By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated December 17, 2002 11:00 AM

Part of the Daniel Day-Lewis mystery has been solved.

The distinguished leading man, 45, who in 1990 was named one of PEOPLE’s 50 Most Beautiful People, has been missing from movie screens for five years, ever since 1997’s “The Boxer.”

While promoting his latest film, Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” for which he is receiving raves and critics awards for his role as ferocious Protestant leader William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting, the actor would only tell reporters that he filled in the years between movies doing “different things.”

Certainly he was being coy — and noticeably quiet about his sudden 1996 marriage to actress Rebecca Miller, the daughter of celebrated “Death of a Salesman” playwright Arthur Miller. (Rebecca and Daniel have two sons, born in 1998 and 2002, and Daniel also has a son, born in 1995, whose mother is the actor’s former longtime companion, actress Isabelle Adjani.)

Now comes more details about what Day-Lewis has been up to these past few years. In his largely unenthusiastic review of the “strange and muddled” “Gangs,” New Yorker film critic David Denby, who is very enthusiastic about Day-Lewis’s performance, writes: “The great Daniel Day-Lewis has devoted some of his time since 1997 to making shoes — in Florence, no less.

“The world may have gained an excellent cobbler,” says Denby, “but no one, I think, who sees Day-Lewis’s work in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Gangs of New York’ could ever wish him to take up a hammer and awl again.”

Still, Daniel: Size 9, regular.