Richard Gere: Older And Wiser

Richard Gere is embracing his age by appearing on the cover of the latest edition of the AARP magazine. And on the day he received the organization's prestigious IMPACT Award, The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith caught up with the movie star.

It's a familiar role for Richard Gere, another award and another appreciative crowd. This one, the AARP's IMPACT Award celebrates the work closest to his heart.

"Nothing is going to stop us on this road," an emotional Gere had said in December 2004.

Richard Gere has devoted countless days and dollars to India, working to halt the explosive spread of AIDS there.

"India is a second home to me," he tells Harry Smith. "My teachers are there; my friends are there. I spend a lot of time there, and I realized that they were in the same place five years ago that we were in the early '80s. It was a sense that it was somebody else. We have other problems that we're dealing with. This isn't on our radar yet. There was no leadership in the Indian government, and I said, 'Look, this is something that has to be done.'"

Gere says if AIDS is allowed to consume just 1 percent of India, the entire world could be in peril.

He explains, "That 1 percent becomes 5 percent very quickly and 10 percent even more quickly, and then, it becomes 20 percent more quickly. Twenty percent of a billion people, India shuts down. If India shuts down, most of Asia shuts down. Most of Asia shuts down, the world shuts down."

Does he feel as if he is trying to save the world, Smith asks.

"We're all in this together," Gere answers. "And every moment is that kind of a world. I'm no different with you and this crew than I am with India and the AIDS patients. It is all the same to me. We are here to make connections and here to help each other."

That spirit is a far cry from the series of self-centered characters he has played with great success in the past: the cool "American Gigolo" or the chastised NAVY cadet in "An Officer And A Gentleman."

Smith tells him cynics will say: Goofy actor guy, what is he talking about?

"I am definitely a goofy actor guy. That's not a problem for me," Gere says.

But he's built a level of credibility few actors can claim. Gere is a leading voice for the people of Tibet, where the Dalai Lama, his friend of 25 years, lives.

He's also the driving force behind Healing the Divide, a group with a mission to erase the barriers that can lead to conflict.

Smith asks, "So if I'm sitting on an airplane with you and we're going down. And I said, so explain Healing the Divide to me. How would you do it?"

"This is a hard one," Gere says. "How do we explain this? The world is a symbolic representation. [laughter] We're down and we crash. Too late, too late. [laughter]

Seriously, he continues, "You and I are not separate. The Iraqis and us are not separate. Even Saddam Hussein and us, we are not separate. We're all in this together, all deeply connected.

"And we can start bridging that divide. The primitive ignorant divide of that, then wars go away. All wars go away."

Besides his commitment to social change, there is another force shaping Gear's life: Maturity.

"I'm not even admitting I'm 50 yet," a smiling Gere says, holding up the AARP IMPACT award. "I don't know why i'm getting this award. I don't really qualify."

Does he feel any change in his own perspective?

"The biggest change was when I turned 50, I had my first kid," Gere says. "That was the biggest thing. And for me, my personality and what I was doing in the world, it was perfect timing.

"Having my son, I think, at 50, at that age ,was something that focused my life in a way it hadn't been before," Gere says.

Now at 55, when many are thinking about retirement, Gere still has his eyes on changing the world.

Is he hopeful about the future?

"Yeah, I am," Gere says. "Basically, I'm a positive person, but I'm a bit of a goofball, too."

Should people listen to him?

"No. They shouldn't listen to me," he answers. "They should listen to their own hearts."