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Tyson Beckford

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He stayed home while his model counterparts were prowling the Paris catwalks, modeling the '96 spring collection. He's usually pretty busy but decided to sit this one out to make a statement: There aren't enough black male supermodels, and he did not want to be a token.

Ralph Lauren certainly didn't see Beckford that way when they hired him in 1993 to represent his Polo Sport line exclusively, pushing him into the modeling stratosphere. The child of a Jamaican father and Chinese-American mother, growing up in Jamaica, and later Rochester, New York, Beckford was involved in gangs, drugs and theft. In fact, he says, he'd likely be in jail or dead today if he hadn't been plucked off the street in 1991 by an editor from the hip-hop magazine The Source.

Through that connection, he hooked up with a New York agency, and within months, Beckford was before the lenses of Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber.

It was Weber who first brought the model to Lauren, who nabbed him for the company's sport, fragrance and body lines. By 1995, Beckford was on the covers of major magazines, including Paper and Essence and multiple-page spreads in Vogue, GQ, the New York Times and Details.

He was named 1995 Model of the Year at the VH1 Fashion Awards and one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People. Last year, Beckford made yet another quantum leap--to Hollywood. He began taking acting classes and was up for a role in the film How Stella Got Her Groove Back.

Beckford is definitely not waiting tables while waiting for a film career to take flight--he's strutting the New York runways, working on a new exercise video and posing for a series of calendars. Not exactly a day job you want to give up.

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