bruce over the years, but we'd never been this physically close; he'd never looked at me like this before. It was an amazing night, and he went forever, playing for more than two hours. On the last song, he stood, walking offstage and sucking on his harmonica, breathing hard, his eyes closed in ecstasy. He was spent, exhausted and completely turned on. Really. He was.
In truth, I didn't need to be front row to feel his fire. It was just one particularly intimate glimpse at what he does for fans, whether they're standing at his feet or sitting in the nosebleed seats: At 57, Springsteen puts out like a 23-year-old, every time he goes onstage.
From his Harley-in-heat days to nights he woke up with his sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of his head, Springsteen has been catholic in his erotic enthusiasms, both literal and figurative.
He started as the hyperactive, hormonal kid, wiggling around a stage in silly hats and scraggly facial hair, closing his eyes and spitting out lyrics about how "little Early Pearly came by in her curly-whirly" as if they were prophecy. He was god's gift, man, and watching him onstage, you knew he knew it.
It was later that he became the balladeer of the badlands, elbow-deep in American restlessness, earnestly balancing his love for girls and cars, and fantasizing about women who were single mothers or who'd "been around a time or two." Eschewing a prettified version of sex, Springsteen opted for an arousingly real one. "You ain't a beauty but hey, you're alright," he sings, and it's one of the hottest lyrics ever written. This is what it means: I want to have sex with you.
But it's never been just about scoring with the girls. Springsteen sweats buckets through his shows, guitar-dueling with his buddies, dancing with "big man" Clarence Clemons; he even penned a love song, "Bobby Jean," about Stevie Van Zandt.
As he's grown up, his passions have become broader. His commitments to working people, to politics, to monogamy and marriage and to his children have deepened, becoming more emotional and making him, in turn, even foxier.
He still skids across the stage on his knees and turns himself upside down on his mic stand, the 15-year-old with a diagnosable need to impress the girls. But he's also the political thinker who finally lost his partisan virginity in 2004, delivering goose bumps to the goose-bump-resistant Kerry campaign with his rededication of "No Surrender." Lately, he's been transforming century-old songs about steel driving into knee-weakeners (listen to him growl, "I'm swinging 30 pounds from my hips on down" on "John Henry"). This fall, weeks after papers reported that his marriage was ending, he and his wife took the stage in Bologna, Italy, to sing a waltz arrangement of "If I Should Fall Behind" ("Everyone dreams of a love lasting and true/ But you and I know what this world can do/ So let's make our steps clear that the other may see/ I'll wait for you and should I fall behind/ Will you wait for me").
Springsteen's is the hardest-working ass in show business; at some point, he committed to making love to every audience who paid to see him. He labors to reach us, to expose his passions and his doubts; he sweats and grunts and giggles and makes mistakes and tells bad jokes and gets angry. But mostly, he just hits it. Every night. Every note. And what could be sexier than that?
-- Rebecca Traister
Who: Mark Ruffalo
Know him as: Actor
Ladies, gentlemen, readers of Star tabloid, some questions: Why should any of us long for Brad when we have Mark? What do we care for Law when we have Ruff? Forget Daniel Craig when we could have Ruffalo, Mark Ruffalo. Why isn't this paragon of fuzzy sensuality opening blockbuster films, decorating tabloid covers, adopting African babies?
OK, probably because he doesn't want to do any of those things. The classically trained theater actor is famously stable, smart, dedicated to his craft, married with babies, and unlikely to run off with any 23-year-old costars. In his 20s, he scraped by as a bartender for a decade before catching the eye of Kenneth Lonergan, who cast him onstage in "This Is Our Youth" and then on-screen in "You Can Count on Me." Just as he became successful, he was stricken by a brain tumor, from which he has since recovered.
But while his reputation as a human being may qualify him for the Stella Adler school of sainthood, part of Ruffalo's feral pull comes from performances in which he has managed to precisely outline maddeningly flawed men. He fucked up his marriage in the suicidally depressing flick "We Don't Live Here Anymore," fucked up the memory erasure procedure in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," was the fuck-up brother in "You Can Count on Me," and just plain fucked Meg Ryan -- administering cunnilingus from behind -- in Jane Campion's "In the Cut."
But even if Ruffalo weren't a pro at embodying yin-yang bad-boy-puppy tension, he would be unbelievably foxy. How is his scrappy sensuality -- nearly adolescent in its purity -- lost on the masses? How can they not yearn to kiss his droopy, heavy-lidded peepers and feel the warmth of his sandpaper whisper in their ear? How can they not notice that his lips are so big and plump and pink that -- to hell with Brad -- they rival Angelina's? Down with pretty boys. Up with Mark.
-- Rebecca Traister
Who: Noah Baumbach
Know him as: Filmmaker, most recently of "The Squid and the Whale."
There's nothing quite like a shaggy-haired Brooklyn boy who knows his way around a camera, pen and pathos to get your tummy doing flip-flops. Writer-director Noah Baumbach is the kind of guy you could have grown up with -- if that sweet, nerdy kid became someone with actual insight and a boatload of talent. Men in possession of only one of these qualities, familiar or brilliant, have taken in many a lady. In combination, they're your inner-Jewish mama's dream (she gets to find men sexy, too).
Baumbach started winning hearts with 1996's "Kicking and Screaming," an outstanding entry in the slice of post-collegiate life genre, that also set the mold for his work to come: funny, smart and shot through with sadness. In the years following, he teamed up with Wes Anderson to script the confection of "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" and proved he has great taste in women, marrying the ultra-hot, older Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Baumbach became a full-on heartbreaker with last year's eviscerating and autobiographical "The Squid and the Whale." Anyone who can turn the patently traumatic experience of his parents' divorce into such a painful, excruciating, funny and realistic film has obviously been through some mighty good therapy. Maybe he could use some more? And maybe you could be the one to give it to him?
-- Willa Paskin
Who: Alan Rickman
Know him as: Actor
Maybe it's the voice, that low British hum so intimate you find yourself leaning forward when you hear it -- which might be the point. Maybe it's the profile -- unmistakably distinctive and defiantly not hewn from the pretty-boy block. Maybe it's the way he can play good guys and bad guys, and guys whose allegiances you can't quite determine, with equal gusto. Or maybe there's just something about the man that's smart and complicated and tender and a little dangerous that makes your mind start wandering into filthy corners while you're sitting there, innocently trying to watch a "Harry Potter" movie with your kids or something. Whatever it is, Alan Rickman's got it. And at age 60, he seems to have no intention of letting it go anytime soon.
While the classically trained London stage actor gained his first big breakthroughs playing heavies in "Die Hard" and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," it's his performance in 1991's "Truly, Madly, Deeply" that guaranteed Rickman's seemingly bottomless supply of slavish admirers. As Jamie, his ghostly cello player is so appealing, so utterly romantic and so inconveniently dead, you can understand why his girlfriend is reluctant to let him fully shuffle off the mortal coil. Frankly, a spectral Alan Rickman still beats out a vast percentage of mere mortals most days of the week.
In ensuing years, he's buttoned up in Jane Austen and been a reluctant space hero in a Tim Allen comedy. But whether he's playing a businessman in the throes of marital temptation in "Love, Actually" or a fiery Éamon de Valera in "Michael Collins," Rickman may be the only actor to make a certain world-weary sadness ridiculously hot. It's a soulfulness that hints of deep fires below, a reserve that smolders like crazy, and damn if it doesn't keep getting sexier with every passing year.
-- Mary Elizabeth Williams
Who: Jon Stewart
Know him as: Host of "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central)
Don't tell my husband, but Jon Stewart is the sort of man I always imagined myself marrying. Smart, funny, Jewish, wavy-haired attractive, successful. A hot mensch. In fact, he's probably many a Jewish (and non-Jewish) woman's fantasy match, though not, possibly, what our grandmothers might consider the perfect catch. "A comedian?" my own grandmother would surely have said dismissively. "What do you need it for?"
Oh, but Grandma. We do need Jon Stewart. We need him bad.
It's not just because he's reliably there for us every night (or at least four nights a week -- oh, how I miss him on Friday and long for him by Sunday). It's not just because he always -- and I mean always -- makes us laugh, nourishing our brains and tickling our fancy at the same time. It's not even because he's so damn cute and well read and light on his feet when guests drop by, the way he's able to listen and to joke, to disarm as he challenges, to get even the most stone-faced book-peddling tool to snicker like a schoolkid. No, what really makes Jon Stewart so particularly dreamy is his humility, and his confidence: His confident humility -- dissing his own ability to do impressions; playing straight man to all those sagely nodding, seriously silly "correspondents"; poking fun at an over-the-top pun as it pops up on screen; having an intimate heart-to-heart with an errant world leader -- well, it's just so yum.
Look, I don't care if he's a little short. I don't care if he's a little soft. And I don't care if my husband reads this: Jon Stewart can put me on his seat of heat anytime.
-- Amy Reiter
This story has been corrected since it was originally published.