By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - Four years and seven movies after Arnold Schwarzenegger left California's highest office, the actor and politician drew a packed crowd at the unveiling of his official portrait Monday, a flashbulb-popping event as much about star power as politics.
The photo-realistic portrait, painted by Austrian-Irish artist Gottfried Helnwein, shows the 67-year-old former bodybuilder in front of the California state seal, wearing a gray suit and a blue-and-black striped tie, a smile on his lips and his complexion ruddy.
"When I was a young man in Austria, I dreamed about coming to California every day," Schwarzenegger, an immigrant who eventually married into the family of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy. "But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would become governor.
The Republican bodybuilder and prolific film star took the state's helm in 2003 as the aftermath of the dot-com crash roiled California's economy and devastated the state budget, leading voters to recall then-governor Gray Davis.
After a rocky start that soon led Schwarzenegger to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats, he later confronted a second economic crash as the mortgage meltdown and Great Recession hit toward the end of his second term.
Schwarzenegger's return to the state capital of Sacramento for the first time since leaving office was marked by the same Hollywood style his news conferences featured during his two terms - journalists were packed cheek-to-jowl, taking notes and shooting video as hundreds of well-wishers crammed into the Capitol building's rotunda.
Attendees included Jim Brulte, head of the California Republican Party and Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic president pro tem of the state senate. The size of the crowd prompted the state's current governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, to joke about it as he introduced Schwarzenegger.
"Never before have I seen so many people and so many cameras for a news conference," Brown said. "Arnold, you still have it!"
Brown, who served two prior terms from 1975 to 1983, and whose father was also governor, made a reference to his own portrait, revealed in 1984 and notorious at the time for its modernistic style.
"When my father saw my portrait, he was angry, and he said, 'You'll never be elected to another office again,'" said Brown, who took the state's helm again after Schwarzenegger left and is seeking an unprecedented fourth term.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Walsh)