August 31, 1949– Richard Gere studied Philosophy at the University Of Massachusetts, but he had hoped for a career as a musician. But, he did go on to have an impressive stage resume. In the early 1970s, Gere landed the role of Danny Zuko in the musical Grease in London and he received rave reviews for an off-Broadway performance in Sam Shepard’s solo play Killer’s Head (1975), sitting in an electric chair, blindfolded, with his hands and torso tied to the chair. He starred in Martin Sherman’s gay-themed Nazi drama Bent on Broadway in 1980.
He gets a bum rap in my circle of friends, with plenty of snarky stuff on that Internet thing, plus there are those dreadful homophobic gerbil jokes to endure, but I have always dug Gere and thinking about him this morning, I easily remember plenty of exceptionally good performances, if no truly great ones. I think his Billy Flynn in the film version of the musical Chicago (2002) comes awfully close to greatness. But, like most of Gere’s career, my peeps are divided on Chicago, which I consider to be one the very best adaptations of a Broadway musical to film.
Gere made quite an impression on me the first time I saw him on screen in his career breakthrough in the dramatic thriller Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977) opposite Diane Keaton.
He hit his groove when he had the title role in American Gigolo (1980). His performance was the personification of stylish smooth and cool. He became Hollywood’s go-to romantic male lead with his performance in An Officer And A Gentleman (1982) with Debra Winger. I have read that they did not get along when the camera wasn’t rolling, but they certainly had smoldering chemistry in the final cut.
Early Gere fills my mind with the good stuff, like in one the greatest films of the 1970s, Terrence Malick’s Days Of Heaven (1978), and gay director John Schlesinger’s Yanks (1979). The middle period Gere has terrific work too, like in The Band Played On (1993), Primal Fear (1996), and Robert Altman’s underrated Dr.T And The Women (2000). But, I like him best as a silver fox, reminding me somewhat of my husband.
I understand that the original Japanese version is much better, but I found Gere to be heartbreaking in the American remake of Shall We Dance? (2004); jumpy and convincingly conniving in The Hoax (2006) as the infamous writer Clifford Irving; strong, smart and improbable as Bob Dylan in gay director Todd Hayne’s crazy, enigmatic I’m Not There (2007).
Throughout his career, Gere has devoted much of his time to social and political causes. He is a longtime practicing Buddhist. Gere co-founded the Tibet House in 1987 and he serves as the chairman of the board for the International Campaign For Tibet, plus his own Gere Foundation, all dedicated to help human rights in Tibet and support the Dalai Lama. He also works tirelessly for HIV/AIDS charities, especially in India. Gere has spoken openly about his affection for his gay brother and he has been a long advocate for Marriage Equality. I always gave him props for ignoring those gay rumors instead of denying them. Gere:
“It’s nobody’s business but mine who I’m fucking, who I’m not fucking. The rack sheets, the press blurbs, the gossip pages, it’s all crap. And in an interview, there are just so many different levels to respond to. They can’t possibly understand my deepest emotions.”
For 35 years Gere has watched as his co-stars in seven films were nominated for Academy Awards while he went seemingly unnoticed. I felt rather certain that Gere would receive an Academy Award for his performance in Time Out of Mind (2014), an empathetic examination of bureaucracy and street-life mundanity, where he is haunting as a homeless man. Again, he was overlooked.
This fall he will be seen in the political thriller Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer, and in the spring of 2017 in The Dinner, a drama with Laura Linney.
“I’m amazed that at my age these kinds of parts are still coming to me. I was figuring out last night that this is the fifth decade I’ve been in films and my sixth decade as an actor, so it’s crazy because I have no idea what people see in my performances.”
Anti-War Activist, Film and Theatre Actor, Pianist, Civil Rights Activist, Philanthropist, Catskills Inn Keeper, the newly single Gere celebrates his 67th birthday today, hopefully without a small rodent. Don’t you swoon just a bit at the glance of a photograph of Gere?