The Still-Unsolved Mystery of Fabio, a Rollercoaster and a Goose, 25 Years Later (Exclusive)

"Because of that day, I began living life to its fullest," the legendary romance novel cover star tells PEOPLE on the anniversary of the incident

<p>Neilson Barnard/Getty</p> Fabio Lanzoni.

Neilson Barnard/Getty

Fabio Lanzoni.

Fabio is taking a look back at a moment that went viral — long before we had viral moments. And he says most people still have the story wrong. "I was never hit by the goose."

In an exclusive conversation with PEOPLE, the romance novel cover star, 65, recalls the time when he was injured by a goose while riding a rollercoaster 25 years ago on March 31, 1999. The moment was so wild, so widely covered that many people thought it was an April Fool's joke the next day. "But it was not funny," Fabio says. "It was no joke."

"I tell you, it was a miracle," he says. "I know that. For a goose, for anything hit you almost at like, 80 miles an hour, and, to leave you with just a stitch, I'm telling you, it was a freaking miracle. And because of that day, I began living life to its fullest," Fabio says. "I could have died. I could have lost my vision. But I only got a cut."

Maureen Donaldson / Getty Images The iconic Romance cover guy, Fabio
Maureen Donaldson / Getty Images The iconic Romance cover guy, Fabio

We know Fabio — born Fabio Lanzoni in Milan, Italy — today as something of a pop-culture curiosity. Perhaps one of those people you know, but you're not quite sure how. Or why. But, make no mistake, no one owned the '90s quite like the Italian-born model turned romance novel cover star. He posed for 1,300 of them, hair always blowing, muscles always glistening. His name was also on a dizzying array of stuff: hair-care products, fitness videos, posters, a clothing line at Sam's Club. He became further immortalized in movies like Dude, Where's My Car?, Spy Hard and Death Becomes Her and on shows including Step by Step and Guiding Light, often playing himself. And, of course, there were those I Can't Believe It's Not Butter ads. (He was also on the cover of PEOPLE in 1993 with the one word headline: FABIO.

Related: The Search for Ultimate '90s Hunk Fabio

But exactly 25 years ago, his name, and at least part of his legacy, became inextricably intertwined with a 12-lb. migrating Canadian goose.

Fabio's now-infamous incident occurred while he was at a paid appearance at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, to celebrate the inauguration of a new ride, Apollo's Chariot. Situated in the first car of the ride vehicle for the inaugural ride, which was being filmed, Fabio was seated with a group of women who were all dressed as Greek goddesses. But, when the ride returned to its start, Fabio was found with blood gushing out of his nose. Images of the moment rocketed around the world, with headlines: Fabio Hit By a Goose!

Fabio says the goose ordeal marked "the beginning of 'fake news,' because everyone said I was hit by a goose. But I know I was hit by a piece of metal." Fabio continues: "It was not the bird. The bird, I tell you, it, it smashed the camera. But they never released the video." He says that's the 25-year-old mystery. "You know, the video tape disappeared." (And, it's worth noting, the goose died.)

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Steve Earley/Virginian-Pilot/AP Fabio after the rollercoaster incident in 1999.
Steve Earley/Virginian-Pilot/AP Fabio after the rollercoaster incident in 1999.

Related: Fabio Explains What Happened When a Goose Struck Him on a Rollercoaster: 'It Was a Miracle'

Back in 2021, Fabio opened up about the incident while appearing on the finale of the PEOPLE in the '90s podcast.

"So the rollercoaster goes down at 80 miles an hour, 80, 85 miles an hour, over a pond and back up, and then upside down. ... So what happened is, over the pond there was a bunch of geese there. I'm talking about hundreds. And one got sucked in," he explained. "I saw this very up close. The geese hit the video camera. What happened, the goose hit the video camera. The video camera shattered. At 85 miles per hour."

"I saw the metal passing by and cut the bridge of my nose. ... So when I came off, my face was bloody," he continued.

<p>Tommaso Boddi/Getty</p> Fabio Lanzoni.

Tommaso Boddi/Getty

Fabio Lanzoni.

Related: King of Romance Fabio Opens Up About Looking For Love — and Staying Sexy — at 62

Fabio said he was rushed to the hospital after the ride, and it didn't take long for lawyers to reach out to him about the incident.

"Now, let me tell you, during that time, every single law firm in America, three or four of the big law firms, they come up to me and say, 'Fabio, that's going to be the first easy four or $5 million in your life.' I said, 'No,' " he explained, adding: "I said, 'No, it's principle. I did my job. I'm not going to sue them. I took the job. I signed that contract.'" Fabio says he was paid for the appearance but no settlement was ever offered.

He also noted that it remains a mystery whatever happened to the video footage of the ride. "My manager at that time, he said, 'Oh, let's see the video footage.' Well, the camera is never to be found. The tape disappeared. It never was found."

But, Fabio says, today, what he did later find out. "They had built a rollercoaster in the path of migrating birds." He heard in the days before the inauguration of the ride, people were hired to shoot down birds. "They realized they build the rollercoaster on a flying path of geese." He says he realized that he should life life to its fullest every day. "And I do, every day."

Having recently turned 65, Fabio is now semi-to-mostly retired. "I have the most beautiful life, I am healthy, I am good shape, I eat well, I work out every day." And yet, he says his modeling days are behind him. There won't be any more romance novel covers. "It would have to be a big pay day," he says with a laugh.

But the collector of sports cars — there are 31 in his collection right now — and dog dad to eight Rottweilers, is thinking about television. "Remember that show Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous? With Robin Leach. I wanna do something but a better version, with the most beautiful of everything, you know? Cars. motorcycles, and yachts. Beautiful places, resorts, islands, you know, incredible places around the world. The most beautiful watches. The most beautiful of everything. Cause people always love beautiful things. I know I do."

With that in mind, does the one-time King of Romance have someone special in his life right now?

"I'm as free as a...bird," he says.

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