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Harrison Ford: Hollywood Hero

From on-screen heroics to real-life rescues, the legendary actor's work is never done

Harrison Ford walking in the desert

"I love acting probably more than I did before," says Harrison Ford (above). — Photo by Timothy White

En español  |  Harrison Ford lands his green Citation jet on the tarmac of the Santa Monica airport, then heads to his sleek offices overlooking the runway. The graying action star looks fit and appealingly weathered. He wears a tiny silver hoop in his left ear, which Han Solo fans on the Web lament as an unhip vestige of a midlife crisis.

See also: Photo gallery: Harrison Ford's biggest hits.

Settling into a chair in a conference room, Ford leaves the door ajar so he can keep a protective eye on his plane as his copilot prepares to stow it in its hangar. He tears hungrily into a couple of cartons of Muscle Milk. "Haven't had a chance to eat today," he explains.

It's nearly 5 p.m.,and earlier in the day he flew to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he keeps a ranch, to attend the funeral of his friend Blake Chapman, who died piloting a small plane in a snowstorm. "Seventy-three-year-old cowboy, professional pilot. Great guy. We spent a fair amount of time together flying up into the wilderness." Although Ford grieves the loss of his friend, he finds one consolation: "He lived his life doing what he wanted, right up to that moment."

Perhaps the contemplation of mortality has triggered a mellow mood; in conversation today, Ford shows no hint of the irascibility for which he — and his screen characters — are famous. Though he'd rather be wearing blue jeans than the navy-blue suit he wore to the funeral, he's cheerful and relaxed — even, you might say, helpful. He readily dishes up his sardonic wit: "More people are kicked to death by mules than die in aviation accidents worldwide," he says with his familiar lopsided grin. He responds to questions deliberately; when they veer into private areas, monosyllabically. "I'm good at vague answers," he concedes.

Like Blake Chapman, Ford is living the life he wants to live. As one of Hollywood's richest men, with a reported $300 million fortune, Ford enjoys privileges — and faces challenges — his friend never did. But they shared a code of honor rooted in the fundamental American values of reliability, independence bordering on cussedness, and a commitment to give the best of oneself to any task. "I take pleasure in being useful," he says. A key to his character is that he was a carpenter who became a movie star but never gave up being a carpenter — literally or metaphorically. At 68, he succeeds as a movie actor, family man, aviator, philanthropist, and builder.

Next: From carpentry to the red carpet. >>

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