February 12, 1996 12:00 PM

Gripping his second Best Actor Oscar, Tom Hanks fixed his tear-filled blue eyes upon his wife, actress Rita Wilson, and began an acceptance speech as pure and simple as anything Forrest Gump might have said. “I’m standing here,” he told the 81 million people watching the Academy Awards last March, “because the woman I share my life with has taught me and demonstrates to me every day just what love is.”

Only his closest friends knew how badly Hanks, whose early roles pegged him as a happy-go-lucky guy, needed that lesson. Raised in a succession of stepfamilies by a father who frequently uprooted his clan, Hanks, now 39, carried a deep loneliness. Wilson, also 39, grew up in a nurturing nuclear household that kept her grounded. When the two met in 1984 on the set of the Peace Corps comedy Volunteers, Hanks was drawn by her warm, stable personality. “Rita glowed with niceness,” says their costar Xander Berkeley. “You could tell they were fond of each other.” At the time, Hanks was married (though unhappily) to college sweetheart Samantha Lewes. Wilson was engaged but, as she described it, not in love. “I didn’t know what being in love was until I met Tom,” she told Vanity Fair. Hanks and Lewes divorced in 1987, and love bloomed quickly with Wilson. “It was a complete and utter kind of acceptance of me on her part,” Hanks has said. “It was a love that was unconditional.” He returned the sentiment. Recalling their courtship on Good Morning America in 1994, Wilson said, “He told me, ‘You know, you never have to change anything about who you are or what you do to be with me.’ ”

After seven years of marriage, things have changed, for the better. Wilson’s career has begun to take off (she costarred in the recent female-bonding movie Now and Then), and baby Truman joined 5-year-old Chester in December. While the couple celebrate their good fortune with Tom’s older children, Colin, 17, and Elizabeth, 13, on Caribbean cruises and European sight-seeing trips, they prefer to hang out at their West L.A. home, where they clearly intend to live happily ever after. “They are madly in love,” says Apollo 13 producer Brian Grazer. “They are king and queen of the ball.”

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