More coolly charismatic than drop-dead handsome, Richard Gere was one of the most successful sex symbols of the ’80s and early ’90s. Possessing something of an actual talent in addition to his good looks, Gere has proven himself to be a versatile actor since first starring as the pick-up artist who creeps out Diane Keaton in Looking For Mr. Goodbar. Capable of playing everything from romantic leads and action heroes to medieval knights and ruthless villains, Gere has moved beyond his role as cinematic eye candy to become one of the more enduring actors of his generation.
Born in Philadelphia on August 31, 1949, Gere had a strict Methodist upbringing in upstate New York. Following his 1967 high school graduation, he studied philosophy and film at the University of Massachusetts — only to leave school to pursue an acting career two years later. Gere became a professional actor and sometime musician, performing theatrically in Seattle and New York and attempting unsuccessfully to form a rock band. In 1973 the young actor landed in London, where he gained prominence playing Danny Zuko in Grease, a role he would later reprise on Broadway. While in London, Gere gained the privilege of becoming one of the few Americans ever to work with Britain’s Young Vic Theater, with which he appeared in +The Taming of the Shrew.
Back in the U.S., Gere made his feature film debut in 1974 with a tiny part in Report to the Commissioner. He returned to the stage the following year as part of the cast of an off-Broadway production of Sam Shepard’s +Killer’s Head; following Gere’s turn in the 1977 Looking for Mr. Goodbar, he and Shepard would again collaborate in Terrence Malick’s breathtaking Days of Heaven (1978). In 1979, Gere won considerable theatrical acclaim for his performance in the Broadway production of Martin Sherman’s +Bent, and the next year enjoyed his first shot at screen stardom with the title role in Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo. Though the film was not a major critical or box-office success, it did earn recognition for the actor, who had taken the role after John Travolta turned it down. Gere did not become a real star until he appeared opposite Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982, but his bona fide celebrity status was jeopardized with roles in several poorly received films including King David (1985). A lead role in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 The Cotton Club also failed to perk up the actor’s career; despite a legendary director and stellar cast, the film received mixed reviews and poor box-office turnout.
With no recent major successes behind him by the end of the decade, it looked as if Gere’s career was in a tailspin. Fortunately, he abruptly pulled out of the dive in 1990, first as a cop/crime lord in Mike Figgis’ Internal Affairs and then as a ruthless businessman who finds true love in the arms of prostitute Julia Roberts in the smash romantic comedy Pretty Woman. Back in the saddle again, Gere continued to star in a number of films, including Sommersby (1993), Intersection (1994), and First Knight (1995). In 1996, he was highly praised for his portrayal of an arrogant hot-shot attorney in Primal Fear, and in 1999 found further financial, if not critical, success starring opposite Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride. The following year the actor enjoyed some of his best reviews to date as a gynecologist at once devoted to and bewildered by all of the women in his life in Robert Altman’s aptly titled Dr. T && the Women; many critics noted that Gere seemed to have finally come into his own as an actor, having matured amiably with years and experience.
In 2002, Gere played the too-perfect-for-words husband to Diane Lane in Unfaithful. While the film was not a huge critical success, Gere was praised for a game performance, and Lane was nominated for an Oscar. Unfortunately for Gere, a starring role in The Mothman Prophecies didn’t do too much for his resume — while critics once again lauded the actor’s intensity, the film itself was widely hailed as too slow-paced to properly showcase his talents. Luckily, the same couldn’t be said for his performance in the multiple Oscar winning Chicago, which found Gere in the role of another hotshot lawyer, this time alongside a diverse and talented cast including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and Queen Latifah. In 2004, Gere starred opposite Jennifer Lopez and Oscar-winning Hollywood veteran Susan Sarandon in Peter Chelsom’s Shall We Dance?.
On- and offscreen, Gere uses his acting clout to promote his various political ventures. A devout Buddhist, Gere has been deeply involved with the struggles surrounding the Dalai Lama and the worldwide struggle for human rights — the documentaries Return to Tibet (2003) and Shadow Over Tibet: Stories in Exile (1994) featured Gere as a prime interviewee, while 1997’s Red Corner starred the versatile actor as a victim of a grossly corrupt Chinese court system.
Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide