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Photos: Mel Gibson

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  1. Talk to the hand

    Jodie Foster directs Mel Gibson in the much-delayed film "The Beaver." Gibson is Walter Black, formerlly a successful toy executive and family man who now suffers from depression. No matter what he tries, Walter can't seem to get himself back on track ... until a beaver hand puppet enters his life. (Summit Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Ready to plead

    Gibson arrives at Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles on March 11, 2011. Prosecutors charged Gibson with misdemeanor battery after a lengthy investigation into a fight with his then-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. Gibson pleaded no contest to resolve the case and faced no jail time. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tough to hear

    At the height of her conflict with Gibson, Grigorieva released audio recordings through the website RadarOnline that captured Gibson raging against her. (Mikhail Metzel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Short-lived romance

    After nearly 30 years of marriage to wife Robyn, Gibson left her for Grigorieva, who has a son from an earlier relationship with actor Timothy Dalton. Gibson and Grigorieva had a daughter, Lucia, on Oct. 30, 2009, but split up in April of 2010. (Jacques Brinon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Will audiences come?

    Gibson, center, speaks on set during the filming of "Apocalypto" in 2006. This historical epic follows the decline of the Mayan civilization 600 years ago, just before Spanish invaders conquered Central America. The story revolves around one native who fights to save his culture from the outsiders. (Andrew Cooper / Icon Distribution via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. After the rant

    Gibson had his police mug shot taken July 28, 2006, in Los Angeles after he was arrested for drunk driving. He was pulled over for speeding and had a blood alcohol reading of 0.12 percent, according to authorities. More notoriously, Gibson let loose an anti-Semitic tirade, blaming the Jewish people for all "the wars in the world." (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept.) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 'Apocalypto' now

    Gibson pulls on his beard during a news conference held in Veracruz, Mexico, Friday, Oct. 28, 2005. Gibson announced the shooting of "Apocalypto," a film in which the dialogue is spoken in an obscure Mayan dialect. (David Hernandez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Gibson's 'Passion'

    Gibson directs Jim Caviezel as Jesus on the set of Gibson's movie "The Passion of The Christ." The film was based on the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ. The film grossed more than $370 million. Gibson was criticized by some for the film's perceived anti-Semitism. (Icon Prodictions via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Good soldier

    In "We Were Soldiers" (2002), Gibson played Lt. Colonel Hal Moore who, during the Vietnam War, had to lead his men into a small clearing where they were surrounded by 4,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. The ensuing battle was one of the most savage in U.S. history. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Man of the People

    Gibson accepts his trophies for favorite motion picture star in a drama and favorite motion picture actor during the People's Choice Awards in January, 2001. (Lucy Nicholson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Finding his inner female

    Gibson tried his hand at romantic comedy in "What Women Want" (2000). Nick (Gibson), a chauvinistic hot-shot advertising exec, has his life turned haywire when a fluke accident enables him to hear what women think. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Seeking his son

    Gibson starred in 1996's "Ransom" as a multimillionaire whose young son (played by Brawley Nolte) is kidnapped for ransom. (Getty Images / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Oscar winner

    Mel Gibson holds Oscars for best director and best picture for "Braveheart," at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Gibson shared the best picture award with producers Alan Ladd and Bruce Davey. (Jeff Haynes / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Director and star

    In "Braveheart" (1995), Gibson played William Wallace, a Scottish rebel who leads an uprising against the cruel English ruler Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan), who wishes to inherit the crown of Scotland for himself. (AFP -Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. No pretty-boy role

    In "The Man Without a Face" (1993), Gibson plays Justin McLeod, a former teacher whose face was disfigured in an automobile accident and fire who lives as a recluse. He is befriended by a young man named Chuck (Nick Stahl), which ignites suspicion and hostility from the townspeople. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Sci-fi drama

    In "Forever Young" (1992), a 1939 test pilot asks his best friend to use him as a guinea pig for a cryogenics experiment. Daniel McCormick (Gibson) wants to be frozen for a year so that he doesn't have to watch his love lying in a coma. The next thing Daniel knows he's awoken in 1992. The film also features a very young Elijah Wood, right. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Together for decades

    Gibson and wife Robyn attended the "Hamlet" premiere in Los Angeles on Dec. 18, 1990. Gibson married Robyn Moore in 1980 and they divorced in 2009. They have seven children together. (Barry King / WireImage.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A mother's son

    In "Hamlet" (1990), Gibson took on Shakespeare's melancholy Danish prince. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, the film also starred Glenn Close as Hamlet's mother Gertrude. In real life, Close is only nine years older than Gibson. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Come fly with me

    Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. starred in 1990's "Air America," about two pilots during the Vietnam War who discover their planes are being used to smuggle heroin. () Back to slideshow navigation
  20. It takes a team

    "Lethal Weapon" (1987) is the first of a series of movies that were released in 1987, 1989, 1992, and 1998, all starring Gibson and Danny Glover as a mismatched pair of Los Angeles police officers. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A tradition begins

    People's "Sexiest Man Alive" list began in 1985 with Mel Gibson. That year Gibson also starred in the final (at least for now, as there are talks of resurrecting the franchise) "Mad Max" film, "Beyond Thunderdome," opposite Tina Turner. (People) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Early troubles

    In 1984, Gibson starred as Fletcher Christian in "The Bounty," the story of Captain Bligh (Anthony Hopkins), whose cruelty leads to a mutiny on his ship. According to Wikipedia, Gibson and Hopkins did not get along during the shoot. At the time, Hopkins was a teetotaler, and Gibson was struggling with alcoholism. Gibson took to mixing two shots of Scotch with his beer. He dubbed the concoction "Liquid Violence." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Stunning early performance

    "Gallipoli" (1981) tells the story of a group of young Australian men who leave their various backgrounds behind and sign up to join the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) in World War I. They each meet their fates against the Turkish army in the infamous battle. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. 'Mad' Mel

    In "Mad Max" (1979), an Australian dystopia of decaying order and violent highways, a police pursuit driver is drawn into a path of vengeance after a motorcycle gang targets him for the death of their former leader. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Auspicious beginnings

    Gibson made his feature-film debut in "Summer City" (1976), a low-budget Australian teen drama that chronicles the exploits of a quartet of boys who leave Sydney and head out for a weekend of surfing and adventure. Unfortunately the fun takes a serious turn when they find themselves involved in a murder. (Platinum Disc) Back to slideshow navigation
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msnbc.com contributor
updated 6/1/2009 2:46:49 PM ET 2009-06-01T18:46:49

I’ve never been the type to throw things at the television screen out of anger. But I’ll admit I did shout something nasty at my TV when I caught Mel Gibson yukking it up with Jay Leno and calling himself “Octo-Mel” since his pregnant girlfriend is carrying his eighth child.

My anger, of course, was directed at Gibson’s hypocrisy. Not so long ago, Gibson was the world’s best-known Traditionalist Catholic, talking about his preference for the old-style teachings of Vatican I (no divorce, no Russian girlfriends while still married). These days, he’s not yet divorced and living the kind of life he preached against. What’s worse is that Gibson seems unrepentant, to use church lingo. Even publicity mongers Jon and Kate Gosselin seemed more chastened when confronted with their alleged indiscretions. And that’s saying something.

Five years ago Gibson co-produced, co-wrote and directed, “The Passion of the Christ,” a film he said his beliefs inspired him to make. Back then, he spent a lot of time talking about his “spiritual journey,” not cracking jokes on late-night TV. Gibson’s zealotry turned some people off (especially the media tastemakers), but he stood his ground despite some very vocal criticism.

Gibson put up his own money to get “The Passion of the Christ” made, and then couldn’t find a distributor because of the film’s graphic goriness and claims by the Anti-Defamation league that it was anti-Semitic. Still, he did his best to quiet the naysayers and got his vision of the Crucifixion onto the big screen. It went on to be the top grossing film of 2004 and one of the biggest in the country’s history.

Gibson had no qualms about telling people that the topic of his film — the Crucifixion of Jesus — was a huge deal to him, and should be to all of us. As he said to Reader’s Digest: “I wanted to impress on the viewers the enormousness of this sacrifice, the willingness — and the horror of it. I wanted to overwhelm people with it.”

It’s an American tradition to champion people who overcome obstacles, so Gibson’s story struck a chord with a lot of people, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with his views. But there’s also an American tradition of despising hypocrites, especially religious ones. That meme was popularized by author Sinclair Lewis in 1927, when he drew on real life examples to paint a vividly disturbing portrait of a religious charlatan in his classic novel “Elmer Gantry.”

Celebrities and scandals
Gibson has now become a modern Elmer Gantry. Forget Vatican I, the new Vatican still says adultery and out-of-wedlock births are a no-no. Oh, and if Mel gets remarried, that marriage won’t be recognized unless he gets the first annulled. Strike three! Mel’s out!

Gibson’s indiscretions are somewhat similar to those of Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker, the TV preachers of the 1980s whose careers were brought down by sex scandals. Although their situations seemed more serious than Gibson’s because they were televangelists, they were not taken seriously by the majority of the public. Gibson, on the other hand, has movie star power and reached more people with “The Passion” than they ever did, since it was a worldwide hit.

Like them, he also didn’t walk it like he talked it. In 2004, the New York Daily News reported that Gibson “has spoken out against the reforms of Vatican II (and) promoted his anti-abortion and anti-divorce views.”

What’s different this time around is the reaction from the media. Since Gibson had more influence, his fall from grace should be a lot worse. You’d think someone, somewhere, in medialand might have called him on being, you know, a phony. Hell, David Letterman was tougher grilling Paris Hilton over her stint in jail than Leno was with Gibson, who violated the very Catholic tenets he supposedly stood for.

But it’s not the 1980s anymore, and celebrity now trumps morality when it comes to wrongdoing. Had Bakker and Swaggart been around today, they probably would have gotten to spin a reality show out of their scandals, instead of sobbing on the idiot box.

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It’s the same with politicians. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was at the center of a political scandal last year, but now he’s writing opinion pieces for the Washington Post and Slate, and everyone is behaving as if nothing ever happened.

Turning religion into money
All of which makes me wonder if Mel Gibson’s passion for “The Passion of the Christ” was ever sincere. Or was he just in it for the money, like a better-looking, more articulate version of those cheesy TV preachers? Proselytizing is one thing; it’s part of many religions. Profiteering is another.

Also, when anyone who is religious seems too exhibitionist, it throws the purity of their intentions into doubt. After all, one of the most popular passages of the New Testament admonishes making a show of your religion.

Gibson supposedly found religion nearly 20 years ago and had said it straightened up his wild life as a movie star. But his religious beliefs suddenly surfaced in public about the time he had a film to promote. They sure don’t seem to be on the front burner now that he’s heating it up with a new girlfriend on the side.

The crude anti-gay comments Gibson made back in 1992 didn’t seem to hurt his career. And when Gibson went on an alcohol-fueled, anti-Semitic tirade after his drunk driving arrest in 2006, conservative commentator Michael Medved (who is Jewish) seemed willing to forgive him, if grudgingly. But you wonder if the millions of people who shelled out money to see “The Passion of the Christ” will be as forgiving.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe “The Passion of the Christ” was just “product” to Mr. Gibson, and should be considered something of a spiritual kin to Paris Hilton’s reality show “The Simple Life.” Pun intended.

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