One of Irish actor Gabriel Byrne's most prized possessions is a cigarette packet signed by former US President RICHARD NIXON.

The USUAL SUSPECTS star, 55, and his ex-wife Ellen Barkin were watching a baseball game in the late 1980s, when Byrne spotted the disgraced premier signing autographs in the crowd.

In an interview on Australian TV show ENOUGH ROPE, Byrne recalls, "After 10 minutes I was really bored, and I went up the back of the place, and there was a big crowd surrounding this figure. I fought my way in. Standing in the middle, signing autographs, was Richard Nixon.

"I got overcome with this sense of, 'I've got to get this guy's autograph.' I had no pen and no piece of paper, so I said to this guy beside me, I said, 'Do you have something I could write on?' He had a Marlboro packet, and he tore half of it off and he gave it to me.

"I borrowed his pen and this FBI guy grabs my hand and he says, 'You do not ask the President...' - at that time he was the ex-President - 'of the United States for an autograph with a cigarette packet.'

"And I was like, 'Jeez, I'm sorry...' Nixon reached over and he said, 'Oh, that's all right.' He takes the thing and he says, 'What's your name, son?' I said, 'Gabriel', and he wrote it and he gave it back to me."

After returning to his wife and explaining his absence, Barkin was unconvinced.

Byrne says, "She said, 'You did not meet Richard...' I said, 'I did.' I said, 'I have his autograph here to prove it.' She says, 'Let me see, then.'

"And she took it, and she just started laughing. And on it, it says, 'To GERRY, best wishes, Richard Milhous Nixon.' He had misheard my name.

"Anyway, I still have it at home over the mantelpiece."

09/06/2005 09:15