Melissa Herwitt / E! Illustration
by Natalie Finn | Mon., Apr. 30, 2018 5:00 AM
Melissa Herwitt / E! Illustration
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 Wilsonis the star of this operation, this enduring love affair that started in the 1980s 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 believe it then, and we don't believe it now.
"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. That's a man.
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Hanks and Wilson are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, known as the Pearl Anniversary—a fitting metaphor, since a natural pearl is both rare and requires regular maintenance and careful handling so it remains shiny for the long haul.
For starters, in lieu of regular polishing with a soft cloth, Hanks is a generous giver of massages. "Sometimes we're just sitting on the couch talking or something like that...I don't even have to ask for them," Wilson told People in 2016. "He always gives me back and foot rubs. He's just cool."
Tom and Rita are just cool, in fact.
"Sometimes I look at that lady in the morning looking all tousled and warm from bed in her sweats and her hair all piled up on her head … smokin' hot," Hanks relayed his appreciation for the finer things in life on a 2017 episode of Phoebe Robinson's Sooo Many White Guys podcast.
They first laid eyes on each other in person (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) in 1981 when Wilson appeared on an episode of Bosom Buddies, Hanks' short-lived but classic in a campy way sitcom about two ad men 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. They were parents to son Colin Hanks and daughter Elizabeth would be born 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 had just had his big movie break in Splash, the role that launched him toward becoming the premiere leading nice guy of the 1980s and 1990s.
"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. (But don't worry, he's still Tom Hanks.)
"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 to BBC 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 life 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.
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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 BBC 4. "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."
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.
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 gotten 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."
Don't mistake him admitting that he and Wilson are only human as some sort of celebrity-cry for help.
"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. 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."
When he talked to Oprah 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, more recently, recording artist, 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 (at home and in public).
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.
"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 twice since, but really, the Academy has to get him back up there.)
Asked about that speech's swoon factor, he told Oprah, "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."
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Meanwhile, public declarations of love aside, Hanks and Wilson also have to attend to the brass tacks of being married.
As they enter 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 Oprah, Bruce Springsteen and the Obamas, anyone?); and FaceTime when work inevitably keeps them apart.
But 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.
"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 maintaining a certain level of privacy to counter the publicity that comes with being the faces of all that's right in the world.
Asked what they had planned for her birthday the next day, Wilson told us," Oh we're not talking about that, those are private plans." "Ix-nay on the an-plays," Hanks offered. "Gotta maintain the temple sometimes, you know? Nobody's allowed inside the holy of holies, if you know what I mean." Last year Hanks similarly described plans for their 29th anniversary as "top-secret plans that are going to set the world on fire."
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 (in addition to Colin and Elizabeth from Hanks' first marriage they have sons Chet and Truman together), they maintain a pretty glossy exterior (Hanks sharing his bursitis procedure on WhoSay notwithstanding). They always protected their children's privacy when they were young and are the opposite of a tabloid-friendly couple—which they've had an easier time of 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 in 2015.
"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 that April. "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."
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An initial biopsy came back negative, but at the encouragement of a friend who'd also had breast cancer, she went for a different kind of test. (She would go on to speak out more about her experience, the importance of preventative screenings and trusting your gut, and the couple are active with the Women's Cancer Research Fund.)
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 what it might seem like, being such a public figure, 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."
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And about that husband of hers, "Who knew it would make you even closer?" 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 unusual he is.)
"All I can do is bow down before the courage of my wife," Hanks told The Mirror in 2016.
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. (And make that an evolved, 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, these two like each other and really like being married to each other.
"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."
They've come a long way—and yet the sentiment has remained the same—as when, having been married for less than a year, Hanks won the Golden Globe for Big in 1989 and capped off his humorous, yet still remarkably thoughtful speech 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...but thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press."