richard-gere-article | Spring Chicken

Richard Gere – Hollywood Hotshot to Humanitarian

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Richard Gere was hot Hollywood property, starring in a string of box office hits such as American Gigolo, Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride. In 1999, he was voted “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine, and he remained a red-carpet regular into the 2000s with his roles in Chicago and Shall We Dance? but then Hollywood appeared to dump him, so what happened?

Too Old?

Born in 1949, Richard Gere is now well into his 60s, so he’s perhaps no longer the smouldering sex symbol he once was, but he doesn’t see his age as the reason for slipping from Hollywood’s A-list, he believes it’s his politics.

Back in 1993, Richard famously spoke out about China’s “horrendous, horrendous human rights situation” while presenting an award at the annual Oscars, and since then, he’s seen Hollywood’s attitude towards him change. Investment from China has financed many Hollywood film productions and Richard has said in interviews, “There are definitely movies that I can’t be in because the Chinese will say, ‘Not with him’,” adding, “I recently had an episode where someone said they could not finance a film with me because it would upset the Chinese.”

Actor and Activist…

As a practising Tibetan Buddhist, Richard is a friend and supporter of the 14th Dalai Lama, and a supporter of the Tibetan Independence Movement. After speaking out against China at the award ceremony in 1993, he was banned from being a presenter, but the Chinese Government also permanently banned him from entering the People’s Republic of China.

In fact, Richard’s quest for enlightenment goes all the way back to his university days and his study of philosophy. He says, “As a young man, I always questioned the nature of existence and the nature of self: What am I? Why am I here? What am I here to do? What are we all here to do? What’s the point of it all? So I’m more or less an existential person.”

… and a Little Pretentious?

But, Richard’s religious beliefs and philosophical outlook have at times led to him coming across as slightly pretentious and a little inaccessible, with one journalist labelling him as “the Buddhist with the baddest karma I’ve ever encountered”, and he’s not known as someone who enjoys the promotional interview process that accompanies any new film release.

The Silver Lining

However, every cloud has a silver lining, and no longer being one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors, and being banned from Academy Award ceremonies, has been shrugged off by Richard who commented, “I didn’t have to put on a tuxedo again. I was fine with that.”

He’s also had time to focus his attention on humanitarian causes, including the work he does through The Gere Foundation, an organisation he founded in 1991 with the goal “to alleviate suffering and advocate for the people of Tibet”. In 2007, he called for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and in 2009, he contributed to the book We Are One: A Celebration of Tribal Peoples, with royalties going to Survivor International, an organisation set up to protect the rights and lands of tribal peoples around the globe.

As for acting, he’s now appearing in smaller indie films – and getting rave reviews. He doesn’t miss the hype of Hollywood blockbusters, saying, “I’m not interested in playing the wizened Jedi in your tentpole… I was successful enough in the last three decades that I can afford to do these [smaller films] now,” taking the snub in characteristic philosophical style: “The studios are interested in the possibility of making huge profits. But I’m still making the same films that I was making when I started. Small, interesting, character‑driven and narrative‑driven stories. It hasn’t impacted my life at all.”

Lifetime Achievement

Amazingly, with over 40 films under his belt, Richard has never been nominated for an Oscar, but, in 2007, after being presented with a lifetime achievement award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, he said, “It feels bizarre because I don’t feel like my life is even half-way over yet… I think I still have the attitude that I haven’t decided what I’m going to do when I grow up.”

He was only 58 in 2007, but perhaps his attitude is one we would all do well to adopt. As he once said, “None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.”

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