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Mel Gibson: 1985
Long before courting controversy with The Passion of the Christ, PEOPLE's inaugural Sexiest Man Alive was simply "the most gorgeous man I've ever met," actress Sigourney Weaver said about azure-eyed Gibson, who was then starring in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Uneasy with his growing fame, the father of seven (with wife Robyn) lamented at the time, "It's all happening too fast."
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Mark Harmon: 1986
As St. Elsewhere's sexy plastic surgeon, Harmon set pulses racing, but when he got his PEOPLE nod, he demurred, "All I see is a bunch of fake teeth and football scars." Today the former UCLA quarterback plays dad to sons Sean and Ty (with actress wife Pam Dawber).
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Harry Hamlin: 1987
"Certainly when I look in the mirror, I don't get turned on," L.A. Law star Hamlin joked about being named Sexiest Man in 1987. The Yale graduate, now married to actress Lisa Rinna and a father of three, revisited his L.A. Law character in a 2002 TV movie.
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JOHN F. KENNEDY JR: 1988
Kennedy had soulful brown eyes and a sculpted physique, but he also had "a tremendous sense of duty," cousin Bobby Kennedy said of JFK Jr., an NYU law student when he was named Sexiest Man. The George editor was only 38 when he died with wife Carolyn Bessette in a 1999 plane crash.
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Sean Connery: 1989
"It'll all be downhill from here!" Connery chortled about being designated Sexiest Man. It was far from true for the granite-jawed Scotsman, then starring in the comedy Family Business. The Oscar winner (The Untouchables) and original 007 is married to painter Micheline and dad to son Jason.
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Tom Cruise: 1990
Cruise's appeal isn't about perfection. "His smile is a little off, nose a little off," said Rain Man producer Mark Johnson. "But it's the sum total." Starring in Days of Thunder when he was named Sexiest Man, Cruise now is making Mission: Impossible 3, with another production on the way: a baby with fiancée Katie Holmes.
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PATRICK SWAYZE: 1991
"He has a sweet, gentle, kind heart ... but he's also got a very rugged, animalistic physique," Demi Moore said of her Ghost costar. Swayze, starring in Point Break when he got the PEOPLE nod, has been married to actress-dancer Lisa Niemi for almost 30 years.
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NICK NOLTE: 1992
With his ultra-masculine air, 1992's Sexiest Man found favor with both genders. "He's got much more sex appeal than I do," Warren Beatty said of Nolte, who had hit box-office gold with The Prince of Tides and Cape Fear.
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Brad Pitt: 1995 & 2000
"The camera loves him," producer Patrick Markey said of twice-Sexiest Man Pitt. With his flaxen locks and chiseled face, it was no surprise that the Troy star was PEOPLE's cover man in 1995 (left). Pitt was named Sexiest Man again in 2000, the year he married Jennifer Aniston.
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Denzel Washington: 1996
"Denzel's not just pretty," Courage Under Fire costar Regina Taylor said of Washington. "He has wit, style and intelligence." Add talent to that list: The two-time Oscar winner (and father of four with wife Pauletta Pearson) brings a nobility and intensity to his roles.
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George Clooney: 1997
That mischievous grin, that salt-and-pepper hair – "If George went one more click on the handsome dial, he would swing it all the way back to ugly again," pal Karen Duffy said of the actor, then balancing ER and such movies as Batman amp Robin.
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Harrison Ford: 1998
"Why this sudden outpouring for geezers?" quipped Ford, who was filming Random Hearts when he learned of his PEOPLE honor. With his rugged good looks, the former carpenter and father of four still plays the hero with finesse: Ford (who lives with girlfriend Calista Flockhart) is looking to swashbuckle his way through another installment of Indiana Jones.
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RICHARD GERE: 1999
Fabulous at 50 when he was named Sexiest Man Alive, silver fox Gere hadn't lost his ability to "make women melt," as his Autumn in New York costar Jill Hennessy gushed. Today, the devout Buddhist has found serenity with actress wife Carey Lowell and son Homer, 5.
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PIERCE BROSNAN: 2001
Sure, he's irresistibly debonair. But wife Keely Shaye Smith says her James Bond's "real beauty emanates from the soul." A former working-class Irish lad, 2001's Sexiest Man is now a father of five and a grandfather.
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Ben Affleck: 2002
He's tall, dark and handsome, but there's more to Affleck, says pal Matt Damon: "He's loyal and really honest, really smart, really funny." Affleck was flexing his pecs as a superhero in Daredevil when he was named Sexiest Man in 2002. Now newly married to Jennifer Garner, the Oscar winner (for penning Good Will Hunting) is about to become a dad for the first time this month.
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Johnny Depp: 2003
"Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely," is how Pirates of the Caribbean costar Keira Knightley described 2003's Sexiest Man. Yet Depp (now a father of two with girlfriend Vanessa Paradis), has often opted to bury his flawless features in quirky roles like his Oscar-nominated turn in Pirates.
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JUDE LAW: 2004
When he was chosen, the Alfie star inspired superlatives from some of the world's most sought-after leading ladies. "He's the most beautiful man who ever walked the earth," says Naomi Watts, who starred with Law in I Heart Huckabees, one of the actor's six films in 2004. "His warmth is what makes him sexy, and it radiates through his eyes," says his Cold Mountain costar Nicole Kidman.