When Howie Mandel answers the door of his airy Mediterranean-style pad in a posh neighborhood west of L.A., he meets your hand with a fist. For fans of NBC's prime-time celebration of blind luck, Deal or No Deal (airing tonight at 8 pm/ET), that's not a surprise. It's how Mandel frequently greets his guests, due to a wicked case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Yet Mandel, 50, might be the most disarming guy on TV. He has spent most of his nearly three-decade career succeeding by simply working hard. "What I've learned," says Mandel, "is that success is doing the best job I can possibly do and having a great time doing it."
Mandel's first career deal came in his twenties, when he walked away from his own carpet business to do stand-up. In 1982 he unexpectedly landed the role of Dr. Wayne Fiscus on St. Elsewhere. "I became an actor on a single-camera drama," says the Toronto native, who'd never done a series before. "I thought, 'That's great!'"
After St. Elsewhere ended, Mandel returned to the comedy circuit, taking breaks for career hits (the long-running cartoon Bobby's World) and misses (the short-lived sitcom Good Grief). He still does 200 stand-up gigs a year, and thanks to Deal, he's a hot TV commodity again. His deal surely can pay for a lot of new toys, but he's not the kind of guy who'd run out and get a Maserati. In fact, his favorite gadget is an electric toilet-seat cover, an anniversary gift from wife Terry. "Isn't that awesome?" he asks, showing it off. "Nothing says 'I love you' like this."
They've been married 26 years and have three kids: Jackie, 21, Alex, 16, and Riley, 13. "He's a good family guy," says longtime pal Jay Leno. "You never hear anything bad about Howie." Still, Leno casually slips in one minor complaint: "Howie refuses to shake hands. If you get anywhere near him, he tries to spray you down with a 55-gallon drum of Purell!"
As a child, Mandel was completely unaware of OCD, although he knew that something about him was different. "I grew up with one younger brother," he says. "He knew that all he had to do was wave the laundry hamper lid and I would run screaming like a girl!" Soon, he started taking five showers a day (no baths, for fear of "sitting in my own dirt") and bumping fists.
At work, Mandel has overcome his OCD to the point where he'll hug overjoyed contestants. But at home, he teaches his kids to "live healthfully and not watch me." And his kids seem to understand (he proudly pulls out a photo of himself and daughter Riley wearing matching surgical masks on a recent plane trip to Australia).
With Deal surging in the ratings and expanding to as many as three nights a week (right now, it's on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule) Mandel just keeps opening one lucky suitcase after another. "It's amazing!" he says, sitting in his home office, which is strewn with family photos. "The show is just so much fun. I don't know how long this ride will be, but I'm happy to be on it." Just don't ask him to touch the handlebars.