In Raven, a beefed-up Lee Majors grows gracefully into a supporting role

HOLLYWOOD PLAYERS OF THE '70S AND '80s would do a double take if they got a glimpse of the ''snack daddy'' at a Fort Lauderdale preschool. Yes, that is Lee Majors, once TV's hunkily bionic Six Million Dollar Man, offscreen husband of Farrah Fawcett and carouser with such legendary roisterers as Richard Burton and Steve McQueen. But here, two or three times a month, the Kentucky- bred ex-college-football standout has been on view serving apple juice and edibles to daughter Nikki, 4, and her classmates. ''You have to make the tables up and put the cups out and clean up,'' Majors reports. Then he reflects, ''I used to drive Ferraris. Now I drive a Jeep Wagoneer and take my kid to picnics.''

The downshifting in his personal life and career suits Majors, 53, just fine. Six years after the fade of his last Nielsen hit, ABC's The Fall Guy, Majors is back on TV in CBS's summer action-adventure series Raven -- not as the hero but as the sidekick. His Herman Jablonski (Ski, for short) is the boozy, bearded, bloated second banana and comic foil to series star Jeffrey Meek.

Co-executive producer John Ashley says the idea to cast Majors came from on high: CBS Entertainment president Jeff Sagansky was impressed enough by Majors's brief stint as a grizzled grunt on the Vietnam combat series Tour of Duty to recommend him for Raven, which has taken the time slot usually reserved for Jake and the Fat Man. ''I guess I'm the Fat Man,'' jokes the 6 ft.1 in. Majors, who packed on an extra 20 lbs. for the role but has since dropped back to his normal 195. ''This is the way I want to go now, to character acting.''

Of course the money isn't what it used to be. Formerly a Six Figure per Episode Man on Fall Guy (where he was also executive producer), Majors admits to accepting $50,000 per segment on Raven. But it's ample, he maintains, given his new direction. ''I don't want to try and still be Warren Beatty or whoever,'' he says. ''A lot of guys think they can be leading men forever. And believe me, we all can't be.''

"I'm such a doting father," says Majors (with daughter Nikki), "it's unbelievable."

Perhaps Majors's previous best-known supporting role was as husband of -- and mentor to -- the pre-phenomenon Fawcett. Their marriage dissolved in a headline-grabbing 1982 divorce. ''The reason we separated,'' he explains, ''is that we saw each other a total of two weeks in one year. She wanted a career, and I wouldn't hold her back.'' Nor does Majors blame his friend Ryan O'Neal for stealing his wife. ''It didn't have to be Ryan,'' he says philosophically. ''It could have been anybody.''

Lee ran with Farrah in '77; now, he says, they're still in touch "from time to time."

Following the split, the gossip columns linked Majors with, among others, Heather Thomas and Steve McQueen's daughter, Terry. Then in 1984, he met Karen Velez, the Playboy Playmate of the Year for 1985, at a party in Los Angeles. ''We've been together ever since,'' he says. But Majors admits that marriage initially was a hang-up. Then, one night in 1987, during a long- distance call, Velez ''was crying,'' he recalls. ''She said, 'I'm pregnant.' God, for a minute I thought she'd wrecked the Rolls!'' Nikki was born in February 1988; nine months later, Lee and Karen tied the knot. At 31, she is a mere year older than Lee II, a Los Angeles actor who is Majors's son from his first marriage, to Kathy Robinson. ''I kept a spread,'' joshes Lee.

Majors moved his new family to Fort Lauderdale (a short drive from Karen's parents' home in North Miami) last November after Karen, who had been pregnant with twins, miscarried. The move has not only brought out the adoring daddy in Majors but also made him a more sober citizen. ''I'm not a heavy drinker anymore,'' says Majors, which will certainly come as news to some of his former partners at 19th holes in Hollywood. There, he recalls, ''I'd leave in the morning, and Karen would say, 'Who are you playing ((golf)) with?' And I would say, 'I'm playing with Nick Nolte.' And she'd say, 'Well, I guess you won't be home for dinner.' Since then,'' Majors continues, ''Nick's been on the wagon, and I'm doing wonderful.'' Besides, he says, casting a paternal eye on his daughter, ''I want to see her graduate from college.''

Meanwhile, there are plans to build a new home in Fort Lauderdale, and Karen is pregnant again -- with twin boys -- due in November. An enthusiastic Majors is already getting ready for them: ''I've brought out the old football and basketball,'' says he, ''and I'm starting to work out.''

"She's smart, and the best thing is, she doesn't want to be an actress," says Lee
of wife Karen (with Nikki and golden retriever, Blue).

This article is courtesy of People Magazine. 1992 People Magazine.

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