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Dirk Benedict: Single father, author, director

The dad zone

By Serena Kappes

Dirk Benedict in 2000; (inset) Benedict on "Battlestar Galactica."

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(PEOPLE) -- Twenty years ago, it would have been hard to picture swaggering ladies' man Dirk Benedict as a doting soccer dad.

But these days, Benedict, a self-described "Mr. Mom," is raising his two sons, George, 14, and Roland, 12, as a single father. (He and actress wife Toni Hudson divorced in 1995; she lives in L.A., where the boys stay for several weeks each year.) "It's a very steep learning curve," he says of solo parenthood.

Yet Benedict, 57, was a willing student. "I love them madly," he says. "I've had people say, 'You're sacrificing your life for your children,' but I don't look at it as a sacrifice." The trio has lived in Bigfork, Montana, since 1994.

His domestic life now is a far cry from his wild days as a fledgling actor working in repertory theater and eventually on Broadway, including a 1972 production of "Butterflies Are Free." Eventually he scored a guest spot on a 1972 episode of "Hawaii Five-O" and began appearing in films, including 1973's "SSSSSSS."

Diagnosed with cancer

But Benedict's health almost derailed his burgeoning career -- and his life. In 1974, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he fought by adopting a macrobiotic diet (which consists only of white-meat fish, whole grains and certain vegetables). At one point, the formerly robust actor shed 60 pounds. "I was skeletal," he recalls. But, after several years of battling his illness, he rebounded.

And so did his career: Benedict won the role of swashbuckling Lieutenant Starbuck on the sci-fi show "Battlestar Galactica," which aired from 1978-80, and several years later played another man's man, "Face" Peck on the NBC testosterone fest "The A-Team" (1983-86).

Though he has worked sporadically in films and theater since, these days he is focused on other projects. Benedict has written two books, including his 1991 memoir, "Confessions of a Kamikaze Cowboy," and is in the process of writing another autobiography and a one-man show. And in 2000 he directed the indie drama "Cahoots," which he also wrote. "If my career had been more successful, I wouldn't have ended up doing what I'm doing now," he admits.

His life has taken other unexpected turns as well: Four years ago, Benedict learned that he has a son, John, now 34, whom he never knew existed. "We've become best friends," Benedict says.

Although his days as a young heartthrob may be behind him, Benedict's following remains loyal. All three of his sons joined him last year on a special cruise designed to give fans access to him -- and they'll return to the seas in January.

Benedict hasn't shelved his acting aspirations, but his family comes first. "It deepens you," he says of fatherhood. "And if I do act again, it'll make me a much more interesting performer."

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