By Rebecca Bulnes
By Lee Zimmerman
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Their lifestyle is a comfortable one. Laura says she likes Louis Vuitton purses in particular because the tiny LVs are also her initials. Their daughters — Dusti Rain, 12, and Keelee Breeze, 10 — attend private school. The girls especially like playing with the old Vanilla Ice dolls when they have sleepovers. Every so often, someone even pops in an old VHS tape of Cool as Ice and the whole family sits down to watch.
"The girls love it," Laura says. "They're really into horses."
Dusti is already hinting she'd like to be a singer one day. "She's good," Laura says. "She could be a Hannah Montana type, I'm sure, if we went that route — "
"No," Rob says, almost instinctually. "That's not happening. Not for many years. Kids need to be kids."
Rob says that being a family man is his "true purpose." Over the years, though, the Van Winkles have had a few domestic disturbances. In 2004, Rob was arrested for assaulting his wife, pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct, and was sentenced to probation and family therapy. In 2008, he was arrested for domestic battery after Laura called 911 saying he hit and kicked her. She later claimed he only pushed her, and the case was dropped.
"He's really smart, and it makes him really hard to argue with sometimes," Laura says. Any family drama seems muted now, and the couple seems fully devoted to each other. "He's very protective, and a protective father," she says. "Like a bear."
One thing you won't find along the walls and bookcases in the Van Winkle house: any reference to Rob's past life. But a small office near the garage has a handwritten sign taped on the door that says, PLEASE DO NOT ENTER. Rob opens the door.
Inside, stacked in boxes and leaning against walls are all sorts of Vanilla Ice paraphernalia. The walls are covered with platinum records, People's Choice Awards, and photos of Rob with MC Hammer and Wilson Phillips. A tiny Vanilla Ice doll stares out from its original packaging next to a one-of-a-kind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles skateboard. There is a special-edition Vanilla Ice Nike shoe, designed in the same colors as the blue and red silk shirt he wore on the To the Extreme cover. "It even has the same three stars," he says with a smile, a hint of pride. Inside the heel is an image of a tall, coifed, blond pompadour.
Rob says it's taken two decades of turbulence and "thousands of dollars of therapy" to come to peace with this past. "I had a weekend that lasted a few years," he says. For a second, the trademark meter in his voice stops and the wall of confidence cracks slightly. "Ya know, I was really lonely. For a really long time."
Of all the advice he's received over the years, he says the words he repeats to himself most often came from, of all people, Tammy Faye. "She told me: 'We are who we are because of who we were.' I wouldn't wish my past on my worst enemy. But I also wouldn't change lives with anyone in the world. I know it sounds weird, but that's what it's like to be me."
Recently, there's been something of an international Vanilla Ice resurgence. He just filmed a beer commercial in South Africa that has him lip-synching "Ice Ice Baby" and dancing around a sedate office party in a resplendent silver and blue jumpsuit, sequins galore. And not long ago, he recorded an Australian Virgin Mobile commercial in which he takes to the streets with a bullhorn and apologizes for "the hairdos, the baggy pants, the scandals, the lies... and the music."
He has also begun filming a new reality show he's hoping to sell by next year. It will offer an inside peek at his life and family mixed with footage of him performing crazy stunts with his friends. For one episode, Rob bought an old Cadillac. He wants to douse it with gasoline, light it on fire, and then drive the flaming vehicle off a giant ramp and into a lake.
Back in the living room, Laura sighs. "We worry about him very, very much when he does things like this," she says. "But if there's one thing I've learned in 13 years of being married to Rob, he's going to do what he's going to do. We just hope for the best."
And there's still music. He just returned from South Africa, in fact, where he played several sold-out arenas. "I've been playing all around the globe," he says, his voice fixed with a trademark cadence. "I was just in Australia. I did some dates in Vegas. I played in Russia and Estonia and all the Baltic places out from under the Iron Claw. They don't even speak English most of the time, but they know every single word to 'Ice Ice Baby.' After all these years, it's really an amazing thing."
On December 5, Rob will host and headline the fourth annual "Vanilla Ice's Holiday Block Party," a public concert on Clematis Street benefiting Toys for Tots. Erik Estrada will make a special guest appearance. Last year, Rob collected more than 68,000 toys for the charity and delivered some of them in person Christmas Eve. He hopes to top 100,000 this year.