Why Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Are One of Hollywood's Best Love Stories

How Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson—aka Mr. and Mrs. National Treasure—met and became one of the most admired, enduring couples in Hollywood.

By Natalie Finn Jul 09, 2023 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson Officially Become Greek Citizens

You know what they say, behind every national treasure is a real gem.

And Tom Hanks would be the first to say that wife Rita Wilson is the star of this operation, this enduring love affair that started more than 35 years ago and continues to warm cold, jaded hearts in Hollywood and beyond. 

"I'm a lucky man," Hanks quipped to E! News in 2016. "She could've done better."

Well-played, sir. But we didn't think that was true then and we certainly don't think it's true now. 

But if there's a real secret to their success, they're not giving it away. "Always letting the press know that there is a secret, and we bottled it," Hanks joked to Fox News Digital at Clive Davis' pre-Grammy Gala about their enviable number of years together. But, the two-time Oscar winner added, "We'll sell it to you individually, for $17 billion."

In case you're a little short this month, we'll do our best to fill you in.

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"I view my wife as my lover, and we have a bond that goes beyond words like wife or girlfriend or mother," Hanks explained to Oprah Winfrey in 2001. "For example, I was able to construct a number of things in Philadelphia because of my relationship with Rita. The way my character felt about his lover is the way I feel about mine. The same was true when I played Forrest Gump, who loved Jenny. Without my connection with Rita, I don't know how I would've been able to connect with what Forrest was going through."

What you have there is one of the most celebrated movie stars in the world crediting his other half with the oomph that won him both of his Best Actor Oscars.

But it gets even better.

Melissa Herwitt / E! Illustration

"Sometimes we're just sitting on the couch talking or something like that...I don't even have to ask for them," Wilson, 66, told People in 2016. "He always gives me back and foot rubs. He's just cool."

When Hanks, who turned 67 July 9, was honored with the Golden Globes' Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement in 2020, he got misty-eyed as he said, "A man is blessed with a family sitting down front like that, a wife who is fantastic in every way, who has taught me what love is...five kids who are braver and stronger and wiser than their old man, and a loving group of people who have put up with me being away months and months at a time...Otherwise I wouldn't be standing here if they didn't have to put up with that. I can't tell you how much your love means to me."

That speech came 31 years after the Big star capped off his humorous yet thoughtful best actor in a motion picture, musical or comedy, acceptance on that same stage by giddily announcing, "I married a Greek babe...She was born right here in California, right here in Hollywood, but her folks are great, she's marvelous, Rita Wilson—thank you, babe, for marrying me. You made my year already."

As they went on to have sons Chet, 32, and Truman, 27, appear in a few of the same movies (including Hanks' directorial debut, That Thing You Do), walk miles of red carpets and support each other through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, through clean shaves and bushy white beards, they've become a walking study of how to make it work in Hollywood. 

Steve Granitz/WireImage

Hanks claims he first thought Wilson was adorable in 1972 when his 16-year-old self spied her in her first-ever TV role, playing a cheerleader on The Brady Bunch. But they first laid eyes on each other in person in 1981 when Wilson appeared on an episode of Bosom Buddies, Hanks' short-lived sitcom about two advertising creatives who moonlight as women because the only affordable apartment they can find is in a ladies-only building.

The actor was already a young husband and father at the time, however, married since 1978 to his college sweetheart Samantha Lewes. Son Colin Hanks was born in 1977 and daughter Elizabeth would arrive in 1982.

So, life went on.

But fate brought Wilson and Hanks back together a few years later on the set of the 1985 comedy Volunteers. Hanks was fresh from his big-screen breakout role in Splash, which launched him toward becoming the premiere leading funny-and-nice guy of the 1980s and 1990s.

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"When we first looked at each other there was definitely a kind of like, 'Hey, this is the place!' I felt that, anyway," he told Entertainment Tonight in 2015. "I think the end result is that we got married for all the right reasons."

Moral of the story: Not even Tom Hanks had it all figured out at 29.

"I had kids very young, my son Colin was born when I was 21 and my daughter Elizabeth was born four and a half years later. By then I thought I was rolling along with the natural order of things," Hanks reflected on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. He figured he married young because he himself grew up with an unstable home life, step-siblings in and out of his orbit as his parents remarried, and he took pains to keep himself busy to avoid being lonely.

"I do not have deep roots," he told GQ in 1988.

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

But as a father of two so early, "I didn't smoke pot. I didn't go into drugs, I was not a party boy. I didn't drink too much," he continued on Desert Island Discs. "I went to bed at 10 minutes after 10 p.m....The rules were in place and I'm not a cheater. I like to play by the rules. But later on, you're 27, 28, you've learned what to say 'yes' to—and you end up meeting that other person, man, woman—that 'Oh, she gets it!'"

He and Wilson were a couple by the end of 1986; his divorce from Lewes was finalized in early 1987. Then Hanks and Wilson married on April 30, 1988.

It occurred to him at the time, "I don't think I'm ever going to be lonely anymore."

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Wilson recalled to Piers Morgan in 2012, "I'll never forget, we were standing on the corner of 57th and 5th in New York, or 58th and 5th. We were holding hands, and we were waiting for the traffic light to change. And he looked at me and he said, 'You know, I just want you to know, that you never have to change anything about who you are in order to be with me.'

"Literally, a wave of—if love is a feeling, or a cellular thing that happens to your body, it went through me, and that's pretty much who he is, and how he's been," she said.

Barry King/WireImage

But no matter how meant to be they seem in hindsight, Hanks is also self-aware enough to have admitted that it probably wouldn't have worked out if they had got together any earlier.

"The success of our relationship was a matter of timing, maturity, and our willingness to have an intimate connection," he told Winfrey. "When I married Rita, I thought, 'This is going to require some change on my part.' I won't deny that providence was part of us finding each other, but our relationship isn't magic—the way it's shown in movies. In real life, our connection is as concrete as me sitting here. Not that marriage doesn't come close to being hell in a handbasket sometimes. But we both know that no matter what, we'll be with each other—and we'll get through it."

Sounds strangely human...


"We deal with what has to be dealt with, but there is something natural to the foundation of our marriage," Hanks also said. "I am now at the point where I can't imagine it any other way."

They've also been best friends "from the very beginning," he added. "We laugh just as much now at two in the morning as we always have. And we fight less and less."

Fast-forward to 2013 and he quipped to Ellen DeGeneres, "I'm not one to suck up to the audience, but the only thing we argue about is who loves each other more."

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach

When he talked to Winfrey in 2001, the couple had already emerged unscathed from the hurdle that gets so many—a divergence in the career trajectory. Wilson is an always-working actress, producer and, in her latest chapter, a recording, touring singer—whose husband compared her performance at Davis' party on Feb. 4 to "a bottle of champagne that came uncorked."

But not every man in Hollywood could have been counted on to handle mega-fame, riches and consecutive Oscar wins with the humbleness that Hanks exhibited, while still exuding likability (in public and at home).

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When his named was called on Oscar night for Philadelphia in 1994, the first thing he did was turn to Wilson for a real kiss, almost as if he didn't have somewhere he needed to be.

Ron Galella/WireImage

"Here's what I know," he began his speech. "I could not be standing here without that undying love that was just sung about [by Neil Young], and I have that in a lover that is so close to fine we should all be able to be able to experience such heaven right here on earth."

In 1995 he was back at it for Forrest Gump, giving Wilson double kisses and telling the audience that, among the reasons he was standing there, "the woman I share my life with has taught me and demonstrates for me every day just what love is." (He's been nominated three times since, but really, the Academy has to get him back up there.)

Asked about that speech's swoon factor, he told Winfrey, "Maybe that sentiment is possible to fake, but for me it's really true. What makes me different from others is that I verbalize this stuff. A lot of people would flee from what they think is award-show cheesiness, and I don't. I often joke that my speeches are very personal moments that play themselves out in front of billions of people."

Meanwhile, public declarations of love aside, Hanks and Wilson also have to attend to the brass tacks of being married.

As they navigate their fourth decade together, they still make sure to do the little things, such as go on dates, whether it's to the Oscars or a local museum; take vacations (cycling and boating with Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen and the Obamas, anyone?); and FaceTime when work inevitably keeps them apart. (Hanks said on The Bill Simmons Podcast that one of his favorite-ever movies to make was A League of Their Own because he was able to bring his whole family on location that summer.)

But he and they make it a point not to be separated for long and, whenever they can, they go together. Wilson has traveled the globe with Hanks on shoots, they've worked together on occasion, such as on Sleepless in Seattle and That Thing You Do—and when she went on tour with her band in 2016, she had to get a bigger bed for her tour bus because her husband was coming along for the ride.

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"We have so much fun," Wilson told E! News at the Inferno premiere in 2016. "Being on location is one of the greatest things. We've gone all over the world. We've taken our family. We've gotten to live in cities that you normally wouldn't get to live in and become a normal person and going to the market and finding your favorite coffee store and shop. Just pretending that you're a local and that's really great. You don't feel rushed."

But while she was describing the considerable perks of being Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, their day-to-day also includes trying to maintain a certain level of privacy to counter the publicity that comes with being the faces of all that's still right in the world. 

Asked what they had planned for her birthday the next day, Wilson told E!," Oh, we're not talking about that, those are private plans."

"Ix-nay on the an-plays," Hanks interjected. "Gotta maintain the temple sometimes, you know? Nobody's allowed inside the holy of holies, if you know what I mean." In 2017 Hanks similarly described plans for their 29th anniversary as "top-secret plans that are going to set the world on fire."

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The pair are prominently visible as a Hollywood power couple but aside from interview-friendly family anecdotes, peppered in recent years by the occasional Instagram post featuring their now-adult kids, they maintain a pretty glossy exterior (Hanks sharing his bursitis procedure on WhoSay notwithstanding).

They always protected their children's privacy when the kids were little and are the opposite of a tabloid-friendly couple—though they've had an easier time of it than some, getting together and raising their kids in the less-information age.

That being said, even these two aren't immune from the specter of split rumors that has haunted pretty much every celebrity couple to ever dare go public. But in true unicorn fashion, Hanks and Wilson managed to capture the elusive National Enquirer public apology in 2016 when the tabloid erroneously reported that they were going to divorce. The usually unflappable couple agreed that the story was "insulting."

Wilson also abandoned her comfort zone to speak out after she was treated for breast cancer.

"With my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma," she revealed first via People in April 2015. "I am recovering and most importantly, expected to make a full recovery. Why? Because I caught this early, have excellent doctors and because I got a second opinion."

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

She continued, "I feel blessed to have a loving, supportive husband, family, friends and doctors and that I am the beneficiary of advances in the field of breast cancer and reconstruction. I am getting better every day and look forward to renewed health."

Wilson admitted to the New York Times that, contrary to how it might seem, revealing that much about her truly personal life wasn't easy. But she also felt it was important to share her story in case it could help other women.

"I'm in public because of the nature of what I do," she said, "but I don't feel it necessary to let the world know what I'm thinking, where I'm eating. I've always liked being on the periphery of things."

Andrew D. Bernstein /NBAE via Getty Images

And she said about that husband of hers, "Who knew it would make you even closer?" When she was undergoing treatment, the longtime Malibu residents hunkered down at home catching up on Oscar screeners and Hanks stepped up.

"You never know how your spouse is going to react in a situation like this," Wilson said. "I was so amazed, so blown away by the care my husband gave me. It was such a normal, intimate time."

He's just kind of like that, though. (But it's telling that even Wilson can still be blown away by all that Hanksiness, that's how lovely he is.)

"All I can do is bow down before the courage of my wife," Hanks told The Mirror in 2016. 

Jeff Vespa/WireImage

Another hallmark of their relationship is how supportive Hanks is of Wilson in all of her endeavors, be it her acting, music or philanthropy—and better yet, he doesn't look at himself as some benevolent super-being. He's simply a devoted partner.

"My wife and my daughter have yet to allow themselves to be defined by only the man in their lives," Hanks told Emma Watson, his co-star in The Circle, when she interviewed him for Esquire in 2016. "The women I have worked with and those I seek inspiration from have had different perspectives on all there is to have an opinion on in this world, and I have always learned from listening to them. My support of those women and those in my family has been the same as it has for any man or any of my sons."

And at the end of the day, he and Wilson just like each other and really like being married to each other.

Rob Kim/Getty Images for 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

"People say, 'Jeez, it must be hard to stay married in show business,'" Hanks told The Mirror. "I think it's hard to stay married anywhere, but if you marry the right person, it might work out. We give each other a natural sense of support for whatever the other wants to pursue. Our marriage doesn't require vast work. We have been married 28 years and dig each other a lot."

Some tunes never go out of style.

At her induction into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where her husband spoke admiringly of her talent, Wilson told Us Weekly, "It's like anything. We got married, we committed to each other, we love each other and we work hard at our relationship."

"Not only do we love each other," she added, "we really like each other, and we like being together, and we support each other and we keep the communication channels open. That's always important."

Meanwhile, Hanks told the audience about his wife's long career, "The lesson here is that Rita Wilson knows what she is doing. Her instincts are wicked sharp."

We can't help but agree.

(Originally published April 30, 2018, at 5 a.m. PT)