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Richard Dean Anderson

Richard Dean Anderson, who stars as the resourceful and intrepid MacGyver on the ABC show of the same name, would have you believe that what you see is what you get. But like the crafty MacGyver, there's more to Anderson than meets the eye.

Sure, he's an ex-hockey player from Roseville High School, a sports nut who makes the downhill racer look like a beginner on the bunny hill. And he admits he's an inveterate thrill seeker. "When all of my friends are married and having a family, I'm still off being a youthful, impulsive child," he says.

That bothers, him, too. He considers cautionary tales about marriage and family unnerving, and there is a sense of unrest about that still-unfinished business.

Anderson, who turns 39 on Jan. 23, would like to marry, but for now he's tied to a 16-hour day and a role that consumes his energy.

Ask anyone who works with Anderson and you get a unanimous verdict: He's the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. And a brief visit with him convinces you they are right.

"Ideally, as you go through life you grow," he says, taking a break from a day of rain-filled filming in Vancouver, British Columbia. "Although I haven't quite grown up, I've grown quite a bit and learned from my father early on that you just keep your ears and eyes open and adapt, adopt and improve."

That's about as close as Anderson will come to describing a credo, though he's fond of saying, "When in doubt, floor it."

That may have been his byword earlier when he first arrived in California fresh out of St. Cloud State and Ohio University. He says he found California a playland. "I explored all the cultural benefits of being a bum and living on the beach," he says.

But through his four-year association with MacGyver that beach boy's tan has faded and he has grown serious. Anderson feels a strong sense of responsibility to his audience, especially to the parents of the children who have found a new kind of hero in MacGyver -- a man who does not resort to gunfire or the martial arts to solve his problems. And that sweet smell of integrity clings to him, even when he pretends to be a mischievous boy. "Having left home at a pretty early age and being on the road and doing all that kind of 'angry young man' stuff you sorta learn how to survive and bob and weave to make it all come together," Anderson says.

"Ultimately when you're scrapping that hard to make it all happen on a physical level you've really gotta hang on to something intellectually and emotionally. For me that's always been my sense of integrity and pride of my heritage and my family and the things that are stable."

Anderson has always tried to do his own stunts on the show whether it meant careening on the bumper of a runaway car or hitching a ride on a helicopter.

But a serious back injury -- a compressed disc exploded into his spinal cord -- has chastened Peck's bad boy. A trip to the South Seas had to be canceled during last year's hiatus for back surgery, the results of which are still unproved.

Although he still admits to "misbehaving," Anderson says, "Most of my antics and my actions have been based on an impulse for adventure and fun and that's it. Now there's a little more forethought because the bones tend to break and not bend the way they used to. I now acknowledge that within structure comes freedom, and I've gained more respect for the outside world in later years."

Respect he may have, but Richard Dean Anderson does not swim in Hollywood's outside pool.

Give him a hockey stick, a revving race car or a sky-diver's parachute and Anderson is happy. His bosses know that. Still, they are always asking him to sign a contract which reads "... he will not engage in activity that jeopardizes... ." "Those are contracts that I can't sign," Anderson says. "They know if they take away those things from me I'm going to be a real unhappy person."

Lee, Luaine. "Anderson is 'Growing Up.'" The St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch. January 15, 1989.