At the British premiere of Mission Impossible, the actor spots two boys being crushed by the mob of 10,000 fans and pulls them both from the crowd. "He's my hero," says one of the boys. Cruise again comes to the rescue the following month: while on a yacht with his wife and friends, he sees a sailboat on fire and five people in a rubber raft nearby. Cruise immediately sends over his yacht staff to help the victims.
Cruise helps make "show me the money" into a national catchphrase with the romantic comedy Jerry Maguire. His performance earns another Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win. Director Cameron Crowe comments to PEOPLE on the star's turn as an energetic sports agent: "What he does in the movie is really subtle and funny, and there's no hardware attached. He's disarming and approachable."
Cruise, 34, graces PEOPLE's 50 Most Beautiful cover with Toni Braxton and Drew Barrymore. "He works extra hard to get you over the hump of being daunted by his looks," says Maguire director Cameron Crowe. "He's actually learned how to help you deal with it."
Magnolia premieres and Cruise earns new credibility for his dramatic work. The emotional role earns him a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and his third Oscar nomination.
Just a month after appearing happy together on a thrill ride in Vegas, Kidman and Cruise announce their separation. Though trouble was looming, says a friend of the actress, Kidman is "broadsided" by the public statement. Two days later, Cruise files a divorce petition, indicating he will try to block Kidman from making alimony claims. At stake in the divorce: $250 million in property, cash and other holdings.
Cruise opens up about his dyslexia. "All through school and well into my career," he tells PEOPLE, "I felt like I had a secret." The actor eventually learned to read as an adult, a technique developed by the founder of the Church of Scientology. The following year, with a shock of white hair, he plays the villain in Collateral, opposite Jamie Foxx.
After dating secretly for a couple of weeks, Cruise, 42, and Dawson's Creek actress Katie Holmes, 26, make their first public appearance as a couple in Rome at the David di Donatello Awards, the main national film awards in Italy.
On the Oprah Winfrey Show, Cruise announces his now-infamous declaration of affection for Holmes by jumping on Winfrey's couch. Despite an onslaught of speculation that Cruise's act is a publicity stunt, the actor's War of the Worlds director, Steven Spielberg, says it isn't. "What Tom did on Oprah," Spielberg tells Newsweek, "was exactly what Tom did with me when he first told me about Katie Holmes."
After just two months of dating, Cruise proposes to Holmes in Paris. "I want to marry her as soon as possible," he declares the following day. In October, the couple (now dubbed TomKat), announce they are expecting their first child together. On April 18, 2006, Holmes gives birth to a baby girl, named Suri.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): DAVID BENETT/ALPHA; COLUMBIA TRI STAR/KOBAL; CHRIS HASTON/NBC/AP; RIC FRANCIS/AP; Dreamworks; THOMAS LAU/TLP; Jean-Paul Pelissier/REUTERS/Landov