Anderson Cooper Says This Movie Star Helped Him Realize He Was Gay

And he got to share the story with the celebrity years later.

TV journalist Anderson Cooper has shared that he knew that he was gay from a young age, but in a new interview, he revealed the formative moment in which a famous movie star helped him know for sure. When Cooper was 11 years old, he attended a play that he called "the gayest thing you can imagine," and it starred an actor who, at the time, was just beginning to make a name for himself in the movies. Read on to find out which Hollywood heartthrob had such a strong effect on Cooper's early life and how he responded when the anchor told him the story.

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Cooper went to a play with two of his mother's friends.

Anderson Cooper at CNN Heroes An All-Star Tribute in 2018
Ron Adar / Shutterstock

Cooper's mother is Gloria Vanderbilt, fashion designer and Vanderbilt family heir. In a June 24 interview with his friend Andy Cohen, Cooper said, "There were a lot of gays around [him]," thanks to his mother's social circle. When Cooper was 11, he went to see the Broadway play Bent with two of his mom's gay friends, one of whom was photographer Paul Jasmin.

"If anyone doesn't know about the play Bent, it's about two gay guys in the concentration camp," Cooper said on Radio Andy. "I mean the opening scene … It is the gayest thing you can imagine."

Cooper was struck by the lead actor.

Richard Gere in "Bent" in 1980
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Bent, which premiered in 1979, starred a 30-year-old Richard Gere. Around this time, Gere had recently acted in Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Days of Heaven; American Gigolo, which proved to be his leading man breakout, premiered during the play's run.

"He was so beautiful," Cooper said of Gere. "And I'm there. My mom didn't go. It was just me and my mom's two gay friends."

Cooper described the opening scene of the play during the interview. "Literally the opening scene of Bent, there's a guy in bed who's picked up some guy the night before, and the guy he's picked up gets out of bed, completely naked, and then puts on an SS stormtrooper uniform." He continued, "I just remember being like, 'Oh my God, I'm gay … I'm totally gay."

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Cooper got to meet Gere—twice.

Richard Gere in New York City circa 1980
Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images

Cooper explained that Jasmin knew Gere, because he had done some photography for American Gigolo, so they got to go and talk to him after the show.

"We go backstage and Richard Gere is shirtless in his dressing room," Cooper said. "I couldn't speak. And I had my Playbill and I wanted to get him to autograph it, but I was too—I just couldn't stop staring at his chest."

Thankfully, Cooper and Gere got to talk years later when Cooper had become a successful journalist. "And so, fast forward to, I don't know, 10 years ago, I was interviewing Richard Gere and I took out the Playbill, I had the Playbill still, and I told him the whole story and I had him sign it," Cooper shared. "He was very tickled with it."

Cooper began to understand his identity when he was very young.

Anderson Cooper at the 2018 Turner Upfront
lev radin / Shutterstock

Cooper was on the way to realizing he was gay years before the performance of Bent, as he explained on Full Circle in 2021.

"I was probably, I don't know, seven, when I kind of realized," he said. "I'm not sure I knew the word 'gay' at the time, but I realized something was up. Something was different. I was probably, yeah, six or seven." He continued, "I think I really, truly accepted it—and not just accepted it, but fully embraced it and, you know, came around to really loving the fact that I was gay would probably be right after college."

The father of two added, "I think being gay is one of the blessings of my life. And it made me a better person. It has made me a better reporter. Especially when you grow up, kind of feeling like you're on the outside of things, and you're kind of an observer of things, or not necessarily in the mainstream, you see society from a slightly different view."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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