For most of his adult life, Richard Gere has seemed more interested in Buddhas than babies. When then-wife Cindy Crawford told PEOPLE in 1992 that she wanted a family, Gere responded with monklike equanimity: "I would rather be able to think of all creatures as my children."

Looks like his thinking has changed. On July 7—five days after Crawford and husband Rande Gerber became first-time parents—Gere, 49, announced that he is expecting a child with his girlfriend of four years, former Law & Order star Carey Lowell, 38. Gere is said to be "thrilled" about the baby, which is due early next year, according to his publicist, who also beat back suspicions that Gere's announcement was designed to steal attention from his ex's happy news.

Whatever his motivation, Gere's No Kids Allowed sign has come down thanks to his warm relationship with Lowell's daughter Hannah, 9, from the actress's five-year marriage to actor-director Griffin Dunne, 44, which ended in 1995. Hannah, who starts fourth grade in the fall, lives with Gere and Lowell in their Greenwich Village townhouse; Dunne's apartment is nearby. By all accounts they make a friendly foursome. Gere "is deeply fond of Hannah, [but] he understands Griffin is the father," says a friend of Lowell's. "It's very civilized. Hannah has two families that are friendly with each other." Paul Weinstein, whose child is a schoolmate of Hannah's, recalls seeing Gere standing quietly in the hallway of the nearby private school one afternoon. "All of a sudden," he says, "I saw Hannah run out of the classroom and jump into his arms."

Gere's domestication, however, is but one step at a time; the star has expressed no interest in tying the knot again since his four-year marriage to Crawford ended in 1995. Already, Gere and Lowell have what friends and family call an ideal relationship. "Carey's a very nice young woman," says Gere's father, Homer, an ex-insurance salesman in Syracuse, N.Y. "My wife [Doris] and I are looking forward to seeing the baby."

On the surface, Lowell has a great deal in common with Crawford. Both are models with brains; Lowell appeared in print fashion ads while studying literature at New York University. But the Huntingon, N.Y., native also shares some of Gere's quirkier traits. She has an interest in environmental causes, has practiced Buddhism in recent years (Crawford is a non-practicing Protestant) and sincerely seems to enjoy going along on his pilgrimages to India. "She's very committed to Buddhism," Gere told the L.A. Daily News in 1997, "so there's no tension about that at all. You know, if you're on a path, it's almost impossible if your partner's not on the same path."

Their paths first crossed in late 1995, but the relationship didn't become public until the following year, when he brought her to the premiere of his movie Primal Fear. But the couple have for the most part kept their relationship private. When vacationing at Lowell's house in Southampton, says author and Hamptons resident Steven Gaines, the couple are "not on the party circuit, they're not on the benefit circuit. They're very, very quiet. The local paparazzi never get them." The actress has already shown that she values motherhood above her career. Last year she dropped her Law & Order role as assistant D.A. Jamie Ross after only two seasons, "because she felt Hannah spent too much time with the nanny," according to a friend.

It remains to be seen whether Gere will slow down as well. He stars in this month's Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and is soon due to begin filming Autumn in New York with Winona Ryder. But if his relationship with Hannah is any indication, fatherhood should come naturally. As Gere told USA Today in 1997, "Kids like me—because I'm goofy."

Dan Jewel
Eve Heyn and Ward Morehouse III in New York City and Michelle Caruso and Karen Brailsford in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Eve Heyn,
  • Ward Morehouse III,
  • Michelle Caruso,
  • Karen Brailsford.