…or so says Charlie Sheen. On the other hand, Sheen is a punk who reportedly beats up and threatens women, and, for all appearances, is another in a long line of bi-polar drug casualties spewing wacky witticisms at will until they crash, self-medicate, crash again and wind up in a box at the dead-end of their deluded adventure. I’ve seen it all before. In fact, I co-authored a book about it.
But Sheen is right about Mel Gibson being a rock star, and I set out to prove it a month ago with a book proposal that, to date has been systematically rejected by no less than twenty-four publishers. Editors seem to feel that the legendary Gibson isn’t worth the paper they’d print the book on, but Sheen is staged to get paid fountains of money by the Tweet, and he’s asking for a $10 million payday for his tell-all book. Call it “Bad Boy” – The life story of a spoiled brat from Malibu who banged a bunch of porn stars, assaulted his ex-wives and a couple of overnight hotel guests, and sleep-walked through eight seasons of a dumb sitcom. Snore…
A pundit just told me that Gibson is permanently in the doghouse, and the media is looking for the “redemption” angle on Sheen. Redemption from what? He’s the media’s moneymaker right now, and the last thing they want is for him to show up at church on Sunday.
Mel Gibson built his own church, and who among us stone-throwers hasn’t said unforgivable things from the bad end of a bottle of scotch? If anyone is ripe for redemption, it’s Gibson. Sorry Charlie.
Find below the “unauthorized” Mel Gibson biography proposal. Feel free to bid on it…
MEL GIBSON’S FALL FROM GRACE
(AND FINAL SHOT AT REDEMPTION)
A Book Proposal
By Mark Ebner
“All the evil in men comes from one thing and one thing alone: Their inability to remain at rest in a room.”
— Blaise Pascal, Pensees (1670)
Currently in Los Angeles, the opening salvos of what will ultimately become a holy war are being fired at close quarters, as lawyers engage in the preliminary arguments and strategic posturing of Mel Gibson’s custody hearings with former girlfriend, confidante, baby mama, fashion model, aspirational singer, diminutive litigant, Octomom dead ringer and “dark-eyed, beautiful little Communist” Oksana Grigorieva. Presumably to be determined in the proceedings is why Grigorieva turned down a reported settlement offer of $15 million before her story went public. But even that is mere prologue to the main event, in which Gibson will be asked to defend his actions toward his erstwhile soul mate, which may or may not include threats, assault and battery, mental and physical abuse and the reckless endangerment of a child. This should prove interesting, as the entire world has now heard Exhibit A:
“You go out in public and it’s a fucking embarrassment to me. You look like a fucking bitch in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers it’ll be your fault. All right? Because you provoked it! You are provocatively dressed all the time, with your fake boobs. You feel you have to show off in tight outfits and tight pants — you can see your pussy from behind. And that green thing today was enough. That’s provocative, okay? I’m telling you. I’m just telling you the truth! I don’t like it. I don’t want that, woman. I don’t want you! I don’t believe you anymore! I don’t trust you! I don’t love you! I don’t want you! Okay?”
Has anyone in the public eye ever melted down in quite so visceral a fashion? Certainly not since the advent of the Internet. A successful actor, director, producer, writer, mini-mogul, one-time matinee idol and the first ever People Magazine “Sexiest Man Alive” (in 1985, a mere quarter century and fifty credits ago – twice that if you count the titles his company has produced and distributed), today Gibson teeters perilously on the volcano’s rim separating eminence and infamy, or worse, anonymity – a black hole where there once was light and heat. Having now apparently been exposed in public as a racist, sexist, homophobe, anti-Semite, religious zealot, political reactionary, raging alcoholic, violent misogynist and staggeringly poor judge of character, he may have finally run out of chances, as well as friends in Hollywood – if such a thing exists – despite the roughly $2 billion he will have left behind as a byproduct of his efforts. Whether he can wriggle free of the crushing weight of public opinion, with or without amputating a limb, remains to be seen.
But either way, his fate will be determined very soon by events that have already been set in motion – a judgment that either will be broadcast in open court or else seep out one secret at a time, borne on the tide of parasites that will gather at the first smell of blood. Whether he is set upon by the mob or forgiven by his fans, scourged and flayed or afforded a rare salvation, it will happen all of a moment, once the greed, wealth, power, grace and karma swirling around him have all had their say.
And I will be there to watch it happen.
More than possibly anyone of his generation, Gibson has amassed his fortune in the film industry by defying expectations, even flouting conventional wisdom, and trusting whatever contrarian corrugations of spirit propel him sideways through life. The first of the roughly two dozen actors and directors currently populating A-list Hollywood who hail from Down Under (even predating Paul Hogan of Crocodile Dundee fame), he is not Australian at all, but rather Irish-American. He was born in Peekskill, New York in 1956, one of eleven children of Hutton Gibson, a railroad brakeman and former Catholic seminary student with a reportedly genius IQ, and the former Anne Patricia Reilly, who emigrated from Ireland. After being awarded $145,000 in a work-related injury lawsuit, and (according to the New Yorker) winning another $25,000 on the quiz show Jeopardy, Hutton moved the family first to Tipperary, Ireland, and then to Sydney, Australia, where his mother had been an opera star in the 1920s. This was in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, when Mel was 12, and the elder Gibson was adamant that his sons not qualify for the draft. Hutton was also a fierce critic of Vatican II, the Second Vatican Council that between 1962 and 1965 attempted to update and integrate the Catholic faith more fully into modern secular life. At his new home in Australia, he revived the original Latin mass, and soon founded his own church, eventually authoring three books highly critical of Catholic orthodoxy. Mel inherited not only his father’s outspoken demeanor, but also his doctrinaire theology (he later claimed that “Vatican II corrupted the Church; look at the main fruits – dwindling numbers and pedophilia”). After briefly considering entering the priesthood, he took up acting, appearing in a number of disposable Australian films and TV shows before being cast in Mad Max and its sequel, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the first breakout hits from the hyper-adrenalized Ozploitation movement. Those and the ensuing starring vehicles Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously made him an international star, as it did his directors, George Miller and Peter Weir. He married Robyn Moore, a pretty Australian dental hygienist, in 1980, and they eventually had seven children.
For the next decade and a half, as he became a fixture in American films, Gibson gained a reputation for both speaking off the cuff and drinking intensely, the latter once a colorful if destructive hallmark of the Irish contingent in Hollywood (Errol Flynn, W.C. Fields, John Barrymore, John Ford, John Wayne, John Huston and really too many more to mention). On The Bounty, a 1984 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (which, between the tragic lives or premature deaths of Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando and Gibson himself, might be said to have a curse on it), he reportedly baited co-star Anthony Hopkins to break his sobriety, and received his first DUI soon after in Toronto. Prior to shooting Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome that same year, co-star Tina Turner sent him a picture of himself from the tabloids with the admonition, “Don’t fuck this up for me.” He has said that during this period, he regularly drank five pints of beer before breakfast.
When the two – ill-chosen words and social lubricant – were combined indiscriminately, as they often were on press junkets in-between pictures, his quotes routinely became incendiary: In the Spanish newspaper El Pais in 1992, asked about the profusion of homosexuals in the dramatic arts, he helpfully noted, “They take it up the ass,” before clarifying, “”Do I sound like a homosexual? Do I talk like them? Do I move like them? I think not.” He later defused that situation by inviting ten gay and lesbian filmmakers on location for a makeshift filmmaking seminar. Three years later, he told Playboy, “Feminists don’t like me and I don’t like them. I don’t get their point. I don’t know why feminists have it out for me, but that’s their problem, not mine.” He has variously claimed he is manic-depressive, has excessive energy due to his “remarkably large kidneys” (which he gleaned from an MRI) and he told TV interviewer Diane Sawyer during his infamous Malibu DUI ordeal that for a period in his mid-thirties, he was suicidal. He also spent several major stints in rehab before allegedly giving up drinking – ostensibly through the direct intervention of his faith.
By all accounts, Gibson’s wife kept him on a very tight leash throughout the twenty-six years of their marriage. The description presented by his friends and colleagues is routinely that of an overgrown child, in the best sense of the term – someone with an arrested sense of humor (Hamlet co-star Helena Bonham Carter labeled it “lavatorial”), reveling in pranks, slapstick, outrageousness, often mooning his cast and crew after particularly serious takes (a signature gesture recreated in tableau in his movie Braveheart). But it doesn’t take a close reading of the facts to see that throughout his quarter-century in the public eye, Gibson has possessed a prodigious anger that was never more than a few centimeters below the surface. Everyone resents their critics; after the Passion of the Christ controversy, Gibson said of New York Times columnist Frank Rich, “I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. . . I want to kill his dog.” All movie stars find the paparazzi annoying, but only Gibson produced a vigilante revenge drama called Paparazzi in which a mid-level movie star hunts down four relentless celebrity photographers after they force his wife and child into an automobile accident, a la Princess Diana. And that was before the caricature of him panting in wordless rage was nailed to the cross of popular culture.
These two are flip sides of the same phenomenon, a failure of impulse control that’s either swept downstream by mania or else lodged to fester in the pit of desperation. Reconfigured over time, at its best, it makes Gibson appear fearless, impervious to risk, a daredevil in aspect and deed. At its worst, it suggests an innate recklessness that seems hell-bent on destruction. At key times in his public life, when this trait has bloomed into bright contrast with his affable persona and considerable personal charm, those witnessing the collision up close invariably describe it as a death wish.
What is most surprising, however, is that any of this should come as a surprise at all, given his body of work. Gibson continued to play the suave charmer in such Hollywood confections as Mrs. Soffel, Tequila Sunrise and Bird on a Wire, but it was the four Lethal Weapon films that connected with his public and made him one of the two or three most successful box-office stars of his era. In it, he plays Sgt. Martin Riggs, a police officer whose wife’s death has made him, in a word, suicidal. It is the ferociousness of his performance in that first film that made it easy to believe the actor brought something extra to the role beyond technique. Very quickly, this roll-the-dice, nothing-left-to-lose quality became evident in his choices both in front of and behind the camera. When sobriety-challenged actor Robert Downey couldn’t qualify for insurance on Air America, Gibson put up the insurance bond out of his own pocket. That same year, when the money couldn’t be found for his surprisingly action-oriented Hamlet, he started his own company, Icon Productions, rather than take no for an answer.
Gibson’s first film as a director was The Man Without a Face in 1993, in which his movie star looks were reconfigured as an open wound, making his performance difficult to even watch. As his follow-up, he chose a 13th century adventure story about the unfederated Scottish clans winning independence from England, a brutally savage depiction that everyone he knew advised him against. It won him the Academy Award for Best Director. His 2004 Passion of the Christ, with an unknown cast and subtitled dialogue in the original Aramaic, is legendary for both its degree of bloodletting – a splatter film for an audience with no immunity against them – and its unprecedented success: It grossed $370 million on an investment of $30 million, which he personally financed when no one else would. And he followed that up with an idea that was even more blinkered – Apocalypto, about 15th century Mayan ritual sacrifice, filmed in original period dialect – which was also wildly successful. He has stated that his dream project is about Vikings.
In the original Mad Max films, Gibson’s character, Max Rockatansky, was named for the “Rokitansky procedure,” the most common method of removing the internal organs during an autopsy. (Director George Miller is a medical doctor.) In Ransom, Gibson plays a self-made millionaire who, when his son is kidnapped, refuses to pay the ransom but offers it instead as a bounty on the kidnappers’ heads. In Conspiracy Theory, he’s a cab driver who has gone completely around the bend – a ranting crank that sounds suspiciously like Mel Gibson on the subject of the Zionist Occupation Government – but who, like the proverbial stopped clock twice a day, just happens to be right. Payback, a remake of the revenge drama Point Blank, was notable for its level of seething anger and bone-crunching brutality. In The Patriot, another revenge drama, he is propelled into the Revolutionary War when a sadistic English officer burns down his farmhouse. What Women Want is a send-up of the chauvinist character he often seemed in print. In Edge of Darkness, another child dies in his arms. Given the chance to produce his own movies, he chose TV biopics of Evel Knievel, the biggest daredevil of them all, and The Three Stooges, who reside at the perfect intersection of infantilism and sadism. Even his 2004 TV series, about an unrepentantly macho family, is called Complete Savages.
Over and over again, in the roles he plays in his films and the efforts he undertakes to get them to the screen, we see an undercurrent of rage exploding into extreme violence, an almost masochistic strain of wounded suffering, an autodidact’s certitude in the folly of received wisdom, the pre-enlightened (if not pre-Enlightenment) rowdy recast as lovable rogue, the maverick as bully and the impulsive gambler as unleashed id.
Is it really any wonder then that the liturgical literalist could refashion the biblical epic as medieval Catholic orthodoxy, only to be blindsided by widespread charges of anti-Semitism? That the ensuing seismic upheaval could shake the bedrock foundations of his carefully stage-managed domestic life? That he could fall hard off the wagon with a bottle of thirty-year-old Scotch, get pulled over on a Malibu stretch of Pacific Coast Highway where the cops knew him by sight, bridle at the sudden affront to his singular entitlement, lose his tenuous grasp on the quivering Napoleon Complex always vibrating just beneath the surface, and accidentally let a head full of vipers out into the open, where they could do the most damage? Or that, once he had ventured beyond the gates of Eden, he would find himself susceptible to the temptations of the flesh, and that once revealed as a simpleton and a chump, or worse, a rank midlife cliché – a misstep that would cost him his marriage, his dignity and half a billion dollars – he would go ballistic, saying things that were calculated to create as much verbal carnage as he could muster?
In that, it’s safe to say, he was successful.
I plan to write a no-holds-barred unauthorized biography of Mel Gibson threaded through this unique moment in time. In his case, the past really is prologue: The next six months will either usurp his reputation and status and render them obsolete, or else he will overcome the greatest challenge of his professional life, an act that may constitute nothing short of a miracle. Toward that end, I’ll pursue the recurring motifs in his life as burning fuses that have led him inexorably to the present:
I’ll interview his friends and co-workers in the business, all of who will have an opinion about how he got here. And I’ll take the pulse of a Hollywood community that in aggregate could prevent him from going the Mike Tyson route with a cameo in The Hangover 2, now apparently the designated recourse for rehabilitating a broken career, yet apparently be unconcerned when family sitcom star Charlie Sheen chases a porno queen into the bathroom of his hotel suite and screams racial epithets at the top of his lungs with his wife and children in the next room.
I’ll explore Gibson’s murky religion – widely viewed as ultraconservative and possibly crypto-fascist – even though he has made remarks critical of Presidents Bush and Carter, and once turned down the prestigious Chevalier des Arts et Lettres as a protest against France’s continued nuclear testing, making his politics at least an open question. I’ll plot a course through the world of the fundamentalist Christian community that made The Passion of the Christ such an unprecedented success, and investigate the ways in which a consummate Hollywood insider could establish such an intense bond with his outsider audience. And I’ll visit Gibson’s private church, which he built in 2003 in the hills above Malibu, and talk with congregation members, to determine how outside the mainstream its theology really is. (When asked once whether other brands of religion might be easier to practice than his, Gibson said, “Every other brand of everything is easier than what I do.”)
I’ll explore the charges against him as evidenced in his movies, his ill-considered remarks and those surreptitiously recorded phone tapes – particularly the inflammatory charges of anti-Semitism. I’ll dig into the circumstances of his father’s alleged interview response questioning details of the Holocaust, as well as the historical roots of Gibson’s counter-claim that “modern secular Judaism wants to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church.” And I’ll go a few rounds with Ari Emanuel, Chairman of William Morris Endeavor and the most powerful agent in Hollywood (not only the role model for Ari Gold on Entourage, but the agent who essentially packaged that show to begin with). Emanuel called for his peers to “professionally shun” Gibson after his 2006 DUI arrest, and currently appears to be spearheading the effort to get Gibson kicked out of Hollywood. As a fellow Jew, I don’t mind asking Emanuel if his reasons are the ones stated, or whether Hollywood has a long history of taking anyone down who threatens the studios’ status quo of doing business, as Gibson most certainly did with Passion, and Emanuel is just the most convenient hit man.
I’ll explore the parallel charges of racism, speaking with his long-time friend and Lethal Weapon co-star Danny Glover, who remains a staunch defender. And I’ll try to square Gibson’s apparent homophobia with his 30-year relationship with agent Ed Limato (recently deceased), who was gay, or his long-time close friendship with Maverick co-star and The Beaver director Jodie Foster. (Although Foster has never spoken out about her sexuality directly, she would seem an unlikely collaborator and confidante for anyone with a virulent disdain for homosexuals.) I’ll also explore the possibility that Gibson is a landmark casualty of digital culture, a realm with different rules of engagement – where secrets carry a premium, there is a disappearing line between public persona and private behavior, and the articles of impeachment against you can go viral in a heartbeat. In retrospect, Gibson may be a precedent for the collapse of celebrity itself.
I’ll delve into the world of the tabloids to create an X-ray and postmortem of this scandal – an area I’m particularly familiar with and adept at circumnavigating. For the better part of a year, I was a staff writer for American Media, owner of the National Enquirer, the Globe and the Star, and filed dozens of stories on celebrities and small-town atrocities, virtually all of them designed to reinforce the prevailing wisdom or tee up some private corporate synergy or spurious grudge. In 2004, I co-wrote the New York Times bestseller Hollywood, Interrupted for John Wiley & Sons, an interventional screed that diagnosed celebrity as a disease. More recently, I wrote Six Degrees of Paris Hilton, (Simon Spotlight 2009) – a fulsome crime story about a murderer and ex-con who penetrated the rarefied world of Hollywood nightclubs and low-level celebrity, and co-authored We Have Your Husband (Berkley Books/True Crime, May 2011) about a high-profile kidnapping that is being adapted into a Lifetime Network Movie (May 2011). Through these experiences, I’ve developed a working knowledge of the hustlers, grifters, pornographers, private investigators, pit bull lawyers, bodyguards, pimps, bagmen, opportunists and gossip-mongers who make up that world’s moving parts – a cast of characters that, regardless of the story, are invariably the same.
Already, without even really trying, I’ve fielded calls from Oksana Grigorieva’s representative promising me an exclusive interview (with his client chirping in agitated Russian in the background), interacted with her hired bodyguard and alleged lover who is shopping a book of his own, and run down the story of Violeta Kowal, a Polish “model and fitness instructor” who was also allegedly Gibson’s lover. Kowal has taken her story to the sounding board of Geraldo Rivera on Fox, hired serial victim’s advocate Gloria Allred to champion her cause and is waiting in the bullpen for the Oksana story to play out so she can have her own fifteen minutes in the exfoliating light of fame. Like with O.J. or any other story of this magnitude that sticks around long enough for us to focus on the background, characters like these will wriggle into the sunlight in droves. All you have to do is turn over another rock.
I’ll be a front-seat observer at any courtroom proceeding, following the procedural turns and deflections in the story in real time, while our star’s fate hangs in the balance. And I’ll highlight all those threads of the story you never hear about because they run counter to the prevailing narrative: How Gibson recognized himself in a disintegrating Britney Spears when she melted down and shaved her head, and flew her to his private compound in Costa Rica to relax and heal. His actions on behalf of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department – including filming a 2002 PSA in uniform – which caused arresting officer James Yee (who is Jewish) to tell the Associated Press, “I don’t take pride in hurting Mr. Gibson.” Or his philanthropic efforts, particularly with children and the environment, that have provided millions of dollars to charities around the globe.
Oddly, many of the strains in Gibson’s florid biography come to a point of convergence in The Beaver, his still unreleased would-be comeback film, most likely making its way to theaters in the months ahead as part of the pending media circus and slow-motion car crash. Putatively an overt comedy about a family man who suffers a mid-life crisis and finds redemption in an unorthodox form of therapy that employs a talking hand puppet, the film offers a disturbing parallel to the actor’s own subsequent trajectory. The eponymous beaver puppet speaks in a thick Australian brogue, with Gibson visibly mouthing the words in his adopted accent, to provide a subconscious running commentary on the character and his crack-up. In a way that could not have been envisioned as it was being filmed (except to the degree that character is always destiny), it now forms a weirdly prescient meta-commentary on the most extreme media supernova to date, and will look to the attentive observer like the two halves of Gibson’s unresolved personality finally duking it out on the big screen for our entertainment – a publicity stunt conjured up by the universe. Moreover, due to a coincidence of scheduling, Gibson was forced to return to reshoot the scenes of his psychological collapse at exactly the moment the Oksana tapes were being made public and his career was becoming unhinged. According to those who have seen it, this footage literally depicted a
man who was having a nervous breakdown played by a man who was having a nervous breakdown. Rather than another frothy comedy in the mode of What Women Want that can serve as a lightning rod for the animus accumulated against him, The Beaver, when it’s finally released, may wind up representing a privileged window on his mental health, as well as the best referendum on his actions and continued viability.
All of this burgeoning drama promises to create a perfect storm surrounding the fate of Mel Gibson, the flashpoint issues his story ensnares, and how we may choose to deal with the 20th century crucible of fame into the 21st century. It’s a story that involves literally every station of the Hollywood hierarchy, with a protagonist who pits the unfathomable heights and unchecked momentum of stardom against the impervious friction of atmospheric reentry. One whose chemical demons and signature brand of overblown insanity I can easily recognize from the bathroom mirror. It’s a story I can report in real time, with an ending that is anything but certain.
It’s a story I was born to write.
About Mark Ebner
New York Times best selling author Mark Ebner is an award winning investigative journalist who has covered all aspects of celebrity and crime culture for Spy, Rolling Stone, Maxim, Details, Los Angeles, Premiere, Salon, Spin, Radar and New Times among other national and international publications. He has repeatedly positioned himself in harm’s way, conducting over one-hundred in-depth investigations into such subjects as Scientology, Pit Bull fighting in South Central Los Angeles, the Ku Klux Klan in Texas, celebrity stalkers, drug dealers, murder, missing porn stars, sports groupies, college suicides and Hepatitis C in Hollywood.
Ebner has produced for and/or appeared as a journalist-commentator on NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, A&E, The BBC, Channel 4 (UK), SkyTV (UK), National Public Radio, Court TV, FX, VH-1 and E! Entertainment Television. He has been a featured guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Today Show, The Early Show, Inside Edition, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, Dylan Ratigan, Fox & Friends, Catherine Crier Live, Geraldo Live, and a host of other television and radio programs in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and Asia. In 2000, Ebner hosted his own nationally syndicated radio program, Drastic Radio, and co-authored the New York Times/Los Angeles Times bestseller, Hollywood, Interrupted (John Wiley & Sons) in 2005 with Andrew Breitbart of the Drudge Report.
Ebner consulted on the Emmy-nominated “Trapped In The Closet” episode of South Park for Comedy Central, consulted for NBC/Dateline on the “Paris Hilton Tapes” and “Burglar Bunch” reports, and field produced a one-hour VH1 special based on his last book. He also hosted Rich and Reckless, a crime show for TruTV in 2008 and recently authored the 2009 Hollywood crime book Six Degrees of Paris Hilton for Simon Spotlight Entertainment (optioned by 20th Century Fox Television) and We Have Your Husband (Berkley Books/True Crime, May 2011), which is being adapted for a Lifetime Network Movie (May 2011).
In his spare time, he blogs breaking news from the corner of Hollywood & Crime at HollywoodInterrupted.com.
Ebner is represented by Joel Gotler @ The Intellectual Property Group,
9200 Sunset Blvd., Suite 820, Los Angeles, CA 90069
tel: (310) 402-5154 fax: (310) 402-5153