Richard Gere

Richard Gere couldn't be much further from the stereotype of a Hollywood star. He isn't that interested in glamorous parties, and the most offensive thing he's done in recent years was to annoy neighbours by building a meditation hut on top of his Greenwich Village home. He became interested in Buddhism in his early 20s and says his faith is the most important thing in his life

Born in Philadelphia on August 31, 1949, he was raised on a farm in upstate New York before winning a gymnastics scholarship to the University of Massachusetts. He majored in philosophy and drama, but as his interest in acting grew, he decided to drop out and pursue a career on the stage and screen. It wasn't an easy choice and the young Gere spent several years waiting tables and looking for acting work. He was sure of his destiny, however, and is said to have once told Robert DeNiro while serving him in a restaurant that he was going to be equally successful.

It was a Broadway production of Bent, in which he played a gay inmate in Dachau, that finally brought the struggling actor to the world's attention. His role as a male prostitute in American Gigolo won him further acclaim; but while he was a hit with the critics, rumours abounded that he was gay. Richard doggedly refused to answer questions on the matter, arguing that to do so would suggest that it mattered. "Cosmically, there's nothing wrong with being heterosexual, homosexual or omnisexual… with being anything so long as you don't hurt anybody, yourself included," he said in typically composed fashion. "The accusation is meaningless and whether it's true or false is nobody's business. What difference does it make what anyone thinks if I live truthfully and honestly and with as open a heart as I can?"

Over the years the softly spoken star has been linked with some of the world's most glamorous women, including former supermodel Cindy Crawford, to whom he was married for four years.

Richard's career has been characterised by its dramatic highs and lows, and it is perhaps because of his ambivalence to fame and its trappings that he has taken risks many actors would shy away from. After the phenomenal success of 1982's An Officer And A Gentleman he could virtually write his own paycheque in Hollywood, but instead of accepting further high-paid parts, he turned his attention to human rights causes. He turned down the lead roles in both Die Hard, which went to Bruce Willis, and Wall Street, which was eventually taken by Michael Douglas.

Instead, he spent 1986 working on a comprehensive fact-finding mission in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, where thousands of people were being killed in armed conflicts. It was around this time he began studying with the Dalai Lama, and little was heard of the reluctant sex symbol in Hollywood for some years. Indeed, many thought he had given up on cinema completely, but in 1990 he returned with the blockbuster Pretty Woman, opposite Julia Roberts. His dedication to political issues continued, however, although it ruffled some feathers in the industry, and he was banned as an Oscar presenter after the 1993 Awards ceremony, when he used the podium to denounce the Chinese government.

In more recent years he has churned out a series of major productions and, in keeping with the pattern of his career, some have struck box-office gold while others have bombed.

As for the future, whether or not he will find continued success may depend on how you define the concept. While his fans would probably prefer to see his face appearing on movie billboards, Richard himself will be looking to the various NGOs he is involved with to judge whether or not he is achieving his goals. He is a founding member of both Tibet House and The Gere Foundation, which work to support the people and culture of Tibet, and is also an active supporter of El Rescate, which helps Central American refugees.

Another factor may also be shunting Hollywood further down the actor's list of priorities these days his family. Having settled down with fellow Buddhist and License To Kill Bond girl Carey Lowell, the 53-year-old is enjoying raising the couple's young son Homer. Asked about how it felt to be a first-time father at 50, he said: "I always saw having children as serious possibility, but I was never in the right place spiritually or with the right person to be able to realise that dream."

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