NEW YORK — Just when you thought Times Square had cleaned up its image and lost its wacky edge, the Naked Cowboy is back.
John Robert Burck II — wearing nothing but cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and white briefs reading "Naked Cowboy" in bold letters on the rear — has taken up residence in the heart of Times Square, playing a guitar and singing songs like "I'm the Naked Cowboy."
Nearly two years after he first appeared in Times Square on a chilly autumn day, Burck said he has come to view New York as his new home and the place where he can most likely become the "most celebrated entertainer of all time."
"I'm going to be out here for six to eight hours a day, 365 days a year, playing my tunes," he said, now one month into his return gig.
Burck, 30, a muscular man with flowing blond hair and the unshaven look popularized by Don Johnson in "Miami Vice," created the scantily clad persona 2 1/2 years ago while performing in Venice Beach, Calif.
"I went out there — fully clothed, mind you — and I was virtually ignored," he said Friday. "A friend suggested I play in nothing but my underwear, and I made about $150 the first day. It's just taken off from there."
Burck, a Cincinnati native, has since crisscrossed the nation, appearing at festivals and on street corners from Las Vegas to Baton Rouge, La.
He said he has been arrested 44 times but has never been charged with a crime or fined.
"Mostly, they take me in, and I have my photo taken with the police chief," he said, "and then they let me go."
In April, he scrambled onto Cincinnati's Cinergy Field during the second inning of a baseball game between the hometown Reds and the New York Mets. He was handcuffed in center field and escorted from the park.
"It was kind of funny. I'm scrambling there and here comes this Chippendale guy," Mets pitcher Al Leiter, who was being shelled by a barrage of Reds hits, said at the time.
So why give up the excitement of the rest of America to settle down in Hackettstown, N.J., and commute to Times Square every day?
"I get paid tons of money, but that's not important," said Burck, who claims to make nearly $600 a day by charging a dollar to let people take his picture.
"I'm getting paid to get famous and to build up my American icon status. What could be wrong with that?"