30 Years of Man Crushes – The Ultimate Timeline for Children of the 80s

by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck on March 7, 2015

in Nerd Culture, The 80s

I recently had the pleasure of occupying the coveted Fourth Chair on the Nerd Lunch podcast and the topic was ‘man crushes’. In preparation for the show, I began rifling through my mental archive of male idols, back to a time before admiring someone had a buzzy nickname. Below is my attempt to chronicle three decades of man crushes.

The ‘man crush’ in its current form goes back much farther than the term itself. The millions of American males of all ages who looked up to and wanted to be Indiana Jones, Michael Jordan or Fletch were effectively man crushing, we just didn’t have a hashtaggy name for it yet.

To be honest, for us guys a good old-fashioned man crush is just easier than female entanglements. Women are complicated. Men are transparent, simple creatures. We get each other. Also, there’s no danger of something freaky like this happening (seriously ladies, WTF):

Ask any honest thirty or forty-something and he’ll confirm, he man-crushed hard on some of the male pop culture icons of the 80s. It was impossible not to! The 80s oozed with machismo (a word that sounds as ridiculous today as ‘swag’ will sound in 2040).

I’ve compiled a 30 year timeline chronicling the main man crushes I’ve outwardly harbored since 1982. Mind you, these do not represent every single fleeting man crush I’ve ever had- consider these the “man crush heavyweight champions” of my lifetime, accompanied by the length of time that they spent in the #1 spot. Some had short stints as man crush champ, others stayed atop the mountain for years at a time. Some were even dethroned and fought tirelessly (ie. got cast as Green Lantern) to regain the top spot.

I proudly present 30 years of man crushes, collected in one crushy timeline.

He-Man | 1982 – 1983

OK, we start with a bonus two years at the beginning of the timeline (“32 Year-Long Man Crush Timeline” just didn’t have the same ring to it). In 1982 I was six years old, and my parents gave me a Masters of the Universe figure (Zodac to be exact). My grandmother must have asked what I wanted for my birthday and/or Christmas at some point thereafter, because MOTU toys were all she got me for a solid three year stretch. The cartoon debuted in 1983, and I was hooked.

He-Man was the first fictional idol I remember looking up to and wanting to be like. My father was no longer the only male hero figure in my life. How the hell was my old man supposed to compete? He drove a blue Oldsmobile. He-Man rode an armored predatory cat. Advantage: He-Man.


Christopher Reeve | 1984

As you’ll see in a moment, movies weren’t really our family’s thing. That’s probably why I didn’t connect with Christopher Reeve (as Superman) until the mid 80s, despite the fact that Superman had debuted in 1978. By 1984, Superman II and III had premiered, and to be honest I have no memory of what order I originally saw these films in. I just remember the feeling of genuine fear for that idiot kid that was playing on the railing at Niagara Falls.

That said, I don’t feel compelled to justify or detail an 8 year-old’s man crush on Superman. I’d have to assume most people reading this share a fond admiration for Christopher Reeve and the iconic character he portrayed.


Optimus Prime | 1985

While the majority of American pre-pubescent boys were man crushing on people like Harrison Ford (understandably) at this time, I was skewing hard toward television, cartoons to be exact. My parents weren’t big movie theater folks (which explains my never having seen some of the movies I’ve never seen). I missed out on idolizing the male movie stars that owned the 80s.

1985 should have been owned by the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Chevy Chase and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but as far as man crushes go for me, I only had my after school block of cartoons to draw from. I promise this will be the last cartoon man crush in the timeline (I wasn’t a Simpsons guy, so no adult cartoon crushes). Optimus Prime was just so fatherly toward the Autobots, and for children of the 80s, Peter Cullen could be considered the voice of our childhood. Optimus Prime embodied all of the qualities of a true man, and I legitimately admired his character. On to the humans.


Greg Brady/Michael Knight | 1986

Let’s call 1986 my era of “Day and Night” man crushes (or “Day and Knight”, if you’re going full nerd with me). During the day I would binge watch Brady Bunch reruns (they were on two different channels, creating a 90 minute afterschool Brady block). Greg felt like the big brother I never had. He had all the moves, and he didn’t even know it. Johnny Bravo forever.

By 1986, my TV viewing privileges had expanded to include some select prime time viewing. Knight Rider quickly became my favorite “night time” show, and a healthy man crush on Michael Knight was formed. Tall, mysterious, and that car. Guy had it all, including a wrist phone. And my heart.


Hulk Hogan | 1987 

I’m not going to pretend I was a child hipster in 1987 and that Randy Savage or Jake “The Snake” Roberts was my favorite wrestler. Besides a fleeting interest in Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (much enhanced by his WrestleMania III match with the aforementioned Macho Man), Hulk Hogan was my WWF titan of choice.

In the fall of 1986, WWF Superstars had just begun airing weekly on our local FOX affiliate on Saturday mornings. I was already a wrestling fan, mostly due to attending a few live shows with my dad (more on this later), and owning the LJN action figures. Once the larger-than-life characters were pumped into my home in a time slot that I could regularly watch, the Hulkster man crush began in earnest.

For children of the 80s, Hulk Hogan peaked at a perfect time. He was the indestructible American “real-life” superhero, jumping off of a television screen or live arena as opposed to our toy, comic and cartoon heroes of the day. For some reason as a kid I always associated Hulk Hogan with my dad, I think because he was a strong male role model who could do no wrong in my eyes (and my dad was the one who introduced me to the WWF). For all of Hogan’s faults that we can look back on and judge as adults, the Hulkster was an infallible hero to an 11 year-old me.


Don Mattingly | 1988

By 1988 “sports entertainment” had given way to real sports (not that pro wrestling ever fully checked out of my wheelhouse) and I was watching baseball games nightly throughout the spring and summer months. We got New York Yankees games on WPIX, and just as I began paying attention, Don Mattingly went on an historic power binge, slugging home runs in 8 consecutive games.

“Donnie Baseball” also swatted an MLB record 6 grand slams that season. In other words, a real-life superhuman playing first base for the home team. Man crush engage.


Michael Keaton | 1989 – 1990

The premiere of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 marked the maturity of a comic book character and a slight maturation in my taste in men. That says MATURATION, sickos.



UP NEXT: My creepiest crush, and the celebrity man crush that brought me closer to my dad before he passed away –>

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Jay Malone August 5, 2014 at 8:45 am

This is a fantastic idea – I’m curious to see how many of the guys in our generations lists would start with He-Man as well?

With regards to your final entry (which, incidentally, would also be my final entry on the list as well) – it’s just refreshing to see a celebrity who seems to legitimately enjoy his work. He’s excited to be Green Arrow, and that’s infectious – and it seems to be passing to the Flash cast as well. Grant Gustin is much the same on his Twitter feed.

Kevin Hellions August 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm

What in the hell is that gif and where did it come from? (You know, before I steal it.)

Jason G August 7, 2014 at 12:11 pm

You hit most of mine from the 80s. I’d throw in Huey Lewis, The Duke boys, and Rambo.

Today is probably Robert Downey Jr, Roger Sterling from Mad Men, and Kevin Spacey (mainly to be able to do this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIQMptnTf0s)

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