For a day at least, Arnold Schwarzenegger could forget about his messy divorce and bask in the adulation of a sympathetic crowd.
As an oom-pah band played, the action star-turned-politician inaugurated a museum dedicated to him in his native Austria, setting off cheers Friday as he pulled a string to unveil a bronze statue of a young Arnie flexing in the skintight trunks of his Mr. Universe days.
It’s a far cry from the kind of reception he’s getting in the United States.
Schwarzenegger is under fire back home since acknowledging this year that he fathered a child with a woman who worked as his family’s housekeeper. The revelation led Maria Shriver, his wife of 25 years, to file for divorce. He’s now in the headlines these days more for his personal problems than his professional exploits as body builder, Hollywood star and California governor.
There was little criticism Friday, however, as he returned to the village of Thal, near the southern city Graz, to formally open the Schwarzenegger museum in the more than two-century-old house of his birth.
In words and actions, it was clear that Austria’s most famous living son preferred to dwell on the accomplishments of the past rather than deal with the painful present - and that his adoring fans were ready to play the game.
Those close enough to see him among the hundreds who braved driving rain and an autumn chill cheered and whistled in appreciation as he uncovered the 2 1/2 meter (8-foot) Schwarzenegger bronze, set up close to the museum entrance.
The statue is one of seven commissioned by Schwarzenegger this year and cast by an Oregon company, perhaps a prelude to plans for similar sites elsewhere.
Even if some in the crowd knew that the Schwarzenegger likeness was not unique, they didn’t seem to care. Bodyguards had to pry a path through people holding an umbrella in one hand and trying to touch their idol with the other, cheering and calling out “Arnie,” as he passed by.
The museum also avoids reference to Schwarzenegger’s out-of-wedlock child and his pending divorce, with displays that end at his terms as California governor. Open since July, it is a repository of items that include his first barbell, photos of a young Arnie with his parents and siblings, the metal bed that he slept on as a youth, several life-size “Terminator” models and the polished dark wooden desk he sat behind while California’s governor.
In an inaugural speech, Schwarzenegger made only passing reference to the unwelcome media attention focused on him back home because of his affair and its subsequent complications, urging young people seeking success to view him as a role model.
It was a message that would likely have flopped in the United States because of the unflattering publicity in the wake of his affair. But it worked in Thal. His Austrian fans, some soaking after standing in the rain for four hours to get a glimpse of their hero, applauded eagerly as an oom-pah band bedecked in local Styrian garb played its dying chords and Schwarzenegger began to speak.
Shielded by an umbrella, Schwarzenegger invoked the title of one of his early films, telling young people in his audience that anything was possible as long as they “stay hungry.”
He said he wishes that every person who visits the museum “understands that everyone can be successful in his own way.”
“My personal success has less to do with millions of dollars or with the headlines in the media that are not always positive and also not with being clapped on the shoulder by Barack Obama and other world names,” he said. "Personal success is the result of determination, hard work and stubbornness.
“For me, this is not only a museum,” he added, gesturing to the yellow-stuccoed house behind him. “It is also a symbol of will … everyone has a chance.”
With Schwarzenegger was Patrick, one of his sons from his marriage with Shriver, and in fleeting reference to happier times, Schwarzenegger described “the wedding with Maria” as one of the days “that I remember with great fondness.”
Even before his private life came up for criticism, however, Schwarzenegger’s cult status in Austria took some knocks because of his support of the Iraq war and the death penalty as California’s governor.
Criticism grew after he refused to pardon two convicted murderers in a row in 2005. He was so upset by the disapproval that he sent back the ring of honor he received from Graz - the Austrian city where he spent his youth - and demanded officials strip his name from the city’s soccer stadium.
Since then, the mood has swung back to adulation - and Friday’s speeches reflected that. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, who opened the ceremonies, described Schwarzenegger as “one Austrian known by everyone in the world,” adding: “We as Austrians are proud of you.”
But not all in the crowd were totally uncritical.
“We Austrians are proud of him and what he accomplished,” said Gottfried Karner, from the Upper Austrian city of Steyr. “But there are certain things he did that one does not agree with.”