8 Things You Might Not Know About Fabio

The ‘90s hunk had his own 900 number, a line of romance novels, and a heavyset counterpart known as ‘Flabio.’

Fabio. / James Leynse/GettyImages

Achieving fame strictly for one’s looks is hardly a new phenomenon. At the turn of the 20th century, German fitness enthusiast Eugen Sandow flexed and performed a variety of strongman demonstrations while wearing little more than a fig leaf loincloth, making London audiences swoon. Some decades later, a similar obsession over a male physique developed with Fabio Lanzoni.

In the 1990s, Fabio seemed to exist purely as an aesthetic ideal, gracing the covers of romance novels, peddling butter substitutes, and making cameos in movies to send up his own persona. For more on Fabio—and who among us cannot get enough?—keep reading.

Fabio got his first modeling contract within 15 minutes of asking for one.

Fabio is pictured
Fabio in 1990. / Steve Eichner/GettyImages

Fabio Lanzoni was born in Milan on March 15, 1959, to Sauro, who worked in a conveyor belt factory, and Flora, a former beauty pageant winner. At 14, the young athlete—who loved sports, but had a leg injury that prevented him from pursuing an athletic career—caught the attention of a photographer who needed a model for a teen clothing spread. So—against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to stay in Italy—Fabio headed to the U.S.

Once stateside, according to People, he strolled insouciantly into the offices of the Ford Modeling Agency in Manhattan and was promptly signed to a modeling contract at the age of 19. The next day, he was brought on for a major ad campaign for the Gap.

He became the king of romance novel covers.

Fabio is pictured
Fabio signs books for fans. / James Leynse/GettyImages

In 1987, Fabio posed for the cover to Hearts Aflame, an incendiary romance novel by Johanna Lindsey, and his statuesque frame sent readers aflutter. It was a shift for the romance genre, which had in decades past relied on buxom women for their covers. Fabio was more appealing to readership, and as a result, he posed for up to 16 covers a day, as though he were the very embodiment of love. All told, he appeared on roughly 1300 romance novel covers.

He was on the cover of a Nintendo video game.

Among Fabio’s earliest mass-media modeling assignments was being the face (and body) of Kuros, the warrior protagonist of Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors II (1989) for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The model adorned the packaging and print ads for the game, though he didn’t appear in the television commercial (above). Despite Fabio’s developed pectorals and deltoids, Kuros doesn’t actually appear in the game topless: He’s in a suit of armor.

Fabio eventually wrote his own romance novels.

Fabio is pictured
Fabio in denim. / Lynn Goldsmith/GettyImages

According to Fabio, the full extent of his influence in the romance novel industry wasn’t known to him until a publisher confided that his presence on covers led to a substantial sales boost—by one estimate, up to 40 percent. Sensing an opportunity, Fabio decided to cut out the middleman and write his own novels. (Technically, he came up with the stories; co-writers contributed prose.) At the height of Fabio’s fame, he could net a $100,000 advance for one of his books.

Fabio had a 900 number.

Fabio is pictured
Fabio at a public appearance. / Steven D Starr/GettyImages

For a spell in the 1980s and 1990s, a celebrity having a 900 number was often a hallmark of success. In Fabio’s case, it was lucrative. For $1.99 a minute, admirers could dial 1-900-90-FABIO and listen to Fabio rhapsodize about whatever was on his mind in pre-recorded messages. Each month, 10 lucky callers were chosen to get an actual phone call from him.

Fabio begat Flabio.

Fabio is pictured
Fabio. / Vince Bucci/GettyImages

The Fabio phenomenon of the 1990s resulted in several spoofs of his persona, though few were quite as calculated as the man known as “Flabio.” In 1994, Eric States, a kayak salesman, had the idea to offer a more smoothed-out version of the model. He hired 6-foot, 6-inch Michael Glover, who weighed 400 pounds, for a poster and a novelty pin-up calendar that wound up selling well. Despite what some might infer to be body-shaming, Glover himself felt it was a subversive take on body positivity. “I’ve never been ashamed of being big," he said. “That poster, it represents the mainstream of America.”

Fabio himself saw the humor in the send-up. “If people are interested in seeing a Flabio impersonator of Fabio, then Fabio wishes him the best of luck,” his manager said.

Fabio has a history with Thor.

Again, Fabio. / Jon Kopaloff/GettyImages

With his Nordic features, flowing blonde mane, and engorged biceps, it’s easy to imagine Fabio in the role of Thor, Marvel’s version of the Norse god. In 1993, The Los Angeles Times reported that Fabio was due to shoot a photo cover for the Marvel comic, though it’s not clear whether that came to fruition. Several years later, in 2001, Fabio was reportedly mounting an animated movie featuring the character, though it’s again not clear whether it was intended to be Marvel’s iteration.

Had he ever been in a position to portray Thor, it’s not certain he would have welcomed the opportunity. Fabio has said that he typically rejected acting roles that featured any kind of gratuitous violence.

His run-in with a goose remains a source of mystery.

Fabio is pictured
Here we see Fabio. / Steve Eichner/GettyImages

Long before mishaps could go viral online, Fabio experienced a similar level of infamy—and all thanks to a goose. In 1999, the model agreed to promote a new attraction at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. Fabio boarded the roller coaster, dubbed Apollo’s Chariot, with a smile. When he de-boarded, he was bloody and decidedly unamused. A goose had somehow collided with his face while the coaster was in transit. Fabio later disputed this account, saying that the goose had smashed into a camera; a piece of fragment from the device had struck him in the nose. Fabio asserted the goose story was cooked up so the park could avoid liability, both legal and cultural, for damaging his world-famous face.

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