Actors are a famously superstitious bunch, particularly with Oscar season looming. But industry observers say another black cat is on the horizon: People magazine’s 2005 “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. While the glossy won’t announce its cover choice until November, we hear high-profile hunks all over Hollywood are making themselves scarce to avoid the historically unlucky honor.

“It’s the 20th anniversary of the issue so it’s a big deal at People, but if you go down the list of past cover stars you’ll see why no one wants it,” says a source at the mag. Although a few former “winners” like Johnny DeppHarrison Ford and Denzel Washington seem to have escaped the accolade unscathed, many—like Mark HarmonPatrick SwayzeNick Nolte, and Pierce Brosnan—have watched their fortunes sink after taking the title.

Other recipients, like Jude LawBrad PittTom Cruise, and Ben Affleck, have seen their love lives take a turn for the weird. Affleck, you’ll recall, was engaged to J-Lo when he landed the slot, and the chaos wrought by Katie HolmesAngelina Jolie, and Daisy Wright needs no elaboration. The most spine-chilling legacy, of course, is 1988 cover boy John Kennedy Jr., who isn’t even alive anymore.

Industry insiders say People has already started contacting candidates on its 2005 wish-list to see if they’ll sit for interviews and photo sessions if given the title, but are having trouble finding willing subjects. “More than once in the past they’ve had to run the story without any exclusive pictures or even a single original quote,” the magazine source says.

As a result, we’re told, the list of potential honorees has been whittled down to small-screen stars like Lost’s Matthew FoxNip/Tuck’s Julian McMahonVegas’ Josh DuhamelHouse star Hugh Laurie and Desperate Housewives plumber James Denton.

“There was talk of Tom Cruise earlier in the year—doing a repeat à la Brad Pitt—but that’s now out of the question, for obvious reasons,” says the insider. “We’re looking much more at TV guys since it’s easier to get them.”

Asked about the issue’s spooky track record, People spokeswoman Nancy Valentino said, “Honestly, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. The ‘Sexiest’ issue is one of the most popular issues we have, and we always get enormous amounts of press for it.” Valentino declined to comment on who has or has not been approached, explaining “the issue isn’t closed yet.”