Sept. 14 2006 11:00 AM

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Event 3: The First 1,000 Words of a Vanity Fair Profile


Cheat
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Malcolm
Gladwell


Hanna
Rosin


Michael
Specter


Geoffrey
Wheatcroft

Richard Gere: Between Heaven and Earth

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By Michael Specter

       Richard Gere--of Hollywood, Katmandu, and Calcutta--has fallen deep into thought on the top of the world. After an 8-hour flight from London we are finally dancing across the peaks of the Himalayas in the actor's brand new Cessna Ultra Citation.

       We stare, in dazed awe, as the jagged summits of the world's highest mountains pass beneath us. As the jet stream crashes against Mount Everest--we are flying only 5,000 feet above its black, ghostly pinnacle--the mountain sends an enormous plume of ice crystals trailing like a comet into the sky beside our plane.

       I close my eyes and pray that the pilot isn't mesmerized by the most audacious sight on earth. Gere senses my distress and breaks out of his reverie. "Freedom," he shouts, sipping from a bottle of Highland Stills mineral water, then running both hands through that famous hair, which almost looks like gray cashmere. "Always freedom. I'm always trying for the adventure."

       No news there, really. Richard Gere has been on a roll for two decades, ever since he got his break as Diane Keaton's handsome, high-risk pickup in one of the signature films of the late '70s, Looking for Mr. Goodbar. From there it was a short hop to American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, and a permanent role as an emblem of the suave--sometimes cynical--modern urban American. These days he earns $12 million a picture and is starring in two films that have just been released. In The Jackal, he plays an IRA soldier freed from prison in order to bring down one of the world's most notorious assassins. Red Corner is about an American in China framed for a crime he did not commit.

       Neither has been a hit. Yet Gere seems oddly not to care. And that is why we are on our way to India today, where Gere retreats each year to purge himself of the obsessive materialism that he says begins to defeat him when he works too much. It has been a time of much publicity for Gere--his criticism of Chinese President Jiang Zemin made news for days last month during Mr. Jiang's state visit--and Gere, whose boyish and serene face never betrays exhaustion, says he has had enough publicity for a lifetime.

       So each year he retreats to the Ganges, where he spends time in a hut--sharing a bathroom--and living without television, hot water, or a telephone. He leaves his wondrous wardrobe at home, taking only the clothes that can fit into a carry-on bag.

       "I am on my way to India," he told me when I called and asked to visit with him in California for this story. He argued that his movie life and his public life--the disastrous marriage to Cindy Crawford, the endless rumors of his homosexuality, even the bizarre myths about his sexual behavior--were not subjects he was willing to dwell on again at length. He suggested that I might have some fun looking for his other side and I was too much of a coward to admit that he had always been my hero because I, too, had prematurely gray hair.

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