O'Hurley dances his way to new fame
By Gary Strauss, USA TODAY
When the producers of ABC's Dancing with the Stars (Wednesday, 9 ET/PT) began recruiting him, actor John O'Hurley figured it was to host the reality show.
"I've lost 15 pounds so far, I've got flexibility I haven't had in years, and people yell 'John!' instead of 'Peterman!'" says O'Hurley.
Little did he realize he was being sought as one of six celebrity amateur dancers paired with pros in the six-week competition. That he'd become the show's biggest star. That the show would become a hit. Or that the fame would overshadow his highest-profile role: pompous catalog king J. Peterman on NBC's Seinfeld.
"I thought the show was a great idea, but not for old twinkle toes," says O'Hurley, whose prior dancing consisted of 1980s stage musicals.
But after mulling the offer with his wife, Lisa, he signed on. "She told me it would be a life-changing experience, and it has," says O'Hurley, 48.
"I've lost 15 pounds so far, I've got flexibility I haven't had in years, and when I go through an airport, people yell 'John!' instead of 'Peterman!' It's been a total surprise."
Dancing, too, has been a surprise success. It was No. 1 last week with 15.7 million viewers, its audience builds every week, and it scores particularly well among young adults.
Dapper in white tie and tails, O'Hurley has developed strong chemistry with partner Charlotte Jorgensen, 33. And their cha-chas, tangos and quick steps have captured strong support from the judges and viewers, who share voting power.
Executive producer Conrad Green says O'Hurley wasn't tapped for his dancing prowess. "We wanted someone a bit older who is likable, warm and funny. We didn't have a clue how good of a dancer he is."
Training with Jorgensen, a top pro dancer in the 1990s, quickly evolved from twice-weekly, four-hour sessions to a six-hour, seven-day regimen.
"The physical demands are one thing, but it's mentally draining, too," he says. "You have a new dance every week. It's like learning the violin on a Thursday and playing a concerto the following Wednesday."
For O'Hurley, an avid golfer with a 4 handicap, winning the dance-off is both a matter of pride and his competitive nature. "I have more to gain by winning than losing and looking silly," he says.
Still, O'Hurley downplays his chances against remaining celebs Rachel Hunter, Joey McIntyre and Kelly Monaco. "Latin dance styles are very difficult for me, and dancing is a male-led activity, so it's easier for me to look worse than the professional dancers," he says.
Whatever happens, O'Hurley remains busy. An accomplished pianist, his first CD, Peace of Our Minds, is due out this week. He's developing a comedy series à la Larry David and has several movies in the works.
Then there's the Peterman connection: The fictional Seinfeld character was based on apparel purveyor J. Peterman, whom O'Hurley befriended. O'Hurley eventually acquired a stake in the J. Peterman Co. and serves on its board.