I am writing this under its own heading, since while Richard Gere is a real person, the tale of Richard Gere and the gerbil is a fictional story, and the application of Richard Gere inside the story is seemingly totally random. The story (which I assume everyone reading this is familiar with), is that Richard Gere, famed Hollywood leading man, has the habit of inserting gerbils into his rectum for the purposes of sexual gratification. Furthermore, that he has had to have emergency gerbil-removal surgery on at least one occasion. This urban legend has been floating around for over twenty five years with no particular justification.
What is most interesting about the legend for me is the seeming randomness with which Richard Gere and gerbils were attached to each other. It seems like an obscene answer to a game of Clue, or a stoned game of Mad Libs. But such is the way with urban legends. Of all the possible children in the 1980s who could have had their stomach exploded from eating pop rocks, why has it gone down in history that this happened to Mikey from Life Cereal? Of all the possible rock singers who had to have their stomach pumped, why was it Rod Stewart? (Also, why do three of the 80s most persistent urban legends involve gastrointestinal mishaps?)
If I had to guess why Richard Gere was saddled down with this particularly nasty urban legend, I would say that it is probably due to the fact that Richard Gere is very handsome and appealing to women, and is also somewhat of a self-righteous blowhard. Although perhaps it is more the first than the second, since the rumor dates from before he was as well known for his social activism than for being a pretty boy actor. Anyway, the handsome, successful Gere would seem to be a natural at attracting resentment, and there seems to be no better way to sully his name than a rumor where he is cruel, sullied and pathetic. What is most sad about this urban legend is that it shows the power of the meme in its original sense: something that passes from one person's mind to another, almost spontaneously. I don't believe that many people believe in the rumor, and someone would have to be quite credulous to do so, and yet one of the first things that come to mind upon hearing the name "Richard Gere" is "gerbil stuffing". Although Gere may be a bit self-righteous, and although he may make a variety of formulaic movies, it is very unfortunate that through thoughtless contagion, his reputation has been associated with a ridiculous slander.