It used to take Robert Burck (a.k.a. the Naked Cowboy) an hour and a half to get from his home in Queens to Times Square, where he has been performing in his skivvies for 20 years. In the age of COVID-19 and social-distancing, he can clock into work, metaphorically, in just 13 minutes.
Despite the fact that millions of New Yorkers are currently sheltered at home in an effort to “flatten the curve,” the Naked Cowboy perseveres. The 49-year-old aspiring actor/singer/political candidate started performing in Times Square sporting only a cowboy hat, boots, tighty-whities and a guitar decades ago — and he’s not letting COVID-19 stop that. He has made one concession, though, and added a red, white and blue facemask to his costume.
“I made the decision probably 25 years ago that I’d be the most celebrated entertainer of all time — that I would be the number-one icon representing New York for all time to inspire, impact and motivate,” he tells Rolling Stone en route to Times Square Thursday. “I’m big Tony Robbins guy — all about goal-setting and constantly reliving my goals and making them happen on a daily basis. I haven’t missed one day in 20 years, six months and 28 days — unless I was traveling to be the Naked Cowboy in another city where the opportunity was bigger. My decision to stay in Times Square during corona is no different than going out there every single day when it’s 19 degrees or there’s a blizzard or a rainstorm or a heatwave — doesn’t matter.”
Burck rises early each day, reads for a few hours, writes in his journal (about things like “how I’m the king of the world and how I’m going to personally make coronavirus vanish from the planet with my positivity,” he says) then goes for a run in his hometown of Queens. He then drives to work, where he parks in his designated spot (he doesn’t have to pay) in a now-deserted parking garage. Next, he wipes a set of barbells down with rubbing alcohol and gets some reps in. “This is day 37, I think, in a row since the national emergency was declared,” he says.
When news of COVID-19’s spread in the U.S. started heating up, Burck was in Florida working Spring Break; he had previously been at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. He headed back to New York then, and resumed his post in Times Square, where he says he still sees thousands of people each day. Having come in contact with myriad people over the years, Burck believes: “I couldn’t get sick if I tried.”
“Good timber does not grow with ease, the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees,” he adds. “What does not kill me, makes me stronger. Life is strongest on the coral reef where it’s most dangerous. Nietzsche said, ‘Build your cities on the slopes of the Vesuvius.’”
Burck doesn’t take the virus lightly, though; his wife, Patricia Cruz (the Naked Cowgirl) does the shopping in a mask and gloves and Burck only travels to Times Square and his home. He also regularly rubs his hands down with rubbing alcohol. An avid Trump supporter, Burck has nothing but praise for the New York government and how they’ve been handling the containment of COVID-19 (the state has the most cases in the U.S. currently. New York City had 118,302 cases at last count with nearly 11,000 deaths). Although, he’s hoping the city will reopen soon.
In the meantime, the Naked Cowboy’s life remains largely unchanged — save for one detail. “I’ve never seen the city so clean. It looks like Texas,” he says. “I feel like the world got a spring cleaning.”