Last Friday in LA there was a benefit dinner in which Robert Downey Junior received the 25th American Cinematheque Award. But the night was actually all about Mel Gibson.
Downey had Gibson (the 'surprise guest') present him with the award and used his acceptance speech as a forum to ask Hollywood to forgive him: "Allow him to pursue this art without shame."
Now first thing I thought was: what a great mate to have. If I was in trouble, I know I'd like to have a Robert Downey Junior in my corner.
In fact, I do have. Years ago I landed in a whole heap of trouble. I was ostracised by almost the whole town I lived in. I didn't commit a crime or steal or physically hurt someone. But it sure wasn't my finest hour.
But what still brings a lump to my throat is the thought of a buddy I had not seen for fifteen years driving three hundred miles unasked and unexpected just to make sure I didn't stand alone on the worst day of my life. For him, it was a case of my mate, right or wrong. Friends like that are hard to find. I consider myself blessed. So the first thing I thought when I read this: Robert Downey Junior must be some kind of guy.
The second thing that leaped out at me is that it was also a great example of playing it forward. (Did you see the movie? I'm not so sure about the storyline but isn't it a fantastic concept?)
Downey has hardly had a blemish-free career himself. About ten years ago his well publicized drug problems resulted in a jail term and he lost his part in the hugely successful Ally McBeal TV series. It looked like he was finished. He was uninsurable until Gibson stepped up and paid his bond on the 2003 film "The Singing Detective." From that point on Downey's career returned to the upswing. "He kept a roof over my head and put food on my table," Downey remembered.
At the time all Gibson asked of him was to pay it forward - to do the same for someone else who was struggling. "It is reasonable to assume he didn't know the next guy would be him," Downey said.
|photo: Georges Biard|
Now I don't hold with any of things Mel did. There's no excuse. But like a great man once said, let ye who is without sin ... so I'm certainly not going to stick the boot in here. Besides, I don't get any satisfaction from seeing anyone who hasn't raped or murdered or abused children getting their head kicked in, in public.
So I'd like to focus on another question; one that involves each and every one of us.
Why have Hollywood producers turned their back on him? On moral grounds, because they themselves were offended by his actions?
Or was it because he had damaged the one thing every famous person courts assiduously; the public's perception of him? He screwed his box office.
People do confuse actors with the roles they play. When the lights go down and the opening credits roll, a part of us thinks it is real. It's why any story works.
We want to believe in Braveheart. Courage and loyalty and honour still mean something to us even in post Wall Street 2011; we may not admit it out loud, but many of us wish for true heroes in the world, not just in a Hollywood fantasy. So when Mel fell off his pedestal he had a long way to fall.
Celebrity in sports and in entertainment is extravagantly rewarded. Ultimately our heroes are rewarded by us, because it's our money at the turnstiles and box office that pays their wages. But what are rewarding our heroes for? For being able to sink three pointers in a tied game, for their skill at pretending to be someone else?
Or do we want them to also embody the roles they play?
Please have your say. It's a topic that involves every facet of modern celebrity. Tell me what you think: should Mel Gibson be hung drawn and ostracized - or if not, what can he do to be forgiven?