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Tom Cruise My Life in Pictures

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PLUS: 10 PERSONAL PHOTOS FROM TOM

ONLY IN People

Tom Cruise has a lot to celebrate. This month his wife, Katie Holmes, turns 30; daughter Bella turns 16; son Connor, 13, is making his film debut with a small role opposite Dad’s pal Will Smith in the drama Seven Pounds; and Tom’s new movie, Valkyrie, hits theaters. This year daughter Suri turned 2. And Tom himself marked his 25th year as a movie star. At 46, he’s striking—handsome and fit. And yet, in recent years, he hasn’t always looked so good. He became surprisingly vocal about Scientology and psychiatry. He tussled with Matt Lauer and Brooke Shields. And, of course, he hopped on Oprah‘s couch. “I think I could have handled things better,” admits Tom, laughing at the understatement. Tired of being misunderstood—”I’m not a person who sits in judgment of people,” he says, “that’s just not who I am”—Tom is now handling his public image more carefully. He calls rumors that he’s a controlling husband “hilarious. Anyone with that perception doesn’t know who I am—and doesn’t know who Kate is at all.” Offscreen he’s the same as always: charming but sincere; intense but cheerful; and funnier than you’d expect. (He calls the Oprah incident “my year of jumping dangerously.”) Looking over these photos in the office of PEOPLE’s executive editor Jess Cagle, Tom says, “Life has its ups and downs.” Again he laughs at the understatement. “It’s interesting.”

1 TOM AT 18 MONTHS

Looking at this photo of himself, Tom laughs. “He’s looking at the world going, ‘Okay, let’s have at it!’ I was always the kid who wanted adventure.”

2 HIKING IN TELLURIDE, COLORADO

“We do a lot of hiking,” says Tom, on a favorite trail with Katie, Bella and Connor in ’05. “We start in the morning and go all day.” Tom says he bought the property in Telluride in the ’90s “as a place where I can raise kids. I taught them how to ride motorcycles there.”

3 ON THE SET WITH KATIE

Tom wore heavy makeup to play Les Grossman, a ruthless producer who dances to hip-hop, in Tropic Thunder. “This is on the set when I was doing the dancing scene,” says Tom. “Of course Kate is a dancer and singer. She just lost it. She loved it.”

4 TOM AS SANTA

“This is Christmas last year in Telluride,” says Tom, in a Santa suit that Katie designed. To surprise the kids, Tom sneaked around to the back of the house, “trudging through high mounds of snow and ice on the driveway. I knock on the door and Kate’s holding Suri. I say, ‘Ho ho ho! Hello, little Suri! Hello, Bella, Connor!'” But Suri wasn’t fooled. “She looked at me and said, ‘No, Dada, no!’ You can see the look in her face. She’s thinking, ‘What is Dad doing?'”

5 THE WOMEN

With his mom and sisters at the Golden Globes in ’04. Left to right: mom Mary Lee, now 72, sisters Lee Anne, 49, Marian, 47, and Cass, 44. Mary Lee raised her kids as a single mom. Tom says being raised by women taught him that “the woman is always right.”

6 CUT!

Right after filming 2001’s Vanilla Sky, Tom had to buzz his hair for Minority Report. Vanilla Sky director Cameron Crowe cut off the first piece. “It was a moment of, ‘You’re done, move on.'”

7 HIGH SCHOOL VICTORY

“I was 16 years old,” says Tom, at a freestyle wrestling tournament in Glen Ridge, N.J. “The guy in the first round chipped my tooth. My lip was bleeding. But I was like, ‘I’m going to win.'”

8 With Newman, his costar in The Color of Money, at the track in the mid-’80s.

9 MAMA’S BOYS

On the set of Rain Man (1988), Tom and costar Dustin Hoffman surprised Tom’s mom, Mary Lee, with a kiss. Says Tom: “To see that smile on her face is incredible.”

10 Tom kisses the bride at their wedding in Italy on Nov. 18, 2006.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2
(2000)

“I always wanted the opening of the movie to be on the side of a mountain,” recalls Tom. The harrowing scene, shot in Utah, “was filmed from a helicopter, and I was hooked on by a very thin cable. It really hurt. It took forever. You’re looking down and you’re thousands of feet up.”

TOP GUN
(1986)

“I loved making that movie,” says Tom. “Part of my contract was, I have to be able to fly in the F-14 and fly with the Blue Angels.”

25 Years of Major Movie Stardom

After a few smaller roles (in Endless Love and Taps), he became a leading man in 1983’s Risky Business. As of this year, his films have grossed more than $7 billion at the worldwide box office.

TOM’S NEW MOVIE

VALKYRIE
(2008)

With director Bryan Singer and actress Carice van Houten on the set in Germany. Cruise stars as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a revered German officer who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944. “This was actually on the street where Stauffenberg’s home was,” says Tom. Wearing the eye patch (inset) “kind of made me nauseous at first, [but] I got used to it.”

RISKY BUSINESS
(1983)

“I waxed the floor so I could hit the mark,” recalls Tom, who slid into the film’s unforgettable dance scene in his socks. “The film came out and suddenly there’s Ron Reagan Jr. [spoofing the dance] on Saturday Night Live.” The movie made Tom a star. “And here we are, 25 years later.”

INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
(1994)

With costar Brad Pitt. “I loved working with Brad,” Tom recalls. “Every time Bella was on the set you could just tell he wanted to be a father.”

More of Tom’s Memorable Moments

TOM ON NICOLE

“I love this photo,” says Tom, with then-wife and costar Nicole Kidman on the set of 1992’s Far and Away. “We were in Ireland working with [director] Ron Howard.” The couple split in 2001 and share custody of Connor and Bella. This year, soon after Suri turned 2, Nicole and her husband, Keith Urban, also welcomed a daughter, Sunday Rose. “Connor and Bella are pumped about Nic and Keith,” says Tom. “They not only like Keith a lot, they’re pumped that they now have two little sisters.”

SURI’S COAT CAPERS

Persuading Suri to keep her coat on is a challenge. “She was taking the coat off in this shot,” says Tom (after the Big Apple Circus on Nov. 27). “She’s teasing me, saying, ‘I’m taking the coat off.’ She knows what she’s doing.”

ON MATT LAUER

Tom roasted Lauer on Oct. 24 at the Friars Club. On the Today show in ’05, Tom called Matt “glib” and railed against psychiatric drugs. Looking back, Tom says, “All I want is to help people. I could’ve communicated it in a way that was better, no question.”

BELLA & CONNOR

“They love all sports,” says Tom (with his two teens watching pal David Beckham‘s soccer team play on April 26, 2008). “They both love to read. They’re both athletic. Bella loves art. We want to expose them to different things.”