Today is Richard Gere‘s birthday! Sixty-three years ago this silver fox was born, and about twenty years ago he became the subject of a sordid urban legend that to this day he’s still associated with. Seriously, it was “wtf” before we were speaking in acronyms. I’m talking, of course, about the infamous story from the early 1990s about Richard Gere sticking a gerbil up his ass and it getting stuck, so he had to go to Cedars-Sinai to get it removed. As the story goes, he of course wanted to keep it secret because revealing his kinky little mistake would out him, since it was gay men who were known for “gerbilling.”
It’s the kind of story that has haunted Gere his entire career, with a few celebrities commenting on it but mostly fans sharing it around as conversation starters at parties or on sites like this. So in honor of Gere’s birthday, we could think of no better way than to revisit the story that illustrates his greatest impact on pop culture. (Though Pretty Woman is a close second!) Here are the five facts you should know about the Richard Gere gerbil legend.
1. Perhaps the most bizarre fact is that not a lot of people actually know this story! When we were pitching ideas for covering Gere’s birthday and one of us mentioned this, another writer had no idea what we were talking about. So before we can go any further, you need to hear the story. I’m gonna quote About.com, because they have the most comprehensive version:
Several years ago, “they” say, Richard Gere was admitted into the emergency room of a Los Angeles hospital with a foreign object lodged in his rectum. Some say Gere was alone when he arrived, others say he was accompanied by a friend (e.g., former love interest Cindy Crawford). In any case, an x-ray was taken and it was determined that the foreign object was a gerbil (either alive or dead, depending on who tells the story).
Mr. Gere was rushed to surgery, where it took an entire team of doctors to extract the animal from his behind. Some variants say the gerbil was found to have been shaven and declawed; others claim the animal had been placed in a special plastic pouch. Still others insist the poor creature was Gere’s own beloved pet (appropriately named “Tibet” in this variant). In any event, when the gerbilectomy was done the medical team was sworn to secrecy — unsuccessfully, we must conclude — and Gere went on his merry way, suffering no permanent harm other than to his reputation.
Snopes did some more research and concluded that the story’s spread was due not only to word of mouth, but also an anonymous prankster who faxed a fake press release issued by the ASPCA, claiming that Gere had “abused” a gerbil. But when a National Enquirer reporter followed up with ASPCA, they denied sending out the release.
2. While Gere is the most famous person associated with gerbilling, he wasn’t the first. The story seems to have originated circa 1984, and starred an unfortunate mouse. Depending on how it’s told, the legend has two different purposes: 1) To out a closeted celebrity, or 2) to simply shock. The latter is told with normal folks and ups the ante, like this 1997 story that got shared over e-mail about how one guy’s partner tried to light a match to get the gerbil to come back out and instead ignited a gas fireball in his partner’s anus. You might say that Richard Gere got off easy compared to that tale.
3. In addition to people endlessly resurrecting this urban legend, it’s also found its way into pop culture visually. It’s made its way to a Halloween costume…
…and even the Bad Luck Brian meme.
4. In 2006, Sylvester Stallone told an interviewer that he thinks Gere blames him for starting the rumor. The two didn’t get along on the set of The Lords of Flatbush in the early ’70s—long story short, Gere spilled some mustard in Stallone’s car, and Stallone got him kicked off the film. “Richard was given his walking papers and to this day seriously dislikes me. He even thinks I’m the individual responsible for the gerbil rumor,” Stallone told Ain’t It Cool News. “Not true… but that’s the rumor.”
5. Believe it or not, Gere has actually responded to all the hubbub! Sort of. When promoting Nights in Rodanthe a few years back, the UK paper Metro asked if he read his own press, and he responded,
“I stopped reading the press a long time ago. Lots of crazy things came up about me at first, especially from the tabloids. There is an infamous ‘Gere stuck a hamster up his bum’ urban myth. I expect that sort of thing but when reputable magazines started making up stories claiming I was in a country I had never been to with someone I didn’t even know, I just decided not to pay attention to any of it. It’s a waste of energy.”
Interesting that he didn’t even know it was a gerbil… but that’s the best answer we’re gonna get.