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rob ashton

Romance Cover Model: Rob Ashton

rob ashton

Rob Ashton, A Cover Model Gone Too Soon

Fabio officially retired from modeling for romance covers–except for the books he “wrote”–in 1993. Afterward, there was a void that needed to be filled, and many hunky men lined up to fill it.

(Should I rewrite that? Nah, it sounds fine.)

In the 1990s and the 2000s, Rob Ashton was one of those cover models.

rob ashton blue shirt

Life and Career

Ashton was a stunning figure of a man at 6′ tall and 200 lbs with long black hair and hazel-green eyes. He was of Cherokee Indian, English, and Irish descent, a beautiful combination.

Rob Ashton attended 2 years of college and KSU Computer School. He worked many jobs before hitting it big as a model. He was a waiter, and bartender, and worked in retail sales.

Ashton was discovered on the Florida beaches at 19, his stunning physique and face standing out of the beaches of Florida.

rob ashton model

He would have a foray as a dancer with Chippendales before settling in as a model. As a dancer, he traveled worldwide in his early 20s. The many places Ashton lived included Orlando, Atlanta, New York City, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Amsterdam, and Japan.

His first romance cover was still a year away when he modelled for Typewriter In the Sky by L. Ron Hubbard.

This brought him attention from other parts of the publishing industry–namely the romance genre.

Typewriter in the Sky, L. Ron Hubbard, 1995 Edition rob ashton
Typewriter in the Sky, L. Ron Hubbard, 1995 Edition

Rob Ashton the New King of Romance Covers

In 1995 Rob Ashton gained massive popularity after being voted Romantic Times Magazine‘s “Mr. Romance.”

rob pic

The title got him a job to pose on the cover of Janice Reams Hudson’s 1996 Zebra romance Apache Flame alongside Linda Ryan, which the artist Pino painted.

The novel is about Pace Colton, a handsome half-white half-Apache, who goes by the name Fire Seeker, and his romance with the red-haired Johanna,

Sharon Spiak, an artist who worked closely under Pino, was responsible for dressing Ashton for the photo shoot. Michel LeGirou was the photographer and a seasoned romance veteran.

Pino, in typical style, used the photos from the session to paint the cover art in his studio in New Jersey.

Apache Flame, Janis Reams Hudson, Zebra, 1996, Pino cover art Rob Ashton
Apache Flame, Janis Reams Hudson, Zebra, 1996, Pino cover art

“Pino really captured us perfectly! I love it!” Rob said of his first cover.

Many more were to follow. Artists adored using Rob as their muse. Ashton was so prolific that he got the title of “New King of Romance Novels.”

captive legacy
captive legacy assel

Pino Daeni on Rob Ashton

“It’s not easy to find good male models. When certain famous models started, I was almost laughing. The way they moved their bodies at the start did not coordinate with passion.

“The models have to be believable. I can only give so much direction. You can’t be just pretty.

Sultry looks like Rob’s are the best to paint.”


Trivia About Rob

  • Favorite Foods: Seared Steak, Spaghetti, Fajitas, Burgers, Beef or Chicken Lo Mein, Sushi, Cali Rolls, Shrimp, All Kinds of Seafood Including Lobster, Crab Legs, and Stuffed Crab, Seafood Platters!
  • Favorite Wine: White Zinfandel
  • Favorite Color: Blue
  • Favorite Author / Book: God / The Bible
  • Favorite Movies: Face/Off, True Lies, What Women Want, The Thomas Crown Affair
  • Favorite Actors: Pierce Brosnan, John Lithgow, David Spade
  • Favorite Actresses: Helen Hunt, Kelly Ripa
  • Pets: 2 Chihuahuas, a female named Bella and a male called Peanut.
You Belong to My Heart, Nan Ryan, Harper Monogram, 1996 Rob Ashton
you belong to my heART

Rob’s Testimony

“I believe that destiny and free will actually coexist at the same time and that everything we do is part of our destiny. We are all here for a reason, and we repeat behaviors to learn from them and grow.

I believe there’s a lot more to this life than just what’s seen, and as I grow, I find that my priorities have changed and that there are some truths that are as real as gravity, although unseen; there are laws of the universe that apply to us all.

For example, what you put out comes back to you even more, so. On my site we’re giving to several worthwhile causes-not because it’s the thing to do, but because it’s about real people caring, sharing, giving, and helping those who need it, and it returns in much greater amounts…that’s what life is really about!”

Rob Ashton, UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH ROB ASHTON, 2001 Romantic Times

Rob Ashton’s Jobs and Hobbies

Besides modeling, Rob Ashton was a website developer and created his own official website. He loved talking to his fans and would chat with them in Q& A sessions.

He was a personal physical fitness trainer and created The European Nutritionist online training via Live Cam.

Ashton performed valuable work with various charities.

At the Romantic Times conventions, he collected teddy bears, alongside his long-time friend, Kelli Salkin.

An avid motorcyclist, Ashton enjoyed riding with his father.

A Beautiful Life Cut Short

By all accounts, Rob Ashton was a friendly, down-to-earth, modest man. He had a big heart that overflowed with love and kindness.


Sadly, Rob’s Ashton career and life ended too soon.

Ashton had been suffering from an extended illness. On Monday, August 26, 2007, he passed away due to complications from heart surgery.

He left behind an extended family, including his loving father and mother. Many romance fans mourned his death and came together to celebrate Ashton on forums and websites.

Rob Ashton Interview Romantic Times, 2001

Playgirl Spread, 1996

Rob Ashton Romance Covers

Partial List of Covers

  1. Across a Moonlit Sea, Marsha Canham, Dell, 1996, Steve Assel cover art
  2. Angel Baby, Leandra Logan, Harlequin Temptation #564, 1995
  3. Apache Flame, Janis Reams Hudson, Zebra, 1996, Pino cover art
  4. Beyond A Highland Mist, Karen Marie Moning, Dell, 1999, John Ennis cover art
  5. Captive Legacy, Theresa Scott, Dorchester, 1996
  6. Captivated, Colleen Corbett, Avon, 1996
  7. Daughter of Fire: Merlin’s Legacy, Quinn Taylor Evans, Zebra, 1999
  8. Hawks Woman, Janice Reams Hudson, Zebra, 1998, Pino cover art
  9. Lakota Dawn, Janelle Taylor, Zebra, 1999
  10. Love’s Legacy, Anthology, Dorchester, 1996
  11. The Pirate, Kate Hoffman, Harlequin, 1996
  12. Surrender, Metsy Hingle, Silhouette Desire #978, 1996
  13. Stardust of Yesterday, Lynn Kurland, 1996
  14. White Wind, Susan Edwards, Dorchester, 1996
  15. You Belong to My Heart, Nan Ryan, Harper Monogram, 1996, Doreen Minuto cover art
model fabio

Romance Cover Model: Fabio Lanzoni

model featured on many romance novel covers fabio

Fabio Lanzoni: A Controversial Romance Icon

When one thinks of old-school romance books, often the first name associated with them is the male model Fabio and “cheesy covers.”

The granite-jawed male model was featured on many romance novel covers in the 198s and 1990s. “Back in the day,” Fabio Lanzoni posed for hundreds of romances–to the delight of many readers.

Fabio was often painted by artists such as Sharon Spiak, Melissa-Duillo Gallo, and her mother, Elaine Duillo. She discovered Fabio, leading to his fame skyrocketing after he appeared on her covers for Johanna Lindsey.

Like bodice rippers of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and mocked by many modern romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old clinch covers, with some even declaring that they, along with Fabio, represented a low point in the genre.

the conqueror duillo
The Conqueror, Brenda Joyce, Dell, Elaine Duillo cover art.

As a fan of Fabio and old-school romance, I cannot emphasize how wrong I think these detractors are.

The painted covers of vintage romances were created by talented artists who used beautiful men and women as models. The covers were works of art, despite–or perhaps because of–their gratuitous sexual nature.

Fabio, More Than Meets the Eye

Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history. They fail to understand that model Fabio Lanzoni was supposed to be over-the-top and outlandish. He was advertising an exaggerated fantasy that we all knew was a bit ridiculous.

fabio lanzoni model on many romance covers
Fabio is in the shower

In trying to defend their beloved books, some fans take them too seriously. The romance novel industry has always been outrageous and irreverent by its nature, which is part of the fun.

We romance readers in the 1990s were far savvier than our contemporaries give us credit for. We were in on the joke. It was about all of us enjoying the show. Fabio always laughed along with us, embracing his beefcake status.

fabio lanzoni model featured on many romance novel covers
Master of the Heart, Terri Valentine, Zebra, Franco cover art

The Beginning

Early Life

Fabio Lanzoni was born in Milan, Italy, on March 15, 1961. His father was Sauro Lanzoni, a mechanical engineer and owner of a conveyor-belt company. Flora Carnicelli Lanzoni, his mother, was a former beauty queen. He was raised in a loving family with siblings. As a child, Fabio was even an altar boy.

Fabio grew into a handsome young man. His large, muscular figure made him natural for the camera.

fabio Lanzoni
Fabio looking fab

His career began at age 14 when he was discovered by a photographer who asked him to model for Italian Vogue magazine.

Following a stint in the army, Lanzoni came to the United States to further develop his career. He moved to New York City to become a fashion and catalog model and signed with the Ford Agency.

Fabio Lanzoni cover model GQ
Fabio Lanzoni, GQ Magazi

Early Career

During the early part of his modeling career, Fabio obtained many jobs in print ads, magazines, and books. He also posed on video game covers.

model on many romance novel covers

Fabio made his first appearance on the cover of a romance novel in 1987. He posed on the back of the Bertrice Small bodice ripper, Enchantress Mine, as the ironically and unfortunately misnamed villain, Eric Longsword.

Legendary artist Elaine Duillo discovered Fabio through photos. She thought there was something unique about him that would make him a natural fit for her colorful work.

fabio meodel on many romance novel covers
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Elaine Duillo cover artists
fabio model enchantress mine back
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Signet, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art (BACK COVER)

When Duillo designed her first cover for Johanna Lindsey, she used Fabio as the hero. This was the 1987 Viking romance Hearts Aflame. It was a smash hit, reaching number 3 on the N.Y. Times bestseller list.

Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until she retired in the early 2000s. She used Fabio as her primary male model for Lindsey’s books.

fabio johanna lindsey cover
Hearts Aflame, Johanna Lindsey, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art

The Covers: Part I

Some Fabio covers:

A Romance Sensation

Fabio was not Duillo’s official muse as a model. Even so, no other artist captured Fabio’s look better than she did. However, Elain and Fabio only worked together on fewer than twenty books. Duillo painted other models— female and male– much more than that, including Chad Deal. (40+ vs. 19).

Other artists, such as Elaine’s daughter, Melissa Duillo-Gallo, Sharon Spiak, Max Ginsburg, John Ennis, and Pino, also painted his form. Fabio’s face is so unique that he looks different from cover to cover, depending on the artist.

Mystic Rebel VI, Ryder Syvertsen, Pinnacle, cover artist TBD

Fabio posed solo for a couple of Laura Kinsale’s books. The first and most notable was The Prince of Midnight. This romance was a roaring success. This was not just because of the fine quality of Kinsale’s writing.

prince of midnight
The Prince of Midnight, Laura Kinsale, Avon, Steve Assel

Editors found that Fabio’s image boosted book sales. All the major publishers were eager to use him. Avon, Bantam, Dell, Dorchester, Harlequin, Warner Books, Kensington (Zebra), and others had him pose as their leading men.

Model Lianna Loggins was undoubtedly one of the female models who appeared on most romance novel covers with Fabio: at least a hundred.

romance novel covers female models
Dark Whispers, Marylyle Rogers, Avon, 1992, Elaine Duillo

Pop Culture Status

By the early 1990s, Fabio was fully entrenched as a romance genre staple. The now-defunct Romantic Times had him as their centerfold in 1992. Fabio appeared at numerous conventions, to the delight of his many fans.

Fabio’s fame grew more prominent in the cultural zeitgeist after being made the official face of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! He starred in a series of campy commercials that were enormously successful. 

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Ad

Later, he was a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. This was personal to him, as he lost a sister to the deadly disease.

Eventually, Fabio made his way to screen and television, such as in the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and in movies like Dude, Where’s My Car?

bold and the beautiful
Fabio & Darlene Conelly on The Bold and the Beautiful

Fabio, the Romance Author & Modelling Legacy

As time went on, Fabio even wrote a few novels himself. He published several books that–naturally–featured him on the cover. Fabio came up with an overall plot and gave dictation for dialogue.

Journey-woman Eugenia Riley ghostwrote most of his books for Avon. He also wrote three more books in collaboration with Wendy Corsi Staub that Pinnacle Books published.

model featured on many romanc novel covers
Rogue, Fabio, Avon, Elaine Duillo cover art.

As a model, Fabio was featured on many romance covers, posing for 466 novels (or more).

Fabio officially retired in the late 1990s, except to pose for the books “he” wrote.

Nevertheless, some of his photos from previous assignments were recycled into new covers. Elaine Duillo used the sketches from the shoot for Rebecca Brandewyne’s Swan Road stepback to transform them into a new stepback cover for Johanna Lindsey’s Joining.

swan road duillo
Swan Road, Rebecca Brandewyne, Warner, 1994, Elaine Duillo cover art

Joining, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1999, Elaine Duillo cover art

Fabio Today

Fabio became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

He still maintains a grueling workout regimen to keep his body in tip-top shape. Fabio also purportedly sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, which he says “Helps reverse the aging process.”

Now in 2021, Fabio is still as handsome as ever at the age of 61.

To this day, he remains a bachelor. However, the word is out he’s finally looking for a lady to settle down with. So there is still hope for that special someone!

Fabio lanzoni
Fabio today

Final Thoughts on Fabio

Fabio was not the first, and likely, he won’t be the last superstar cover model. During Fabio’s reign as “King of the Romance Covers,” other sunning men like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis achieved acclaim.

After his retirement, Rob Ashton, Cherif Fortin, and Joe Anselmo rose to stardom. All of them had long hair like Fabio–although they were brunets. (So is Fabio, naturally. He dyed his hair blond.)

A few male cover models who came after gained huge success, like Jason Baca, who appeared on almost 500 covers. You can read about him here: The Male Model Who Has Appeared on More Romance Novel Covers Than Fabio.

But though he may have his imitators, there was one and only one Fabio.

fabio in loin cloth
Fabio in a loin cloth

I always considered Fabio easy on the eyes. He certainly was pleasing to look upon. Even so, I never pictured him as my ideal hero.

Regardless, I treasured his charm, his ultra-macho yet sensitive aura, and his ability for self-deprecation. Fabio embraced who he was: a romance icon.

Plus, above all, he loved his fans. In turn, Fabio’s fans adored him for who he was!

Fabio haters, please go and enjoy your favorite hunky models in peace. We Fabio lovers will be here to have a good time smiling over his hundreds of beautiful covers.

The Covers: Part II