For obvious reasons I try not to work too, er, hard.

— The Naked Cowboy

Robert John Burck was born in Greenhills, Ohio in 1971. He earned his degree in Political Science from the University of Cincinnati in 1995. He is also The Naked Cowboy™. Now, Burck is not a cowboy. Nor has he ever, ever appeared naked, live or on film (okay, twice in magazines). So what's up with this?!

Our hero had always had a hankering for success in showbiz; movies, television, or at least male modeling. His first big break came when he won a Cincinnati radio station contest and was awarded with a 2.5-second walk-on part on the television hit Baywatch. A little networking in California, not to mention his infectiously photogenic good looks, also led to two shoots for Playgirl magazine.

Among the things Burck does have are ambition, drive, persistence and faith in himself. According to interviewers and Burck himself, his days begin with 30-60 minute runs, are punctuated with meals ranging from regular diner fare to week-long diets of nuts, seeds, water and coffee, and at least two strenuous workouts a day. The results? The over-six-foot-tall Burck's body is healthy, quite muscular (in a natural kind of way; no steroid-enhanced over-the-top trip here), and very, very defined. What else does he do with his days, one may ask? Well, he practices the guitar, practices singing, reads inspirational books, and writes in his journal.

Poor Robert tried enlisting the aid of a talent management consultant, who sent him to voice school with one of Nashville, Tennessee's finest coaches. Despite weeks of hard work and an investment in an $800 guitar (that he couldn't really afford), his family, friends, and coach all agreed he was certainly not destined to become the next Country/Western superstar. By now, the dedicated young man with his sights set on stardom had crossed country a number of times, tried everything to break into entertainment, including stripping (at "Chippendales-esque" as well as gay venues; both of which turned him off). A chance meeting with a self-styled "entertainment promoter" landed him an all-expenses paid trip back out to Hollywood, replete with limo trips, fancy hotel suites equipped with marble jacuzzis and sumptuous fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And photo shoots. Miles of film.

I was in Buffalo New York performing next to a hot dog vendor on my first tour of the East Coast. A lady approached me and asked, "are you advertising for the six inch or the foot long?"

— The Naked Cowboy

The amazing thing about young Robert was that although he could have made a fortune in soft- or hard-core pornography, he'd have none of it. His nearly pure-as-the-driven-snow heart belonged to his beloved Mindy, who awaited his returns to Cincinnati whilst he pursued his career. Absolutely straight sexually, there wasn't a homophobic bone in his body, however. If anything, he was fairly naive in his early days about the wolves offering gifts and outright cash for at the very least a glimpse, much less a taste, of the buff bodybuilder au naturel. Robert continued his existence staying in cheap motels and crashing on friends' couches, working as a waiter at T.G.I. Friday's restaurant, and driving beat-up cars because he was true to himself and his self-respect. His body was a temple, and he'd do with it as he pleased.

The writings on his website are very candid about how he turned down a life of excess with a minor entertainment-business sugar daddy:

“Well, when you left on the plane, back to Cincinnati, you didn’t seem at all hurt to go.” “I feel like you like what I can give you, but not me personally.” We got into screaming fights over the following week over what this relationship was all about. I was straightforward from the beginning and never once deluded him. Somehow we always wound up not disagreeing, but he was definitely trying to see where my comfort zones were in regards to my sexuality and his future role in marketing it.

"...however this kook in Nashville began telling me that he’d need to know when and where I was having sex, to know where his most valuable asset in the world was and with whom. The final bomb came when he just bluntly said, “I’ll have to be aware of every orgasm you have and they will have to be with me.”

He was staying with a friend in Venice Beach, California; going on tryouts for bit-parts in T.V. and movies, spending his free time working out and taking in the sun, and one day decided to muster up all of the courage he had. He finished his workout one day, cleaned up and put on cowboy boots, jeans, a skimpy shirt and cowboy hat, grabbed his guitar and walked out to the pier and began singing. He made $1.02 for the afternoon. The dollar was from an old woman who felt sorry for him; the two cents were thrown at him by hecklers.

He told his host of his bad luck singing that day. In jest, his host said, "well, why don't you go do it in your underwear?" The gist was not to get him noticed as a singer but perhaps as a model.

He got noticed. He arrived home with his boots stuffed with singles, sometimes $50-60 a day. (Why his boots? In his own words "the boots, not the briefs; this is a family show!").

Now, in Venice Beach, California, well-sculpted young muscle builders of the male (and female) variety are a dime a dozen. The ever-enterprising Burck realized that he needed exposure (pardon the pun) in a totally different market. So he packed his car and drove cross-country to the Big Apple. Stops along the way ranged from wildly successful gigs to nights spent in red-neck lockups.

"Do you ever perform completely naked?"

— talk show host

"No way! I don't want to cheapen my act!"

— Naked Cowboy

The night before his big debut, he used his nearly maxed-out credit card to stay in a fleabag motel in New Jersey. The following morning, he parked his car, dropped trou and doffed his shirt, and wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and briefs (emblazoned with "The Naked Cowboy" in red, white and blue) and a pair of white cowboy boots (upon which "tips" was written on each), strapped his red, white and blue guitar around his back and walked toward Times Square.

His success was immediate. Once the police (who'd thought they'd seen every manner of oddity) decided that to hamper his act would indeed violate his right to freedom of expression, he was off and running, er, or, singing. The crafty showman stood in the middle of Times Square day in and day out, earning about a thousand dollars a day. His attempts at p/r have been met with varying degrees of acceptance (David Letterman's security guards immediately removed him from the theatre when he removed his tear-off shirt and pants on-camera; and threatened to sue - the footage was used on the air and the lawsuit never materialized).

The most amazing thing about The Naked Cowboy is his consistency. He's out there in Times Square all four seasons. (But for when he's making private appearances at $1,000 a clip or touring in warmer climates - including Japan). Yep, he's become a New York City icon.

(On a particularly frigid January day) "A dollar in the boot, please. I've got medical bills."

— Naked Cowboy

Don't you get sick out here in the Cold?

— Tourist

Are you kidding? Do you think bacteria survive in these temperatures?

— Naked Cowboy

Yukui Nakano posted a photo she attributes to "Yahoo News" on her website. Out of the literally hundreds of photos of Burck that can be found on the web (including his modeling portfolio - the stuff that dreams are made of) this one in particular tells the story the best. There's The Naked Cowboy, standing tall on a minuscule triangle in the middle of New York City Traffic, strumming his guitar with his muscular arms. There's a light snowfall in the air, accumulating on the ground. So far is this from the archetypal cowpoke sipping coffee in front of a warm fire it underscores the surrealism of the art of the photograph. Perhaps surrealism is the best way to define Robert John Burke's performance art, as well.

Beside actually trekking to the City and posing with the extremely handsome Naked Cowboy most times of the year in New York's Times Square, one can view his adorable visage and well-chiseled musculature (in various states of undress) in photos on his website. The site also offers a cd for sale, as well as Naked Cowboy hand-painted merchandise.

All the hype and analysis of why he does what he does aside; this guy is one tough son-of-a-gun. The throngs of New Yorkers and tourists are enough to drive one stark-raving mad (I speak from experience) — and to do so whether the temperature is 95 degrees and sunny or 25 degrees and snowing takes balls (pardon the pun) made of steel. This is why I nominate The Naked Cowboy for true "Cowboy-dom". After all, how many bronco-bustin' prairie-livin' fence-ridin' All-American cowpokes would do what he does, at all; compensation notwithstanding? What say hats off to a true American individualist - The Naked Cowboy!

It occurred to me that if he were crafty enough to add to his act a naked Indian, naked motorcycle cop, and naked leather-dude, he'd have "The Naked Village People."

SOURCES:

"The Naked Truth: The Naked Cowboy of Times Square" Zitelli, Nicholas, originally published in the The Hudson County Reporter, now at  http://www.littleviews.com/home/newyork/naked_cowboy.cfm accessed 12/5/06

Website of Yukui Nakano: "Day 2 With Naked Cowboy": http://www.kissui.net/mt/archives/000075.html accessed 12/5/06

The Website of The Naked Cowboy™ http://www.nakedcowboy.com/index.html

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