|August 12, 1971|
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A real-life Kentucky coal miner's daughter, Rebecca Gayheart was born on Aug. 12, 1971. The product of Irish, Italian, German and Cherokee Indian heritage, Gayheart moved to New York City at the age of 15, where she completed her education at New York's Professional Children's School. An alumni of the famed Lee Strasberg Institute, Gayheart got her big acting break in 1993, when she landed the role of the beautiful, but emotionally disturbed, temptress Hannah Mayberry on the daytime sudser, "Loving" (ABC, 1983-1995). Cut from the same fatally attractive cloth as Glenn Close's unforgettable cinematic wacko, Alex Forrest, of "Fatal Attraction" (1987), Gayheart's Hannah stalked college professors as her favored prey and became one of the most delicious fixtures in the soap's last two seasons.
Hot off her daytime success - and with her famous Noxzema ads featured prominently on TV and in print at that time - Gayheart was poised for the leap to primetime. In 1995, Gayheart won a recurring role on the iconic Fox hit, "Beverly Hills, 90210" (1990-2000) as Dylan (Luke Perry) McKay's long-awaited soul mate (and eventual bride,) Toni Marchette. A popular character with "90210" fans, Gayheart's Toni quickly won the hearts of viewers, before being tragically killed off eight episodes later, taking a brutal mob hit meant for Dylan. The reason, as it turned out, was that actor Luke Perry had been itching to leave "90210" to pursue the clichéd film career; so, rather than kill off the extremely popular Dylan, producers compromised by providing him an open-ended exit storyline in which he would take an extended leave of absence - naturally, to avenge his bride's murder. In other words, Toni Marchette's demise was planned from the very get-go. Her death remained one of the most shocking moments in TV history.
The dawn of the new millennium saw Gayheart's star continuing to rise, with roles in such popular teen feature films as "Scream 2" (1997) and "Urban Legend" (1998). She was also briefly cast as a series regular on the well-received, but short-lived WB drama, "WasteL.A.nd" (1999) - a "twenty-something" style ensemble drama created by "Scream" screenwriter, Kevin Williamson.
Unfortunately, Gayheart's personal and professional life both took a precipitously downward turn at the same time she was enjoying a certain level of post "90210" success. During the peak of her late-1990's fame, Gayheart was engaged to notorious bad-boy film director, Brett Ratner of "Rush Hour" fame. Their 10-year relationship came to an end in 1999, however, allegedly due to Ratner's habitual carousing. As it turned out, this turn of bad luck was only the beginning.
In the summer of 2001, actress Gayheart struck and subsequently killed a nine-year-old boy named Jorge Cruz Jr. as the latter was walking home from school. According to police reports, Cruz had crossed the street about 150 to 175 feet from the nearest crosswalk. While several cars stopped to let him pass, Gayheart reportedly swerved around them and turned directly into a two-way left-turn lane. In her impatience, Gayheart struck the Cruz boy with her car. Suffering from critical internal injuries, young Cruz died the next day at Los Angeles Children's Hospital. The boy's parents subsequently filed a wrongful death suit against Gayheart. In restitution, Gayheart agreed to pay for Cruz's hospital and funeral expenses and pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter on Nov. 27, 2001. The actress was sentenced to three years probation, a one-year suspension of her license, a $2,800 fine, and 750 hours of community service. Represented by high-profile Hollywood lawyer Harland Braun (who also defended actor Robert Blake), Gayheart's sweetheart deal was viewed by many critics as merely a slap on the wrist. To make matters worse, on the heels of this embarrassing mea culpa, Gayheart returned to the headlines later that year following yet another unfortunate auto accident in which she flipped her rental car into two parked vehicles. Luckily, no one was injured or killed this time and no charges were filed.
After a long and humbling dry spell, horizons looked significantly brighter for Gayheart by mid-decade. In 2004, Gayheart won a recurring role on the critically acclaimed drama "Nip/Tuck" (FX, 2003- ). Cast in the show's second season as a beautiful blind patient named Rebecca Charles, Gayheart's disarmingly sensual character became a romantic interest for Julian McMahon's Dr. Christian Troy. Though her storyline concluded that season, Gayheart's character (who was eventually cured of her blindness) was brought back for the show's fourth season to add some much-needed romantic spice.
Gayheart's personal life also underwent a positive transformation that year. In October of 2004, Gayheart married her boyfriend of nine months, fellow actor Eric Dane, while vacationing in Las Vegas, NV. So spontaneous was the couple's decision to wed, a taxi driver was recruited to serve as Dane's best man. Though the less famous of the two at the time of their nuptials, groom Dane would later go on to gain fame as the sexy Dr. Mark Sloan (a.k.a. "Dr. McSteamy") on the über-hit "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 2005- ), thrusting Gayheart proudly into the role of Mrs. McSteamy in the press.