gere

Even Richard Gere Gets Dumped

They said his marriage to Cindy Crawford wouldn't last. They were right — but for all the wrong reasons.

By Michael Gross
Originally published in the July, 1995 issue of Esquire Magazine

He grimaces as he shrugs off his coat and sits down for lunch at Il Cantinori, a Tuscan restaurant he favors a few blocks from his Greenwich Village penthouse. It is three days before Christmas, but Richard Gere isn’t feeling festive. For one thing, his back is killing him. A month before, he’d finished work on First Knight, a period romance shot in England in which he plays Lancelot to Sean Connery’s King Arthur and Julia Ormond’s Guinevere; all that horseback riding and broadsword fighting sent the forty-fiveyear-old actor to a chiropractor.

But his back isn’t all that aches. A week after Gere returned to New York, he and his wife, Cindy Crawford, issued a joint statement admitting they’d split up during the previous summer. Their relationship, long the subject of an inquisition by the media, has now become carrion. And unlike Lancelot, Gere can’t fight his way back to Camelot.

He has invited me to lunch, ostensibly to decide whether he will be interviewed by Esquire. The deal is, no tape recorder, no notebook, no quotes. To ease the tension, I repeat something that Gere’s costar in American Gigolo, Lauren Hutton, had said to me a few days before. “You can only be the sexiest couple alive for so long,” she mused. “It tends to bring out the worst in people.”

Gere flares. He’s a regular guy, he insists, his marriage normal, the stresses and strains the same as anyone else’s. Implicit is his belief that everyday notions of privacy also apply to him. But that, of course, is not the case, as recent events have shown. After a dinner with Uma Thurman, paparazzi besieged them, cutting her face with a lens. A few days later, Gere was accosted by the press at the Barcelona airport. It all comes with the sex-symbol territory, yet he still feels embattled and aggrieved.

He finally agrees to an interview-but only if it’s conducted in Mundgod, a Tibetan-exile settlement in southern India, where he’s going in a few days for a teaching with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader whom devotees call His Holiness. He seems surprised and unhappy when I agree to accompany him there.

Buddhism has changed the former Methodist from a coke-snorting, skirt-chasing, reporter-baiting bad boy to a sober, socially useful grown-up. His faith speaks to him, answering the questions he asks himself “Why am I here? Why am I suffering? Did I choose this?” Though Buddhism has no easy answers, its riddles and koans soothe the actor, whose livelihood-despite all the applause and perks-has never satisfied him. So I was looking forward to seeing Gere on the one path that has brought him closer to nirvana. Sadly, he withdrew his invitation.

So Gere was press-free that week in Mundgod, as he watched the Dalai Lama perform a Kalachakra Initiation, one of the most complex and beautiful Buddhist rites. In the ceremony, cadres of monks toil in eighteen-hour shifts for days to create a mandala of colored sand according to an ancient design. It represents the god Kalachakra’s palace, circumscribed by symbols of earth, water, fire, wind, space, and wisdom. The Dalai Lama then destroys the monks’ work according to yet another time-honored pattern. The point? Impermanence. The Kalachakra says that all is fleeting; illusion underlies reality. Nothing-not art nor beauty nor truth nor celebrity nor Cindy Crawford-is forever.

* * *

Illusion and reality. Beauty and suffering. Desire and denial. Richard Gere has been swaying between those poles ever since he was a nineteen-year-old college dropout making his pact with materialism, offering up his looks and gymnasts bearing as a sacrifice to stardom. But he has never given himself over entirely. Consciously or not, he has modeled his career on Greta Garbo’s. Like her, he prefers silence; like her, he has an image that is largely defined by sexual ambiguity.

But unlike Garbo, Gere got married. And now, his marriage over, he has apparently decided to set things straight. Although he wouldn’t go on the record, he allowed dozens of friends and colleagues to speak for him. Among them is one who claims to know Gere at least as well as he knows himself. Since he demanded anonymity, I call him Hermes, after the messenger of Greek mythology who symbolized eloquence, invention, cunning, and theft.

“There’s an element of self-loathing in most actors that makes them want to be someone else,” says Hermes, explaining why Gere acts. Gere grew up middle-class; that’s the self he loathes. “He hated being normal,” says an ex-girlfriend, actress Penelope Milford. So, by age twenty, he’d turned-outwardly at least-into someone else: a brooding hunk, just right for his times, the late sixties. Gere was a little bit Brando, a little bit Dean, a whiff of Clift-and everyone, male and female, wanted to take him home. A quarter century later, his calling card is still his vulnerable yet dangerous sexuality. But it is also his greatest weakness.

Some think he stirs up desire on purpose. “He’d flirt with dirt,” one woman observes. Others say it’s a natural force. “Women lined up,” adds one of his costars. “They’d be ducking under caterers’ trucks, diving out of windows, falling like coconuts from the trees. I can’t name names, but you’d be surprised. It was scary and poignant and hilarious.”

Straight men like the indestructible rumor that Gere is gay, because it reduces his threat. He is in fact aggressively heterosexual, but that hasn’t stopped men from hoping. “There have been probably hundreds of thousands of wishful thinkers,” says Gere’s agent, Ed Limato. In the absence of hard facts, that turns out to be the best explanation anyone has to offer for why Gere became the subject of the most pervasive, vicious, and baroque Hollywood tale in recent memory: that he not only is a closet case but also was a participant in an act of interspecies romance, requiring an emergency visit to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Though Gere was in India at the time of his supposed hospital stay, this malevolent story has trailed him ever since his back-to-back 1980 appearances as a high-class boy whore in American Gigolo and a conniving, decadent German gay in Broadway’s Bent.

* * *

Gere has said over and over that he’s fascinated with sex roles and how people transcend them, so it should come as no surprise that he keeps choosing characters who dance in the gray zone between the sexes. More than anything, Gere has played to the ambiguous image others had of him; he wasn’t oblivious to who was buying all those tickets, wasn’t about to dash their fantasies. After all, fantasy is what acting is all about.

Gere’s relationship with Cindy Crawford coincided with the second act of his professional life. After a string of flops, he’d made himself scarce in the late 198os while he devoted his formidable celebrity to the service of Tibet. His immersion, beginning in 1987, in the suffering of its exiled people helped him look beyond himself and finally grow up. But not entirely. Though he’d made progress on the road to nirvana, he sometimes stumbled. So he returned to the movies, and when Cindy demanded that he marry her soon afterward, threatening to leave him if he didn’t, he acquiesced.

That he loved her there is no doubt, tabloid speculations notwithstanding. The man everyone wanted finally wanted someone else-someone who, as it turns out, walked out on him. In retrospect, what happened seems karmic. Richard Gere got dumped.

* * *

They called him Dick in the middle-class suburb of Syracuse, New York, where he grew up in the same tract house that his Anglo-Irish parents live in today. His father was an insurance agent, his mother a plump housewife; both sang in the church choir. Dick was in the Key Club, the varsity club, the band, the boys’ glee club, and the choir. He was vice-president of the student council for two years. He played piano, banjo, guitar, and trumpet. He was also a star gymnast.

In high school, Gere rushed a fraternity but dropped out when his brothers-to-be peed on several pledges. Says boyhood friend Chuck Parry “So to protest fraternities, we started our own, the Royal Order of the Mystic Carp.” Gere and Parry cleaned up “a whole bunch of fish bones and wore them to school on necklaces,” earning a summons to the dean’s office.

Gere was cocky even then. On a dare, he arrived at auditions for a student production of The King and I and announced that he would accept only the lead. He got it, and in the process he found his calling. “He was in a shell,” says Hermes. “Acting let him out.” At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Gere tried out for the lead in a postmodern Hamlet. He wanted it desperately, pacing the halls of the theater while waiting for the cast list to be posted. “He was extremely sexual, a beautiful guy,” recalls the play’s director, Vincent Brann. “The kids in the company-both gay and straight-were much smitten with him.” But Gere had other things on his mind.

The dream of every acting student was a summer-stock job with the Provincetown Players, a well-regarded company that didn’t traffic in frothy fare. The last of several hundred students to audition in the spring of 1969, Gere “riveted our attention,” says Paul Barstow, then the company’s co-artistic director. He won a spot in the troupe and then made a fast impression in performances variously dubbed “vivid,” “irresistible,” and “affecting” by local critics. He also became a favorite of the other artistic director, Bill Roberts, who, like the Amherst students before him, was “terribly smitten” with Gere, says another actor in the company.

Provincetown, a community as well-known for its homosexual life as for its intellectual one, was a real education for Gere. Says Barstow, “I’d been struggling with coming out. I don’t think Richard related at all. I shared a dressing room with that gorgeous hunk for a whole summer, but there was never the slightest indication he was gay.” Indeed, just the opposite. When Gere arrived at Barstow’s house, where he sublet a room, he showed up with a woman, who stayed with him for a few days. She was the first girl he’d slept with, but he didn’t share that fact, or much else, with the other actors.

Edwin McDonough, a fellow Player, compares Gere to Orpheus, “descending into that town,” where “a significant percentage, male and female, was eager to possess him. It was very threatening.” Barstow agrees. “How do you go about your life and your career when you’re a stick of dynamite in a pyrotechnic environment?” he says. “He wore a mask of confidence. But he projected `Noli me tangere, don’t touch me.”‘.

Gere quit school when Roberts offered him a job at the Seattle Repertory Theater. Roberts’s wife, Janet, a literary agent, introduced the young actor to her ex-assistant, Ed Limato. “It was a golden time for him,” says Hermes. “These people thought he was great. He didn’t quite know why. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

With his patched jeans, work shirts, army jacket, shoulder-length hair, and acoustic guitar, Gere was perfect for the ongoing part of house hippie; he was hired to represent, as a member of the Seattle company puts it, “what was happening with kids.” But Seattle wasn’t Provincetown, and Gere didn’t get star treatment. Bored and distracted, he left before the season ended. He arrived in New York City in late 1970, moving into a cockroach-infested apartment on the Lower East Side with his lover from Seattle, the rep company’s stage manager-”the first real woman in his life,” Hermes says.

Gere soon left her for Milford, costar of his first New York production, a folk musical. The pair shared a former plumbing-supply store flanked by gay bars near the Hudson River piers. Torn between music and acting, Gere found jobs that let him pursue both. After understudying for Barry Bostwick in Grease, Gere got Bostwick’s part, the lead, in the London production. While Gere was there, Milford, a free spirit, started dating Craig Baumgarten, an aspiring producer. “Penny, who always used to think these things were amusing, made a date with both of us when Gere returned,” Baumgarten says. “I ended up buying this sullen young actor dinner.” They became fast friends. “We had a lot of fun,” he says. “We did a lot of crazy things. Most of which I won’t talk about.”

Gere had bought a motorcycle in England, and now he rode it all over New York, dressed in black leather. His behavior matched his getup. Milford says that he would often get drunk and disappear for hours. Gere has said he was also taking drugs. When he was abruptly fired from the lead role in a film about street gangs, The Lords of Flatbush, Gere took to bed with his coat on and stayed there for three days. After he emerged, he took up transcendental meditation.

It must have helped. In rapid succession, Gere made Days of Heaven, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and Bloodbrothers. Then, in 1978, he collected his last unemployment check and headed back to England to make Yanks.

When Gere arrived home in October 1978, he “found out he was a movie star,” Hermes says. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Says Ed Limato, “There was a lot of attention and, frankly, Richard didn’t want it.” Gere took his agent’s advice and ended up hiring a neophyte press agent named Peggy Siegal, who interviewed reporters herself before allowing them to interview Gere.

One writer who passed the audition was Ladies’ Home Journal’s Jane Lane. At the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, Lane found Gere depressed and Siegal “bouncing off the walls,” she says. “You know how some intelligent people act like fools in front of movie stars? He asked for gum. Peggy pulled this wad from her mouth and said, `Take mine.”‘ Despite such fascinating, if raw, material, Lane felt she had no story. “He was terminally small-town, with a chip on his shoulder,” she recalls. “Frankly, I was bored, so I tried to liven it up.”

“Does it bother you that you’re viewed as a sex object?” she asked. “Or are you gay?”

“You want to see a sex object?” Gere shot back, reaching for his zipper.

“He took out his johnson,” Lane continues. “It just petered out after that, so to speak.”

At the end of 1978, Gere left Penny Milford for Sylvia Martins, a gorgeous Brazilian painter-cum-party-girl whom he would be more or less involved with for seven years. “It was the Studio 54 days,” Martins says of their impulsive first assignation. “You did things without thinking because you were young and pretty. You’d see someone and go for it.” After Gere’s first Cannes Film Festival (he flew over with Jeffrey Katzenberg, then a Paramount executive, he and Martins headed to Nepal, where he had his first encounter with Tibetans. “In a makeshift refugee camp beneath the Nepalese Himalayas, I bargained shamelessly with an old Tibetan woman for a beautiful bowl, which had been in her family for a very long time,” Gere would later tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I will long remember that woman’s dignity in the face of losing not only her country but all of her belongings.”

Back in America, Gere and Martins moved to Greenwich Village, and he began work on the Broadway play Bent. A rave review in TherNew York Times referred only obliquely to the show’s most infamous scene, in which Gere brings another man to orgasm by fantasizing aloud about performing oral sex on him. When American Gigolo opened two months later, offering up a brief glimpse of Gere’s penis and also hints of homoeroticism (“Richard was flirting with his sexual persona,” Gigolo director Paul Schrader would later say, Gere’s sex life took on a life of its own.

In April 1980, he appeared bare-chested on the cover of People magazine. The headline called him “a reluctant new sex symbol.” The cover photograph infuriated Gere. He’d asked Peggy Siegal to withhold the topless photographs from People, but she’d given them to the magazine anyway. He fired her, but the damage was done. “Peggy Siegal pushed that so hard and wouldn’t back off from it,” says Hermes. “That creature in the press had so little to do with him.” Poor Richard. The press, the penis, and the iconic roles had created an ambisexual monster.

It was then that the rumors about Gere’s secret gay life started. They would persist and recur with a vengeance in 19go, when Pretty Woman was released. “But it was old hat by then,” says Bent’s director, Robert Allan Ackerman. (Some around Gere believe that the revival of the talk in iggo was part of a campaign by the Chinese government to discredit its enemies in the Tibetan-liberation movement by discrediting Tibet’s most conspicuous friend.

Gere has rarely acknowledged or discussed the rumor, except to say that denying it would denigrate homosexuals. He has also contributed to it by acting in contradictory ways that suggest he has experienced homosexual twinges. When an attractive gay man bummed a cigarette from Sylvia Martins one night in a restaurant, Gere caught his eye. “I’ll give you something to put in your mouth,” he said, fingering his zipper. .

Though Gere is willing to play gay parts-on- and offstage-his friends all insist he’s resolutely heterosexual. “Hollywood’s favorite game is starting rumors about who’s gay and who’s not,” says Craig Baumgarten, now a producer. “If young actors like Richard didn’t put out or they wouldn’t play ball with certain powerful people in this business who were gay, the rumors started in order to spite them.”

Jeffrey Katzenberg seems to agree. “The fact is, Richard plays the game by his rules, not by everybody else’s,” he says. “Richard is not beholden to very many people, and maybe there are people that are threatened by that-they feel compelled to try and hurt him.”

Following Gigolo and Bent, Gere signed on to play Zack Mayo in Taylor Hackford’s An Officer and a Gentleman. The story of a rebel who is humbled in naval-pilot training and harnessed by a good woman’s love, Officer was a huge hit. It grossed more than $ioo million, becoming one of the top films that year. But the higher his hunk profile grew, the more Gere tried to downplay it-without success. “We’d have interesting philosophical conversations in restaurants,” says artist Joseph Kosuth, who met Gere through Martins. “Richard would be quoting Heidegger or Nietzsche and a woman would reach over, squeeze his muscles, and say, `Oooooh, Richard Gere!’”

Those encounters were merely annoying; others were downright dangerous. Once, a truck driverwho didn’t like the idea of a handsome gigolo sleeping with somebody’s wife-literally ran Gere off the road. “Post-Gigolo, he was getting hounded and he hated it,” says Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, one of Gere’s close friends. .

Although Gere had stopped taking drugs and drinking, his aggressive, exhibitionistic side still dominated. “He could be obnoxious, a show-off, screaming, loud,” Martins says. “When you’re shy and insecure, like all actors are, you need to do something. He used to take his pants down because it was a good way to end a conversation.”

Gere did enjoy some of the perks of fame. In 1982, he helped cast Breathless, spending three days in bed nude screen-testing various French actresses before deciding on nineteen-year-old Valerie Kaprisk~; who cried when Gere left her at filming’s end. “He had things, yeah, on the side, always,” says Martins. “I was not always there. We didn’t have a real committed relationship.” Neither was Gere committed to his career. Indeed, in the next few years, it often seemed he was trying to kill it. “He wanted to play in movies that wouldn’t be big hits,” Martins says. “He chose parts people didn’t want him to play.”

To hear Ed Limato list Gere’s films of the early eighties is to hear a litany of disappointment: “Breathless … pretty fucking daring, but the audience from Officer didn’t want to see Richard Gere playing a nihilist … `Ihe Honorary Counsel … interesting film … Cotton Club … unfortunately, there was never a script … King David … that took a long time to recover from … Power … good film, commercial failure … No Mercy … not successful … Miles from Home … really the lowest point. His acting was terrific, but it only played a week.”

Like his career, Gere’s relationship with Martins fizzled out in the mid-eighties. He dated a series of women, including fashion icon Tina Chow. Her friends felt he took advantage of her, but when she later developed AIDS, Gere lent her his Westchester house as a retreat. She died in 1992, and at her memorial service, he signed the guest book, “I loved … ” Says another mourner, “I’m sure it was well-meant, but it had nothing to do with anyone except Richard Gere.”

There was one thing he cared about more than himself. Buddhism “was the most exciting thing in his life,” says Hermes. In the early eighties, Jann Wenner set in motion a train of introductions that led Gere to Dharmsala, the seat of Tibet’s government in exile, and the Dalai Lama. “The whole idea of being famous took on a new meaning then,” Hermes adds. Gem decided to exploit himself for Buddhism.

His great achievement was New York’s Tibet House, a cultural center he started in 1987. “He was the first president, hands-on, worked all the time,” says Tibet House’s current head, Robert Thurman, who happens to be Uma’s father. Gere raised and gave money, planned events, and even worked on brochures, profoundly altering the profile of his pet cause. “Whenever people speak of Tibet, they mention Richard Gere,” says Rinchen Dharlo, the Dalai Lama’s American representative. The old, angry Gere still made cameo appearances, though. As Tibet House began to attract other powerful supporters, there were clashes. “Richard has a very strong personality” says writer John Avedon, who’d hooked Gere up with the Dalai Lama. “Others on the board do, too.”

Gere finally stepped down as president, but he remains on the board and continues to donate time and money. He was replaced by Elsie Walker (a cousin of George Bush’s), and then by Thurman-who, at the end of our interview, abruptly changed the subject to his actress daughter. “I want to say that it is not true that they are having an affair,” he declared. “Absolutely not.”

Photographer Herb Ritts has been a close friend of Gere’s since they first met in Los Angeles in the late seventies. Ritts worked for his family, selling acrylic furniture, until the day that he, Penny Milford, and Gere, fresh from the Days of Heaven set, drove to the desert in Milford’s Buick LeSabre and got a flat tire. At a gas station, Ritts pulled out a camera and started taking pictures. Peggy Siegal sent some of those shots out to magazines, and Ritts had a lucrative new line of work. By 1988, Ritts was arguably more important in Hollywood than Gere, whose career was plummeting. “There was nothing out there for him,” says Hermes.

But in fact there was: Cindy Crawford. Gere was staying with Ritts when the photographer’s mother, Shirley, “pushed them together,” Ritts recalls.

“He fell in love, and it was very deep and very true,” says Hermes soulfully.

* * *

Love seemed to revitalize his career. Within a few months, Gere was back before the cameras. Internal Affairs was released in January 1ggo, followed by the enormously successful Pretty Woman in March. That month, Gere and Crawford went public with their romance, appearing together at the Academy Awards. Unquestionably, their linkup helped both of them. “Richard and Cindy together in public didn’t just double the hysteria-it magnified it a hundred times over,” says Maggie Wilde, Gere’s partner in his production company. “But it really, really, really wasn’t calculated. Certainly not on his part.” Wilde isn’t the only person close to Gere who seems to suggest that the marriage amounted to a career move for Crawford.

Gere’s next film, Mr. Jones, was in production when he and Crawford decided to get married. Or, rather, she decided and he agreed. “Richard had always evaded the altar,” says Limato. “There came a night when I got a call saying, `Cindy’s very upset and just told me either I marry her or she’s walking out on me. What should I do?’ He called [Katzenberg], and Jeffrey arranged a Disney jet to take us to Vegas, and they got married that night.” After a ceremony in a tacky chapel, they flew back to Los Angeles; Gere had a 5:00 A. M. call. As it happens, in Mr. Jones he played a manicdepressive who talks his way into a construction job in order to take a tightrope walk on a roof beam and then threaten to leap off. Gere had just taken a flying leap himself.

Mixed signals abounded. Cindy and Richard went to India; it wasn’t her dream vacation. Then they began house hunting in L. A., revisiting one place three timesseparately. “Separate is the operative word,” the Chicago SunTimes wrote. “The Geres have never looked at the place together.” Finally, in May 1993, they bought a ten-thousand-square-foot Georgian-style estate in Bel-Air for just under $5 million. By the time the house was decorated, their marriage was disintegrating.

Nonetheless, that October, People ran a cover story on Gere and Crawford, headlined, SOMETIMES LOVE IS JUST WHAT IT SEEMS. Unfortunately, in their case, it wasn’t. A month later, Gere got on an airplane and headed to Beijing and Tibet-alone. “They were in a lot of trouble,” Hermes says.

And so 1994 began for Gere and Crawford with rumors that their marriage was breaking up and ended with its doing just that. In between came increasingly unbelievable denials-particularly a $30,000 ad in the London Times in which the couple professed their love, their heterosexuality, their monogamy. The idea for the ad came from Gere’s advisers. “He was talked into it,” says Limato. “She agreed to it. He had turned the other cheek for too long.”

In hindsight, that ad was a challenge the gods couldn’t resist and one their shaky marriage couldn’t survive. Gere flew to London for sword training for First Knight. Then, just before the start of filming in July, something happened. Says a source on the set, “He got blindsided. When they took out the ad, he didn’t know what was going on. He thought they were working on their marriage. And then he discovered something he didn’t know, and that spun him around.”

Cindy was seeing a former flame-ex-model and Whiskey Bar co-owner Rande Gerber. When Gere found out, he “told Cindy he was going to start seeing other people,” says Hermes. “He said, `I gotta have a life.”‘

Soon Gere met Laura Bailey, a twenty-two-year-old British model, at a London party for the Dalai Lama. In August, they were spotted lying on blankets in a hotel garden, and later, dallying over dinner at La Colombe d’Or in St.Paul-de-Vence. Despite Cindy’s presence at Gere’s fortyfifth-birthday party and at the British premiere of Mr. Jones, and despite Bailey’s calling reports of their romance “complete rubbish,” rumors of an impending breakup flourished.

Indeed, the rumors grew more squirrelly by the day. When model Gail Elliott briefly moved into Cindy’s apartment in New York after the failure of her own marriage in September, speculation began that she and Crawford were an item. In October, Gere took the stage at a fundraising event for a gay-and-lesbian lobbying group in London and said, “You’ve all heard some rumors about me over the years. I guess this is the moment to do it. My name is Richard Gere … and I am a lesbian.” That same month, several tabloids noted that Cindy was no longer wearing her wedding ring. The Bel-Air house quietly went on the market.

Meanwhile, Gere’s rented house in London was under siege. Laura Bailey was photographed leaving on several consecutive mornings in November. The British tabloids had a field day with that. Bailey’s father, an Oxford don, grumbled that when his daughter gave up academics for modeling, it was “the saddest day of my life.”

On the First Knight set, Gere kept his cool. “He’s a guy who has volatility and anger inside him, which is part of what makes him a great screen presence,” director Jerry Zucker says. “But he moderates it, he sublimates.” Becoming a character-especially Lancelot-was a great escape; Gere’s turmoil reflected the central theme of Zucker’s movie, the tug-of-war between obligations and emotions. But Gere’s behavior off the set wasn’t exactly Zen. He went to a party for Katzenberg at Elton John’s home that was also attended by the Princess of Wales and Sylvester Stallone, who years before had starred in the gang film Gere was fired from, The Lords of Flatbush. Depending on which account you heard, the evening either ended with Sly and Gere giving Diana “fits of giggles” or with the two macho model hounds snarling over Cindy C. “I hear you’re sleeping with my wife,” Gere supposedly said. Stallone later called the incident “bizarre,” the accusation “completely out of line-and totally untrue,” and Gere “a coward” and “a confused man” who was “having delusions.” Gere supposedly responded by calling Stallone “a lowlife” while imitating his ‘dese-’dem-’dose accent.

So it was almost a relief-and certainly an explanation-when it finally emerged that the Richard-Cindy union really was experiencing meltdown. Inexplicably, Cindy chose that moment to hold a televised press conference and complain, “All these things they write are just lies. It is really bad gossip that is not based in truth at all.”

What was she thinking? “Cindy is secretive,” says an executive of her agency, Elite Models. “She tells you nothing.” Crawford’s friends have stayed mum, too. “A lot of people are asking, offering payments,” Elliott reports. “Only Richard and Cindy know what happened. People can say what they want.”

One friend of Cindy’s, a man on the model scene, defends her. “Gere’s a boring fucking Buddhist,” he says. “He’s done it all. He meditates all day. She wants to run around and drink tequila and have fun all night. She’s only twentyeight, for chrissake!” .

In the face of the press storm about Gere’s affair with Laura Bailey, his friends felt the need to defend him, too. “Richard is no angel,” says one, “but he tried to do the right thing. It’s ridiculous to say he broke this up.” Some of Gere’s friends have started calling Cindy cynical. “None of this has hurt her,” one snipes bitterly. “She said all she wanted was to be married and have children and not a career. Turned out the opposite. No kids, lots of career.” Now Gere even has to worry about going marquee-a-marquee with Crawford, since she is about to make her movie debut next month opposite Billy Baldwin in the Joel Silverproduced action film Fair Game.

But while others are choosing sides, matchmaker Herb Ritts takes a no-fault view toward the breakup of their marriage. “They’re two different kinds of people, but they honestly do love each other,” he says. “They went to a counselor, they took vacations-they really tried to make it work.” Ritts adds that the relationship was over before either of them strayed. “Someone had an affair first, but it wasn’t out of disrespect, it was out of need. It didn’t mean anything. It was a sideshow.”

But Ritts adds there’s a lesson in all of this for Crawford. “As professional and terrific as she is,” he says, “inwardly she has a lot to work out. She was never a teenager-she’s still a girl. In terms of life experience, she’s very different from where Richard is. He’s spiritual. Cindy gave it a try, but she’s not into eating yak butter. I’ve been on the phone with both of them in tears.” Ritts sighs. “It’s really sad.”

First Knight wrapped the day before last Thanksgiving, and Gere flew home to the U. S. On December i, he and Cindy announced that they were “trying to work things out” and had “no present plans for divorce.” Laura Bailey, although described by friends as hurt and upset, was still seeing Gere in the spring. Cindy changed her private phone number and, other than a brief appearance at a benefit (“I’m okay” was all she said, dropped from sight Women’s Wear Daily reported that she’d moved in with Rande Gerber. He won’t comment, except to say, “Just, please, don’t hurt her.”

What of Gere? Frank Dunlop, who once hired him for England’s prestigious Young Vic company, hopes he will return to live theater. “He should have played Hamlet,” Dunlop says. Power director Sidney Lumet thinks Gere is poised for greatness. “He’s a really, really fine and underused actor,” Lumet says. `As he gets older, the parts will be more interesting and he’ll stop being the sex symbol.”

Just after the breakup of his marriage was announced, Gere met with producer Frank Mancuso Jr. in Hollywood, and the two men talked about divorce. Gere was hanging on to the idea that his marriage could be saved. “How much of yourself are you willing to give up in order to hold on to something?” Mancuso asked him. “One day, you wake up and say, ‘I don’t like myself anymore.’”

For a moment, Gere seemed sad, but then he brightened. “Richard saw the opportunities in front of him, and he started to like the idea of being single again,” Mancuso says. After a pause, he continues, “You never learn things the way you want to.”

©1995 Michael Gross