November 06, 2006 12:00 PM

At Bread & Company, a cozy cafe in Nashville, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are known as the oatmeal-and-egg-white-omelette couple. They place the same order every time they come in—including the morning of Oct. 3 when, over their usual, “they chatted with one another, smiled and seemed very relaxed,” says one observer. And so it was right up until Urban dashed in for an oatmeal to go on Oct. 16—and then stopped coming. Three days later the staff at Bread & Company were dumbfounded to find out why: Not 24 hours after doing several interviews for his new album Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing, the country star checked into a rehab clinic to treat a drinking problem. “We just all hope Nicole sticks by him through this,” says one staffer, “and that they come out stronger.”

By all accounts, she has. On Oct. 19, when Urban stunned even those close to him by admitting himself into rehab—canceling all work commitments just days before the Nov. 7 release of his CD—Kidman was at his side. She too had to bring a pause to a busy schedule that in the past month or so has at times kept her far apart from her husband. (See box on page 51.) Though she was scheduled to do promotional work for her movie Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus in L.A. over the weekend, she called it all off in order to be with Urban when he entered rehab. “She is standing by him,” a friend says of the actress. “They have a commitment to each other. It’s incredibly painful, but they’re working it out together.”

“It has been a tough road for him, it always has been,” adds his friend and neighbor, singer LeAnn Rimes. “Nicole is a very strong woman. She loves him very much. I think she’ll be able to see him through this.”

Kidman knew, of course, that the man she married in a fairy-tale wedding in Sydney on June 25, a little over a year after they met at a gala for noted Australians in January 2005, had battled addiction before. Urban has been candid about his use in the ’90s of cocaine—which he described in 2002 as “demonic.” He wrote the 2002 song “You Won” with his friend, Nashville veteran Rodney Crowell, about the spiritual surrender that helped him get clean. And he celebrated his triumph over cocaine in the track “You’re Not My God” (“You’re not my God/And you’re not my friend/You’re not the one that I will walk with in the end”). But as Urban pointed out in a statement released on Oct. 20, “One can never let one’s guard down in recovery, and I’m afraid that I have.”

This time, his spokesman says, he is only being treated for alcohol abuse, and “contrary to speculative reports and rumors, there was no one cataclysmic event” that led to the decision to enter rehab, which he made with Kidman. Those who saw Urban struggle to get clean a decade ago—including a stint at Nashville’s Cumberland Heights treatment center and a relapse—are especially disheartened. “It’s terrible that it has such a hold on him,” says one industry insider. “He’s so talented and such a good person—and he loves [Kidman] so much. He just tries so hard.”

So what got the better of him now? One source close to Urban cites the pressure involved in recording Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing, which he finished in September in London, where Kidman was then filming. “He’s a perfectionist,” says the source, “and he’s been working on this album all year.” But in 2003 a proudly clean Urban told Melbourne’s Herald Sun that his struggle with addiction is simply part of his character. “I don’t know that you ever beat it,” he said. “It’s a struggle for me because I hate the straight road too. I find it very monotonous and boring. I like to dip my toe in the water—but not too far. That is where the trouble begins.” A year earlier he had said he did not consider alcohol trouble. “I still drink,” he told a reporter. “I get drunk. But it’s never sent me back to other things.”

Some close to Urban believe his love for Kidman may have made him realize that drinking was trouble enough. Says one source: “Perhaps having someone else to think of made him face it finally.” At his wedding, he spoke of Kidman’s influence on him when, in his toast, he “acknowledged the dramatic change Nicole had already made in his life,” a guest told PEOPLE. “He said something like, ‘You make me feel like I’m becoming the man I was always meant to be.'” In the four months since, their bond has only grown closer, whether working out together at a gym near their Nashville home, stopping in at a local Starbucks for her green tea and his black coffee or chatting with Donatella Versace at a benefit dinner at Elton John’s home in London on Sept. 7. “Nicole looked fabulous and Keith looked like such a happy guy,” says one guest. “They just looked like a couple still on their honeymoon.” Songwriter Rodney Crowell saw the same glow while house hunting with the couple in Nashville: “Nicole just has such a sunny disposition, she felt like fresh air for Keith.”

But as Crowell points out, “Even the most beautiful human being in the world can’t do [recovery] for you. It comes down to whether he wants it for himself.” While Urban is in rehab, Kidman is soldiering on with life—taking scheduled meetings in L.A., even fitting in a Pilates class on Oct. 24 in West Hollywood. Urban’s friend Anastasia Brown, who was his manager in the ’90s during some of his most difficult years with drugs, is just one who believes Urban will not let Kidman down. “He’s a strong and amazing person,” says Brown, “so he’s dealing with this challenge just as he does with everything in life—with grace, strength and integrity.”

“As you’ve likely discovered by now, last night I voluntarily admitted myself into a treatment center.

I deeply regret the hurt this has caused Nicole and the ones that love and support me. I am so fortunate to have that support and the unwavering strength of my wife, family and friends. I feel calm and optimistic about the future and with finally coming to terms with the reality of my condition…. ”

—Keith’s message to fans on Oct. 20

‘GOT IT RIGHT THIS TIME’

She believes in me like I’ve been tryin’ to do

I’m seein’ things I’ve never seen before

Ever since she came into my life I’ve been a better man …

Yeah, after all the crazy days I made it through

—From Urban’s new album

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