The ultimate hunk of the '90s Fabio comes out of retirement to speak to PEOPLE about aging, love and romance

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Credit: Jeff Minton

It was the summer of 1987 when Fabio Lanzoni became simply Fabio. Then a successful model—Gap, Versace—he was dancing in a Miami club with that comic-book- hero jaw, those blue eyes, the hair like a member of Whitesnake and a chest like He-Man's.

The sum of his parts: The Ideal Man.

"Then these three girls come over and say, 'You look exactly like the guy on our books!'" Fabio remembers in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "I said, 'That's a good pickup line.'"

He had no idea what they were talking about. Fabio had posed for a few photographs that were going to become book covers, but he hadn't yet seen any of them. The women left and returned with novels in hand.

"I go like, 'Oh my God, that's me,'" he says. "It was the first time I saw myself on the cover of the books."

Fabio had arrived.

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Fabio Lanzoni
| Credit: Lynn Goldsmith

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We know Fabio today as something of a pop-culture curiosity—one of those people you know, but you're not sure how. Or why.

No one owned the '90s quite like the Italian-born model turned romance novel cover star. He posed for 1,300 of them, hair always blowing, muscles always glistening. His name was also on a dizzying array of stuff: hair-care products, fitness videos, posters, a clothing line at Sam's Club.

He became further immortalized in movies like Dude, Where's My Car?, Spy Hard and Death Becomes Her and on shows including Step by Step and Guiding Light, often playing himself. And, of course, there were those I Can't Believe It's Not Butter ads.

The hosts of the podcast PEOPLE in the '90s even spent an entire summer trying to book an interview with him. (The interview with Fabio drops tomorrow.) But, as he likes to say, "I just live my life."

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Now 62, he looks remarkably like his younger self—he says he's down to 225 from 252 lbs.—with the same unbuttoned silk shirts and eel-skin boots. He still works out like a maniac; still avoids alcohol, drugs and sweets; still speaks in Fabio-isms like "If you don't buy into fear, you will see miracles."

And he still has the hair, which can catch any breeze. (What's different today: He sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber which, he says, "reverses the aging process.") Fabio both defined the decade and somehow never left it. Tsk-ing out of the side of his mouth in his Spanish-tiled mansion outside Los Angeles, he says, "Please. Who else can I be, besides Fabio?"

Back in 1993, when he was on the cover of PEOPLE, he was single and loving it. A very eligible bachelor (he was once "purchased" for $16,000 at an auction), he said his heart had been broken.

Today, he tells PEOPLE he's still not over that relationship. She was a model and she has a family of her own today, is all he'll say about it.

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Credit: everett

"I treated her badly," he admits. "She wanted to settle down, and I was just too wild."

He recently went on a date—"dinner," he says, and a ride in one of his 31 sports cars—but he's still looking. Fabio says he has some criteria for a partner. He likes funny. She can't be social-media-obsessed. (He hates it and is not on Twitter or Instagram.)

And, he adds, "She has to be able to be in the middle of nature. She can't be afraid about bugs."

He has options, he insists. "There is quantity, but I want quality." He says he wants to get married. "I still want to have kids." He flashes an optimistic smile.

Then, almost imperceptibly, the smile fades. He looks off to the horizon, like in a romance novel: "You see, when you really love a person, it's forever."

For more about Fabio Lanzoni, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.