The most important thing to know about Clooney's past, however, is that from the beginning his parents raised him to behave a certain way, especially at his father's many starring-role public appearances.
"My sister and I never really loved doing those," Clooney says one day. "You had to be on. It was show-business time. You were required to entertain. At seven years old, you had to get up onstage and say something. We were an entertainment family. Both my mom and I did commercials on my dad's show. The whole family was like a vaudeville act. And there were times when I'd rather hang out with my friends and play baseball. And my sister just wanted to read. And my parents could be silently unhappy. And we could have these long drives to an event. But once we got out of the car, it was show business, baby. You're on. It's like, 'Hey, hey!' and we're like, 'Yay!' and the whole family was smiling, and we'd get back in the car, and nobody would talk."
Manners were also deemed important. "At the dinner table," he goes on, "it was like, 'Don't chew with your mouth open, don't start eating until everybody's ready to eat, don't put your elbows on the table.' It's funny. Some of those rules I still have in my head." He pauses. "I remember my dad was just dicking around once, we were at a Reds game, I was putting too much mustard on my hot dog, and he said, 'Not too much, it'll give you a heart attack.' Even to this day, putting mustard on a hot dog, I'll think to myself, 'Uh-oh, I better watch it. I don't want to end up with a heart attack.'"
All of which goes a long way toward explaining the kind of man Clooney has become. If nothing else, he is the most refined of movie stars, never a salt-and-pepper strand of hair out of place. And he's also pretty perfect in lots of other ways. Let's not forget that.
Among his past girlfriends: Dedee Pfeiffer (Michelle's sister), Kelly Preston (with whom he got his beloved pig, Max), Talia Balsam (wife, m. 1989, d. 1993), Celine Balitran (French law student, 1996-1999), Krista Allen (actress, two Clooney breakups, 2004 and 2006), Lisa Snowdon (model, lasted five years, great bosom), Sarah Larson (Vegas cocktail waitress, 2008), Elisabetta Canalis (Italian model). And now there's Stacy Keibler, 32, a pro wrestler who has taken to tweeting daffy stuff like, "I'm in heaven" and "I'm smiling all day long."
Really, you'd think Clooney would put the kibosh on that kind of thing. But, no.
"She can do whatever she wants," he says. "I rarely tell anybody what they should be doing with their life."
So, he has no rules for his girls?
He snorts. "No. No rules. No sit-downs. No nothing."
So, anyway, will he ever get married? More snorting. "I answered that question in 1997, having recently been divorced, and I really haven't addressed it since. It's one of those things, like many things in my life, that get picked up and repeated and are made to seem like new news."
OK. Fine. Be that way.
Einsten curls up next to him on the couch. Clooney strokes his head. He chose this particular cocker spaniel for two reasons: It had been abused and needed a better life, and it was already housebroken. "I'm horrible at training. I had two bulldogs before that would just sit on the floor in front of me and shit. I was never good at smacking dogs or anything." Then, over the next little while, he adds considerably to his list of perfections. For one, the word "Johnson" always makes him laugh. "Always. 'He showed her his Johnson and she left.' You can actually say that in mixed company or on late-night TV." Farting, too, especially when he's hanging out with his pals. "We think it's one the funniest things in the history of mankind. Even the idea of a fart makes me laugh. Saying the word 'fart' makes me laugh. I have iFart on my phone. I have remote whoopee cushions. Farts. To me, there's nothing funnier."
What else makes the list? Him saying, "I'm the least metrosexual cat you've ever met. I've never had my fingernails or toenails done, and I've cut my own hair longer than other people have cut my hair." Him saying, "On an awards-show day, I can play basketball, go in, take a shower and put on a tux – it takes me three minutes to put on a tux – and be out the door in 15 minutes." Him being just so at ease with himself that in his company he puts you at ease, too. When he grins, you grin, and he does a lot of grinning, because he says a lot of things worth grinning about.
Is he a big spooner with girls?
Nods. "Unless I'm forking." Grins.
He's incredibly alpha, too, but in a good way. Let's say you want to play the kids' game of slap hands with him. He instantly assumes the first-slap position. He slaps with unnerving speed – but never so hard as to hurt, only to let you know. And when you finally do catch a break, he senses your lack of coordination and discreetly lets you get in a few whacks of your own. Nice. In fact, it's all so great. But it's this very greatness that can make you slightly nauseous and lead you to wonder if not hope that he had to pay some horrendous price for it all.
Certainly, he has suffered, most painfully after he injured his spine while making Syriana and starting blowing spinal fluid out his nose. "I was at a point where I thought, I can't exist like this. I can't actually live.' I was lying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm, unable to move, having these headaches where it feels like you're having a stroke, and for a short three-week period, I started to think, 'I may have to do something drastic about this.' You start to think in terms of, you don't want to leave a mess, so go in the garage, go in the car, start the engine. It seems like the nicest way to do it, but I never thought I'd get there. See, I was in a place where I was trying to figure out how to survive." The surgery helped, but he still gets those headaches, just not as bad.
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