Happy birthday to Mr Clooney
As gorgeous George turns 50 today, Deirdre Reynolds asks what can irish men learn from the sexiest man alive
So the Sexiest Man Alive turns 50 today -- and what red-blooded woman wouldn't want to burst out of George Clooney's birthday cake later on?
Sadly, that's the privilege of Italian lover Elisabetta Canalis, who's reportedly planned a surprise 50th birthday bash for her famous fella with guests such as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon at the couple's Lake Como pad this weekend.
And half a century on, gorgeous George has every reason to celebrate.
Less than two decades ago, the young hunk from Kentucky seemed destined to become just another Tinseltown cautionary tale -- with nothing but a dodgy mullet, run of bad B-movies and blink-and-you'll-miss-'em TV appearances to look back on on his deathbed.
Now on his milestone birthday, the last true matinée idol has a legion of fans, beautiful girlfriend, brilliant career and millions stuffed in the mattress to toast.
In a plot twist that few could have predicted, the Return of the Killer Tomatoes star has even been credited with playing a part in the liberation of South Sudan.
Yep, at an age when men traditionally descend into mid-life crisis over everything from their mortality to their bald spot, Clooney seems to have it sussed -- sexier, more successful and happier than ever.
So as he reflects over the past five decades this weekend, the eternally handsome A-lister is sure to wonder: "Where did it all go right?"
By now, a certain pair of green scrubs have been globally acknowledged as the turning point in Clooney's career -- not least by the star himself.
Raising ratings and heart rates one sick kid at a time, at 33 Clooney became a household name as delectable paediatrician Dr Doug Ross on '90s TV juggernaut ER.
"If you stuck a mannequin in my part, he'd get all the fan mail," he said.
People magazine was less coy about the show's pulling power when it named him Sexiest Man Alive in 1997 (and again in 2006).
"It's that little head tilt he does when his chin dips down and his eyes drop to the floor," swooned one excitable writer. "Then, wham! Those eyes are back, full of mischief and magic, atop a sly half grin that all but announces, 'Yep, I'm trouble, but you love me anyway'."
But while millions of women across the globe may crush on the silver fox, only one has ever managed to put a ring on him.
In 1989, Clooney and actress Talia Balsam -- who's now married to Mad Men's John Slattery -- drove to Vegas in a Winnebago and wed.
Suffice to say they divorced three years later -- and despite dating a long line of lovelies including Lisa Snowdon, Sarah Larson and now Canalis, the actor has remained steadfastly footloose ever since.
"I probably -- definitely -- wasn't someone who should have been married at that point," he recalls.
Weighing a stubbly 290lbs, the one great love of Clooney's life wasn't much to look at. But together for almost two decades, the star's long-term companion Max -- a pot-bellied pig given to him by ex-girlfriend Kelly Preston -- out-lasted his string of lovers put together.
As for fatherhood, the perma-bachelor once famously won a $20,000 bet against Nicole Kidman and Michelle Pfeiffer that he would be single and child-free at 40, then doubled the stakes for his 50th -- a bet he can cash in on today.
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He said: "Even one kid running around my villa makes me nervous.
"I can always call Brad and Angie and ask them to stay with me, just to remind me why I'm so happy."
Though much is made of Clooney's refusal to 'settle down', in truth, the actor-activist is more settled than ever.
After getting off to a shaky start on the big screen (Batman and Robin -- enough said), he's found his groove both in front of and behind the camera with more serious-minded fare such as Good Night, and Good Luck and The American.
Gaining 30lbs and an Oscar for his role as a CIA agent in 2005's Syriana, the salt-and-pepper sex symbol quashed any question over his acting ability.
But it's his humanitarian work -- including an all-star telethon for the victims of the Haitian earthquake and TV special A Journey to Darfur with his news-anchor dad Nick -- that has earned Clooney the greatest accolade, after Time magazine named him among the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Meanwhile on the home front, things seem peachy with 32-year-old model Canalis too -- even though the couple were almost caught up in the sex trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after being named as witnesses.
"It's an interesting thing to watch yourself grow older on screen," reflects George. "I was watching (his 2009 movie) Up in the Air and I thought, 'Who's the old grey-haired guy?'
"I never wear make-up for movies, and it's starting to show.
"(But) you don't want to try to look younger because you'll look wrong."
Only getting better with (middle) age, what can Irish men like singer Daniel O'Donnell and actor Liam Cunningham, both of whom turn 50 this year, learn from Mr Clooney?
"What man wouldn't want to be like George Clooney at 50," reckons Shane Breslin, editor of men's website Joe.ie.
"He's definitely the thinking woman -- and non-thinking woman's -- sex symbol. But he's a guy's guy too.
"When women talk about Clooney, they may be talking about 'Gorgeous George' -- but when me and my mates talk about him, it's about the intelligence of films like Michael Clayton and Syriana. In spite of his looks, he's the opposite of someone as vacuous as Josh Hartnett.
"A lot of his appeal boils down to humility," adds Shane. "You can't really imagine Clooney having a mid-life crisis. He's a 'fine wine' type of guy, ageing with grace -- and that's something all Irish men could learn from."
In his next film The Ides of March, Clooney plays a flawed presidential candidate. So with Hollywood, the world and the California Democratic Party at his feet, could life imitate art?
"I didn't live my life in the right way for politics, you know," Clooney says in typically self-effacing fashion. "I f***ed too many chicks and did too many drugs, and that's the truth."
Happy birthday, indeed, Mr Clooney.