- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

To hear Roger Cossack explain it, there are bachelors with a capital B, the kind of well-known hunks who can "open" a movie or pose their sculpted physiques for magazine spreads.

Then there are those of the lower-case variety, the CNN personality says. This is the group in which the reluctant bachelor puts himself.

Tell that to the editors of People magazine, who chose him as one of the 100 top bachelors in the country, alongside such personalities as actor George Clooney and singer Chris Isaak. Or the women who have been inundating the Georgetown resident with letters since the July 10 issue hit the newsstands.

"They needed an older guy," the 61-year-old legal expert says in a tone so self-deprecating it must be genuine.

"I was warned to expect some kind of response," says Mr. Cossack, co-host of CNN's legal show, "Burden of Proof." "I thought that wasn't going to happen."

Think again. The stream of letters one came from a woman in jail came as a shock to the gentle widower.

His CNN co-workers were only too happy to join the hooting chorus.

"There's a lot of teasing from my friends," he says. "That's the understatement of the year."

Mr. Cossack wasn't the only Washingtonian to grace the magazine's bachelor issue. Artist Greg Scott, nonprofit executive Vincent Pan and Securities and Exchange Commission prosecutor John Stark also made the enviable cut.

People magazine culled its list by asking its bureau staffers to look for men older than 21 "who have good careers and are kind to their mothers and to small children," Assistant Managing Editor Carey Winfrey says inside the issue.

In person, Mr. Cossack could pass for a hale 50, with his thick charcoal curls and smooth, narrow features.

Despite Mr. Cossack's unconventionally appealing look, this whole business of being a sought-after bachelor doesn't square with him. He squirms in his chair when describing the past few curious weeks and leans on his lawyer's training to choose his words carefully.

Even the magazine's photo shoot made him wince. He would have preferred to appear in a suit and tie, his everyday look, rather than the ruggedly casual clothes he donned for the shoot.

Regardless of any list, you won't find Mr. Cossack working the District's singles scene.

"Dating is a word that has very little to do with me," he says. "At my age, you don't date, you make friendships.

"The [dating] game is for young people," he says.

The only tip to his swingin' status is the framed James Bond print in his otherwise staid office and that's a stretch.

The commentator's regular appeal may have convinced the magazine of his worth, but it's not a look he actively cultivates.

"I'm one of the most approachable people in the world," he says, both for male and female acquaintances.

"I have one of those faces that don't put people off," he says, shrugging in lieu of a better explanation.

Mr. Cossack re-entered the singles scene after his wife, Michele, died from breast cancer in 1991.

"I had a wonderful marriage that sadly ended," he says. "I'm a reluctant bachelor."

His ideal partner would dig jazz as much as he does and surprise him with her wit and wisdom. A golfer "would be nice, but it's not a criteria for life," he says.

As you age, "you don't judge the same way. You look for different things," he says. "I'm looking for conversation, someone to make me laugh."

He did have one reservation about being nominated as a noteworthy bachelor.

"One thing I didn't want is to come across as an old lecher," he says, growing serious for a moment. He hardly seems the type you would find at a swanky affair armed with a 20-something bachelorette.

That's not to say he's perfect, something he's the first to acknowledge.

"When you're single as long as I have been, you become set in your ways," he says. "I'm a quirky guy, a little bit forgetful."

Mr. Cossack does have a steady, if thoroughly platonic, relationship with "Burden of Proof" co-host Greta Van Susteren.

"He's decent, employed, and he's available. It's not a bad criteria," says Miss Van Susteren, who gleefully tacked the People magazine cover on her colleague's door, replacing cover boy Clooney's mug with his. "He should have been on the list long ago."

"Roger is a boy trapped in a man's body," she continues. "I say it in the best of ways. He's fun."

Mr. Cossack rose to media prominence as a legal expert in the O.J. Simpson case. His commentary led to the "Burden of Proof" gig.

It's a show he didn't expect to keep him occupied for too long.

"When they called me to do 'Burden of Proof,' " I said, 'This thing will last six months,' " he says.

After the Simpson trial became yesterday's news, however, other legal issues took its place.

"I was surprised at the amount of interest in the law," he says.

Unlike legal matters, interest in his newfound celebrity may be waning already, the flow of admirers' letters has begun to lessen.

Yet in a city like Washington, with its share of self-obsessed bachelors, men such as Mr. Cossack will be welcomed with a capital W by the opposite sex.

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