Actor Richard Gere might best be known for his starring roles in Pretty Woman and An Officer and a Gentleman. The leading man of the screen has also taken a leading role in philanthropy, as one of the first to commit to the Hollywood Pledge, created by the Give Back Hollywood Foundation, a nonprofit that connects celebrities with charitable causes to promote and support. Other pledgers include Kristen Bell and Kellan Lutz.
Gere's philanthropy, though, stretches back decades, gaining steam with his interest in Tibet, whose Himalayan peaks are sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, and which has remained in conflict with its Chinese occupation and rule since the 1950s. In 1987, Gere cofounded Tibet House in New York, a nonprofit "devoted to the preservation of Tibetan culture." He also joined the board of the International Campaign for Tibet in 1992 and created the Gere Foundation a year prior. The Gere Foundation is "a small grant-giving organization" that supports groups "dedicated to the cultural preservation of Tibet; to providing HIV/AIDS care, research and treatment and to those organizations addressing human rights violations throughout the world." The Gere Foundation contributes directly to the Tibet Fund, supporting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community-in-exile.
So why has the actor worked so hard to save Tibet? Maybe because he feels Tibet saved him first.
Gere first became interested in Buddhism in his early 20s. As he explains to Lion's Roar, "like most young men, I was not particularly happy. I don’t know if I was suicidal, but I was pretty unhappy, and I had questions like, 'Why anything?' Realizing I was probably pushing the edges of my own sanity, I was exploring late-night bookshops reading everything I could, in many different directions. Evans-Wentz’s books on Tibetan Buddhism had an enormous impact on me. I just devoured them."
The Gere Foundation's grant recipients include the International Campaign for Tibet (which received more than more than $300,000 in 2013 alone) and Students for a Free Tibet, "a global grass roots network of students and activists working in solidarity with the Tibetan people for human rights and freedom."
The Gere Foundation also contributes to other humanitarian causes. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have received support. Oxfam America, International Red Cross, and Doctors without Border have been supported for their work in famine and disaster relief. Gere has also given to the J/P Hatian Relief Organization, a nonprofit founded by Sean Penn in response to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Gere also has an interest in fighting HIV/AIDS, particularly in India. He's worked closely with the Naz Foundation, a nonprofit in New Delhi, and helped the foundation establish and then expand The AIDS Care Home, "the first residential facility in India dedicated to serving women and orphaned children with AIDS." Some of this work also takes place through the Gere Foundation India Trust, established 1999 to support various humanitarian programs in India.
It's also worth noting Gere's work to end homelessness, which was dramatized in his last film, "Time Out of Mind," released back in September. He's spoken at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, D.C., and supported outfits such as City Harvest, a nonprofit that feeds some 1.4 million New Yorkers every year. Gere contributed to a 2013 event that raised $3 million for City Harvest.
Related: Richard Gere Glitzy Giving Profile