Hollywood needs to forgive Mel Gibson and let him work, actor Robert Downey Jr. chided a star-studded audience during a recent awards acceptance speech:
Gibson presented an American Cinematheque Award to Downey, who revealed to the crowd that he had the troubled actor-director onstage for a reason:
"I humbly ask that you join me, unless you are completely without sin—in which case you picked the wrong f**king industry—in forgiving my friend his trespasses, offering him the same clean slate that you have me, and allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame."
Downey and Gibson (who costarred in the 1990 film "Air America") both struggled with substance abuse and multiple scrapes with the law, but Downey revealed during his at-once funny and poignant speech that Gibson greatly helped the now-clean and sober "Iron Man" star when he was down and out and practically blackballed by the industry:
"When I couldn't get sober, he told me not to give up hope, and he urged me to find my faith. It didn't have to be his or anyone else's as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn't get hired, so he cast me in a lead of a movie that was actually developed for him. And he kept a roof over my head, and he kept food on the table. And most importantly he said that if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoings, and if I embraced that part of my soul that was ugly—hugging the cactus, he calls it—he said that if I hugged the cactus long enough I would become a man of some humility and that my life would take on a new meaning, and I did, and it worked.
"All he asked in return was that someday I'd help the next guy in some small way. It's reasonable to assume that at the time he didn't imagine that the next guy would be him or that someday was tonight."
Gibson was atop the cinematic mountain after the commercial success of his self-financed blockbuster, "The Passion of the Christ," in 2004. But just two years later he was arrested for drunk driving in Malibu, making infamous anti-Semitic statements during the traffic stop. Soon after he divorced his wife of 26 years then took up with the younger Oksana Grigorieva, only to see that relationship come crashing down over allegations of spousal battery. During the custody case for their 23-month-old daughter Lucia, Gibson said he "slapped Oksana with an open hand in an attempt to bring her back to reality."
Gibson's career has been in a tailspin ever since. He was dropped from a cameo role in the comedy "The Hangover 2" after complaints from cast and crew, and critics savaged his comeback performance in "The Beaver." Gibson is now developing a movie about a second-century Jewish warrior, Judah Maccabee, which outraged members of the Jewish community.
“It would be a travesty to have his story told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views,” Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League told the Hollywood Reporter.
Downey, however, declared to the Beverly Hills audience last Friday that Gibson has "hugged the cactus long enough!" He added that Gibson "taught my many things, and I will use the 'C' word -- courage. There's nothing so much wrong with him. Of course you have to worry about the guy making the judgment here. He's a good dude with a good heart."