SCREEN GEM

Billy Ray Cyrus acts up while burying rumors that he's quitting music

In June 1897, after news reports circulated that Mark Twain had died, the crusty humorist told a reporter, "The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Last month, amid rumors that Billy Ray Cyrus was leaving music to pursue acting after churning out one final album, the singer told a reporter, "The rumors of my musical demise are greatly exaggerated."

Oh, sure, Billy Ray's the star of an award-winning hit TV series, Doc. And two movies he filmed in 1999 - the action flick Radical Jack and critically acclaimed Mulholland Drive - have now been released.

Even so, Billy Ray declares that his love of music overrides any acting now or later.

"I love music and it will always be a part of my life," he explains. "Music comes from inside of me. Songwriting and performing is the way I create, just like an artist uses paint to create.

"I just wrapped up a 56-city tour and now I'm in the studio cutting songs for my next album, not my last album," he adds with a chuckle. "We just cut the album's title track, called 'Stand Still,' a song I wrote and sing at the beginning of Doc." The new CD is set for a spring release.

But make no mistake - Billy Ray is proud of Doc, the highest-rated show on the PAX network. The series, about a Montana doctor practicing medicine in New York City, nearly topped the Parents Television Council's annual Top 10 Best Television Shows list. Doc came in right behind Touched By An Angel.

"It was rewarding to be on that list," notes Billy Ray. "Our goal with Doc was to make something families could watch together and that it would touch people's lives in a positive manner."

Billy Ray's also proud of how he's blossomed as an actor in the role of Dr. Clint Cassidy. "I've still got a whole lot to learn, but I'm more comfortable and handle my character better with each episode." The series kicked off its second season Sept. 9.

Billy Ray was back in Toronto Sept. 10 to film more episodes. "The first episode we shot is called 'Some Gave All,' based on my 1992 song. That show will air on Veterans Day, an important day for me and many others."

The day before Doc started filming was another important day for Billy Ray. Coincidentally, Mulholland Drive's North American premiere was in Toronto - and Billy Ray was there. "It's a small role. I played the pool guy," he recalls. "But I'm proud of it. The director, David Lynch, tied for director of the year honors for the movie at this year's Cannes Film Festival."

Billy Ray's Radical Jack is also out. "It hit the video stores in July," he explains. "And I've been signing a lot of the Radical Jack video boxes. I haven't had time to watch it yet" - he tacks on with a gleam in his eyes - "but my guess is the best thing about this movie is the box. The box looks great!"

And Billy Ray's signature smash, "Achy Breaky Heart," is still doing great, too. It was recognized as one of the "Songs of the Century" by the Recording Industry Association of America, and it will be used to promote a better understanding of America's musical heritage in our schools.

"Bless that little song's heart," beams Billy Ray, "it just keeps on a-goin'."

Billy Ray also keeps goin' - he turned 40 Aug. 25.

"Man, that's old," he chuckles. "I was performing at the Illinois State Fair on my birthday. I went out and made music with the fans and had a big time. What a great way to celebrate!"

- Larry Holden

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