Personal detailsName: Richard Gere
Born: 30 November 1999 (Age: 14)
Where: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Height: 5' 10"
Awards: Won 1 Golden Globe
All about this star
Few actors have had such a topsy-turvy ride as Richard Gere. Not many have suffered such depressing doldrums, and almost none have achieved such giddying heights. Somehow - by his looks, his grace, his charisma, his roles? - Gere became that most rare of commodities, a bona fide Hollywood sex symbol. Not simply a flavour of the month phenomenon like DiCaprio, or a stunner like Depp, but a character - like Louise Brooks or Rudolph Valentino - whose reputation was inextricably tied up with sex. It made him world famous, yet this was a reputation that this highly intelligent actor actively and publicly despised, and he spent years struggling against it, trying to be taken seriously as a rounded thespian. Hence the doldrums. And he came through, finally being seen as not simply a classy performer capable of carrying both thrillers and rom-coms, but also, due to his ongoing pursuit of freedom for Tibet, as a genuine humanitarian.
He was born Richard Tiffany Gere on the 31st of August, 1949, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the second of five, having three sisters and a younger brother, all looked after by his housewife mother, Doris. His father, Homer, worked in insurance and, while Richard was still young, moved the family to a farmhouse outside Syracuse, New York. In North Syracuse, Homer would run his own agency.
Attending North Syracuse High School, Richard quickly proved to be multi-talented. Though not a jock, he was active in the gym, lacrosse and ski teams. He served on the school council, and also excelled on the piano, guitar, bass and trumpet. Clearly gifted musically, he even wrote music for High School productions.
Old school-friends have recalled that Richard was never on a mission to be popular, but was anyway. He hung around in jeans and Army surplus jackets, and dated only the brightest girls (even then he valued brains over looks - how that sex symbol business must have outraged him!). One girlfriend, Diane Fredricks, has said that Richard used to take her to the movies a lot, usually to see either monster movies or old films. Already his interest in cinema had taken hold. And he had begun to act, having been approached to play the lead in a production of The King And I - primarily because "he looked good with his shirt off".
Graduating from High School in 1967, he won a gymnastics scholarship and enrolled at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, majoring in philosophy. After only two years though, he won a place with the prestigious Provincetown Players, and spent the summer of '69 with them. Provincetown, then as now, was a racy artistic community on the end of Cape Cod, with a large gay population. And Richard was wanted by pretty much everyone. Luckily, he had the personality and a budding talent to match his looks, and performed well when handed the top roles.
With the summer season finished, Richard knew he'd make acting his career. When one of the Players' artistic directors offered him a place with the Seattle Repertory Company, he ditched college and travelled to the Pacific North-West where, for a while, he became the company's "house hippie", being used to represent "the kids" in their productions. But he soon became bored of this and, in late 1970, took off to try his luck in New York.
Here he resided in a cockroach-infested dive on the Lower East Side, living with a lover he'd met in Seattle (actually the Repertory company's stage manager), who was the first "real" woman in his life. Sadly, the relationship didn't last. Winning a part in a folk musical, Richard took up with his co-star, Penelope Milford, and the couple moved into a place - formerly a plumbing store - between two gay bars up near the Hudson River piers.
It was a crazy time. His relationship with Milford was gleefully open, and there was a lot of drinking, as well as all the other pleasures associated with youngsters in the early Seventies. His stage career went well, too. He took the title role in Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone, and would later appear in two Sam Shepard productions, Back Bog Beast Bait and, with an outstanding performance, in Killer's Head. Before this, his Broadway breakthrough came with the rock opera Soon, and then the New York production of the British farce Habeas Corpus.
Britain would, in fact, have a major part in Gere's early success. On Broadway, he worked as the understudy to Barry Bostwick's Danny Zuko in Grease (the part John Travolta played in the movie). But when the production moved to London in 1973, it was Richard who went as Zuko. Here he really shone and was invited to join the Young Vic Company for a season - very rare for an American - and played in the likes of The Taming Of The Shrew. Gere had a great time, buying a motorbike and storming round London in black leather. He'd bring the bike and the gear back to New York for another round of storming and wild partying.
But at some point the wildness had to stop. And this point came when Gere was thrown off his first movie, The Lords Of Flatbush, his place being taken by a young Sylvester Stallone. Massively disappointed and badly shaken, Richard went to bed for three days. When he reappeared, he was changed - still wild, but now more focused. He took up transcendental meditation and aimed at spiritual and professional advancement.
Film roles quickly came his way. He played a pimp in Report To The Commissioner, a gritty, Serpico-style drama where an undercover policewoman was killed by a fellow officer (co-stars would include Hector Elizondo and William Devane, both of whom would appear with Gere again). Then there was Strike Force where Gere was state trooper Walter Spenser, teaming up with a New York detective and an FBI agent to bust a drug ring. Then he was Raider in Baby Blue Marine, starring Jan-Michael Vincent and Katherine Helmond (later Jessica Tate in the wonderful Soap).
And now came the breakthrough, with Looking For Mr Goodbar. Here Diane Keaton played a teacher of deaf kids who at night trawls the bars of New York, seeking sex with strangers. Throughout, you have the doomed sense that she'll find trouble - and, in a horrifying climax, she does - but you can't tell which of her men will provide it. They all might - the hypocritical copper, the sicko furniture salesman, the suspect social worker and, of course, Richard. As a psycho swinger, he's beautiful, predatory, slick and hugely dangerous.
Next came Robert Mulligan's Bloodbrothers, about a blue collar Bronx family, where Richard played the sensitive son who wants to work with children rather than follow his folks into the construction industry. And then there was Days Of Heaven, directed by the legendary Terrence Malick. Here Gere and Brooke Adams played a couple who flee poverty in Chicago and take off for the Texas panhandle where, pretending to be brother and sister, they work for rich farmer Sam Shepard. He's dying, but falls for Adams, and she and Gere decide that she should marry him for the inheritance. And then he doesn't die! It was a brilliant movie, a match for Malick's earlier Badlands, taking a panoramic view of America before the Great War, with all the characters enduring terrible loneliness and seething with rage.
Now Gere turned to Britain once more, and joined William Devane in John Schlesinger's Yanks, penned by Colin Welland (soon to give his famous "The British are coming" speech at the Oscars when a winner for Chariots Of Fire). This involved American soldiers billeted in England before D-Day, and their effect on the ladies. It was easy to see why Lisa Eichhorn's Jean might fall for Gere's smooth, sweet Matt.
Suddenly, Gere's life had changed. When he returned from filming Yanks he found that Looking For Mr Goodbar and Days Of Heaven had made him a movie star. In itself, this was a good thing, but all the magazines were salivating over "sexy Richard Gere" and, as a stage actor of some ten years experience, he did not take kindly to it. In one interview, when asked yet again about being a sex object, he snapped "You want to see a sex object?", and pulled out his penis.
He tried hard to build a different life for himself. Having parted company with Penelope Milford, he'd began another open relationship, this time with Brazilian artist Sylvia Martins. Together they travelled extensively, first to Tibet, where Gere met up with lamas and monks. Later, they'd be off to Honduras, Nicaragua and, while there was a war going on, El Salvador. They'd crash-land in a helicopter on Bali, Richard then going off alone to meditate on a volcano. All of these experiences combined to increase Gere's desire to help others, particularly tribal peoples facing the theft of their land, or even extinction. Eventually, he would be co-founder of Tibet House, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture, and once headed by Uma Thurman's father, Robert. He'd also become involved with Survival International, aiding tribal peoples everywhere. Indeed, when opening the Harrods sale in 1994, he donated his entire '50,000 fee to SI. "If people lose their land," he once explained "they have nothing. You lose your land, you lose your culture, you lose your self".
With the onset of the Eighties came superstardom, and the most clear-cut example of Gere battling to control his public image. First there was American Gigolo. Starring hot Richard (who'd stepped in for John Travolta) and promoted with the song Call Me by the even hotter Blondie, it had its populist side. And, with Richard starring as a sexually expert escort who services older women and gets tied up in a murder case, it was very controversial. So you can understand why the movie, a big hit, made Richard even more of a sex symbol than he was. But there was another side to American Gigolo, a side that would have appealed to Gere the actor. Written and directed by Paul Schrader - who'd penned Taxi Driver and Hardcore, and would later write Raging Bull and Affliction - this was not just a sexy thriller. It was a study of the seamy and perverse Los Angeles underworld, of sex and dying in high society, Schrader yet again revealing a world we do not ordinarily see. And the characters weren't simply glamour-pusses. The movie was about displacement and loneliness, about money and power and, considering Gere's role, it was about narcissism, self-love and self-confidence.
And then there was Bent. With American Gigolo, Gere may have been playing with his sexy image, trying to subvert it by so over-stating the case for his sexiness. But with Bent there could be no doubt that he was attacking that image with righteous fury. For Bent saw him back on Broadway as a decadent, manipulative homosexual trying to survive in a concentration camp and finally choosing to die rather than deny his true self. Richard was a sensation. Not only did he pick up a Theatre World Award, but he must have hoped people would recognise the depths of both himself as an actor, and his latest movie, American Gigolo.
But it just got worse. Richard appeared bare-chested on the cover of People magazine, with banner headlines calling him "the reluctant sex symbol" and America went potty for this new male totty. Gere couldn't believe it. He sacked his press agent, who had been ordered to with-hold the pictures. Unfortunately, the damage was done. In fact, an awful lot of damage was done during this period. Seldom has an actor so suffered from being mistaken for his screen characters. For every woman that wanted the American gigolo, ten men wanted to kick his head in. One disapproving trucker actually ran his car off the road. But male revenge does not always manifest itself in physical violence. Often, the victim's reputation is viciously shredded instead.
People were jealous, and Gere's (despite his own protestations) was a famously sexual persona, so the attack was sexually based. The rumour spread that Gere, apparently a closet homosexual and a decadent pervert, had wrapped a gerbil up in masking-tape and slipped it into his anus, in the hope that its struggles to escape (I gotta get OUT of this shit-hole!) would be uniquely pleasurable. But something went wrong. Maybe the masking-tape came loose, allowing the dying creature to tear at his innards with its pin-point claws. Maybe he couldn't get it out again, and infection set in. Whatever, the story went that Gere was forced to make a top secret visit to LA's Cedars-Sinai hospital to have it surgically removed.
It wasn't true. Records showed that Gere had been on another spiritually-elevating trip to India when he was supposed to have been in hospital. But the story did not go away. So strong was his image, so powerful was the hype, that people really thought he must be some kind of sexual genius. It would be better for everyone - for the men who would never be like him, and the women who would never have him - if he wasn't heterosexual. And let's not forget the people who thought that he was too damned convincing in Bent. Incredibly, this story would plague him for twenty years. Luckily, though raised a Methodist, he'd be a Buddhist throughout - the discipline and patience he learned must surely have helped.
Good press, bad press, it was all grist to the mill. And Richard's next movie was a REALLY big hit.