June 28, 2004 12:00 PM

Orlando Bloom‘s is the face that launched a thousand Internet searches. Troy‘s young lover has been ranked higher on Yahoo!’s Buzz Index than Brad Pitt, Viggo Mortensen and Johnny Depp, PEOPLE’S reigning Sexiest Man Alive. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Bloom rose to the top while acting alongside those actors in Troy, The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, respectively. Who else would even get noticed next to those guys–particularly in that blond Cher wig he wore as Rings‘ pretty elf Legolas? Mortensen, for one, is happy to hand off the heartthrob torch: Any phone numbers women pass him, “I give to Orlando,” he says.

Not that the 27-year-old Bloom can’t get plenty on his own. Lindsay Lohan calls him “gorgeous,” and American Idol‘s Diana DeGarmo wants him as her prom date. But, ever since they met in 2002, Bloom’s heart has belonged to Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! beauty Kate Bosworth (see box, p. 69).

She’s a lucky girl–and so are her parents. Bloom has explained that he tries to treat women the way he’d want them treated if he were their fathers. Typical date: dinner out (no steak houses, please: he’s a vegetarian) or a long shopping stroll. He’ll cross the ocean during a break in filming just to spend one day with Bosworth, but he draws the line at drenching her in bling. Instead he gave her a tiny, delicate pendant that she wears regularly. Says a friend who has seen it: “Simple and sweet.”

Bloom’s disposition is also sweet. “I took my children to see him when he was at our hotel,” says a mom of three in Malta, where he was filming Troy. “He helped me use my camera and offered to take another picture to be sure.” Maybe that’s because Bloom knows he owes at least some of his recent success to the besotted masses. Girls were screaming outside the hotel where he first met with Troy director Wolfgang Petersen. “They were going nuts,” says Petersen, who thought, “Oh my God! I’d better cast this guy!”

His leading ladies have no complaints. “Lovely and very friendly,” says Troy‘s Rose Byrne. “I can report that he’s a very good kisser,” his Pirates paramour Keira Knightley has said. And he’s solicitous too. According to Knightley, he was never without mints.

Bloom met Diane Kruger (his Helen of Troy) just a week before their semi-nude love scene. “He took me aside and said, ‘This is the first time I’m doing this,’ ” says Kruger. “When the cameras cut, he would give me my robe, not looking at me.” The two eventually got past their embarrassment, and Bloom made sure she was included in dinners out with the guys. She was also invited to cliff-diving expeditions while they filmed in Malta. “People are drawn to him, and the adventurous side of him comes through,” she says. “He’s full of life.”

In fact, the 5’11” Bloom is a bungee-jumping, surfing, snowboarding fool. “I’ve broken my nose, both legs, my wrist, a finger, a toe, some ribs, cracked my skull three times and broke my back in a fall,” he has said. That last injury was sustained in 1998 as he shinnied up a drainpipe and fell three stories. “I had to relearn how to walk,” he explains. Though Bloom still has rods in his back, the event didn’t slow him down much–just a year after it happened, he was on horseback for Rings and simulated a similar fall in Black Hawk Down.

If Bloom, who just finished filming Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott’s take on the Crusades, gravitates toward epic tales, it’s worth noting that he hails from Canterbury, England, which Chaucer put on the map. His mum, Sonia Bloom, who worked at a language school, named him for 17th-century British composer Orlando Gibbons. At age 4, Bloom lost the man he believed to be his father, South African writer Harry Bloom, and learned eight years later that his and older sister Samantha’s biological father was family friend Colin Stone, whom he sees regularly. “I was lucky,” he has said. “I had two dads.”

At school, says his former drama teacher Richard Parsons, Bloom “wasn’t the most academic student. He was creative–and a very good ceramicist. He was also very gifted at drama and performing, quite obviously.” Female classmates took note. “I think ‘cute’ was the word,” says Parsons.

At 16, Bloom took off for London to study drama. Soon the world knew what his classmates did. Yet, says Rings costar Dominic Monaghan, “I don’t think Orlando necessarily feels like a sex symbol. But if it’s going to enable him to keep working, then he’s going to play along.”

Bloom would prefer a career like Depp’s or Pitt’s. “They created a heartthrob thing, then went against it,” he says. “You kind of have to.” But please, Orlando. Not just yet.

DATEABILITY: Nonexistent.

“I don’t doubt him doing anything and everything for a wonderful woman like Kate,” says Rings stuntman Sala Baker.

Allison Adato. Kwala Mandel, Dana Meltzer and Sean Daly in Los Angeles, Sara Hammel and Solvej Schou in London, K.C. Baker in New York and Fiona Galea Debono in Malta

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