October 18, 1993 12:00 PM

THEY PERFORM THEIR PARTS PERFECTLY: Beautiful People Living the Glamorous Life. She, of course, is the Supermodel, with the tousled hair, the clothing snugly clinging to voluptuous curves. He is the Superstar, with the nonchalant stubble and the shy, beguiling smile. Could there be a more public pair than Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere? In some ways, no. And yet, while smiling for the cameras and navigating oceans of fans, these two enjoy a quiet conspiracy. As they arrive at the Oscars, his hand gently touches the small of her back. At the Cartier International polo tournament in London, her fingers, one wrapped like a child’s in a bright blue Band-Aid, intertwine lightly in his. At the Karl Lagerfeld fashion show in Paris, she shoots a split-second glance from the catwalk; he winks from his front-row seat. Let the cynics squawk: There is this thing between Gere and Crawford, a force both good and time. “It is the most disappointing thing I have ever seen,” jokes Pretty Woman and Sommersby producer—and close Gere pal—Arnon Milchan. “I hate it. They really are in love.”

As if they didn’t have enough going for them already. Long before Gere, now 44, and Crawford, 27, met—in 1988, at a backyard barbecue hosted by a mutual friend, Los Angeles-based photographer Herb Ritts—each had single-handedly (okay, maybe a few other body parts were involved) seduced the Great American Audience. In 1980’s American Gigolo, Gere—swaggering nude, semi-nude or (almost as effective) fully dressed in Giorgio Armani—established himself as a lender-tough, troubled and oh-so-tantalizing new sex symbol. It was a title he reclaimed, after several box-office blunders, with 1990’s Pretty Woman. (And even Crawford had to admit that his bedroom scenes with Jodie Foster in this year’s Sommersby made her squirm in her screening-room seat.)

And what of Crawford—she of the 300-plus magazine covers, of countless come-hither calendar pinups, of the infamous, magical mole? “Her sexiness,” pronounced Italian hair stylist Aldo Coppola, who worked with Crawford for several fashion shows, “makes me want to hang myself.”

Who, exactly, are inspiring such grand gestures, such devotion, such despair? By ail accounts, a basically down-to-earth couple. Consider: He gives her 24-year-old sister, Danielle, tips on the guitar; Cindy often does the laundry (but never the toilets). He sends her notes when she’s on the road, saying, “I love you desperately.” She chides him for forgetting to put the cap back on the milk.

“How do you and Richard get along?” asked an audience member at a recent Oprah Winfrey Show.

“Like any normal people,” answered Crawford. “Some days you get along great, other days you drive each other crazy.”

The “other days,” say those who know them, seem few. “There is great emotion between the two of them,” says Beverly Hills real estate agent Lynne Wilkes. This spring, Wilkes spent a couple of months taking the couple to see several houses. Crawford, the practical one, carefully checked out the fixtures with her husband: Gere, the spiritual one, sat alone in a room—”where he could draw from it,” says Wilkes. Eventually, Gere and Crawford found a place with a dry cellar and the right vibes—a Georgian manor in Bel Air that features six bedrooms, four fireplaces, a pool and a guest house and that cost the couple a reported $5 million. Moreover, the whole deal got done without any fussing. “Cindy and Richard are kind and considerate of one another,” observes Wilkes. “They amuse each other.”

Having money—multimillions between the two of them—no doubt helps. Yet Crawford and Gere would be two rich people leading separate lives if they weren’t famously good friends. “Their favorite thing is to cook, to stay in, to be together,” says Maggie Wilde, Gere’s longtime pal and business partner. “They will travel thousands of miles to have a night together.” Wilde adds with a sigh, “I should be so lucky.”

Or should she? As Crawford has been quick to point out, there is a flip side to the admiration this couple inspires: mean-spirited speculation. At Raoul’s in Manhattan, where the bicoastal couple like to linger over intimate dinners; in the locker room at Radu’s NYC gym, where a sweaty Crawford strips down to change after a personal-training session; at the Godmother deli in Malibu, where the two wait to pay for takeout (cold soba noodles for her; hot chicken and potatoes for him), chances are someone just out of earshot will start to whisper that their marriage—or so a lot of total strangers say—is a sham. As far away as Asia, people have heard the talk. According to the Jan. 11 edition of the South China Morning Post, “Gere has been plagued by rumors that he is gay, despite his marriage to supermodel Cindy Crawford.”

The couple (who declined to be interviewed for this story) say—quite credibly—that they are not gay but have seemed publicly nonplussed by the gossip. “I don’t get depressed that people constantly call me a lesbian and Richard gay,” Crawford said in August. “I find it amusing.” It was in that frame of mind, perhaps, that she agreed to pose provocatively with acknowledged lesbian K.D. lang on the August cover of Vanity Fair. As she put her feelings about the gossip to British Elle: “Who cares? I’ve got the cleanest image in the world; it’s good if there’s a little dirt on me.” Nor has Gere appeared to take the talk at all seriously. “It’s kid stuff,” he told an Associated Press reporter in February. “Kids in a schoolyard.” Has his willingness to champion gay causes—most recently by being one of the first major stars to to take a role in the HBO movie And the Band Played On—fueled the talk? Friends say Gere is simply indifferent to such nonsense. “It is a nonissue to him,” says Pretty Woman producer Steve Reuther.

Partly, the problem might be the wonder that these polar-opposite images could ever attract each other. (“People always want to know if it was love at first sight,” Crawford has said. “I always say that it was interest at first sight.”) There were age, generation and temperament gaps to overcome. In 1980, for instance, when Gere had just hit sex-idol stardom, Crawford was a cute, 14-year-old high school freshman in De Kalb, 111. (pop. 34,000), too young to even see American Gigolo without her mother, Jennifer (who did see it, by the way, and thought her future son-in-law “hot”).

Back then, Gere, who had grown up near Syracuse, N.Y., was a brooding, chain-smoking bad boy who snorted cocaine (“Everyone was doing coke then,” said Gere, who quit when he was 30) and had for years caroused late into the Manhattan night with a string of women including Diane von Furstenberg and his on-again, off-again girlfriend, painter Sylvia Marlins. Young Cindy’s idea of a wild lime, on the other hand, was to bet her dad $200 that she would get straight A’s all through high school. (She collected.) She dated the captain of the high school football team, graduated valedictorian, began modeling in Chicago, enrolled in Northwestern University to study chemical engineering, dropped out to pursue modeling full-time in New York City and rose to the top of her profession without ever giving in to the standard traps. She didn’t smoke, party hard, throw temper tantrums or even show up to shoots late. “Tardiness is the biggest disrespect,” she has said.

How was Crawford to know, when she and Gere first exchanged hellos over hamburgers five years ago, that Lardiness was one of Gere’s most irritating flaws? Nevertheless the relationship progressed in a conventional manner. “We talked, then we had a date, then we had another date,” Crawford has said. By 1990, dating had turned serious: Crawford brought Gere home to De Kalb to meet Jennifer. (Her parents had divorced in 1982; her father remarried and moved to California.) “I thought it would be strange to have him here,” said Jennifer, 47, a bank receptionist and part-time clothing sales clerk. But by the time the evening was over, Gere had thrown on a pair of Jennifer’s old sweats (“I’m keeping them for my old age,” she says), cooked up some fish, watched TV with the relatives and was even calling Jennifer “Mom.” (A mistake: “Richard,” she told the actor just three years her junior, “I am not old enough to be called Mom by you.”)

Still, Gere was nervous about making the commitment. For him, friends say, marriage seemed too normal, too suburban. “He does not make decisions easily,” says Wilde. “He does not want to make a mistake.” About two years ago, his dawdling nearly lost him Crawford. “I was a holdout at age 42,” he said, “and this woman who I was crazy about and loved very much said, ‘I can’t wait. I gotta move on if it ain’t happening.’ ” And so on Dec. 12, 1991, taking an evening’s break while filming Mr. Jones—a movie about a manic-depressive that opened across the country on Oct. 8—it happened. Along with a few friends, the couple flew from his film location in Los Angeles to Las Vegas, made themselves aluminum-foil rings, and at the Little Chapel of the West became husband and wife. “It was,” said Gere, “the best decision I ever made.”

Now, friends say, the couple’s independent spirits are what make the marriage thrive. Crawford likes pop music; Gere, a talented musician who can’t stay out of guitar shops, is a fan of the blues, jazz and classical works. (“Oh, you’re too old,” she joshes.) Crawford may be the only person who can tease Gere—albeit gently—about his devotion to the Dalai Lama and Buddhism, which she, a nonpracticing Protestant, says she respects but does not follow. As one friend tells it, when Gere suggested a vacation visiting the Buddhist sites in India, Crawford playfully protested: “Why would you want to go to there when we could be in the South of France?”

But really, who has time for vacations? Between his movies and her modeling, endorsement and television careers (her MTV House of Style goes on location six times a year), the two have to work hard to have dinner together. But the shared downtime—reading, cooking, just letting their hair down, says Crawford—is cherished. “Fortunately, Richard loves me without my makeup and in my ponytail,” she has said. “So, hey, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.”

Of course, time must be made for Crawford’s ultimate priority. “More than anything, I want a family,” she says. “I feel that’s the thing in my life I’m going to be best at, being a mother.” Gere, for the record, is open-minded—but resistant—to the idea of children. “I am a child,” he has said.

For now, Crawford is content to have nudged him into that other major life change. No, not marriage: punctuality. “It was the only thing we ever argued about, his showing up late,” says Wilde. “Somehow, Cindy made him realize that’s not okay. Now,” she adds, laughing, “he sometimes beats me places.” Teasing aside, Wilde is both pleased and proud of her friends. “Obviously for two such famous people to have formed such a strong bond is pretty amazing. The odds are against it. But they are so close—and determined to make the marriage work. For that.” she says, “I congratulate them both.”



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