LOS ANGELES — It was supposed to be Robert Downey Jr.'s night, but somehow Friday's American Cinematheque Award ceremony became all about Mel Gibson.
When the evening's honoree took to the stage at the Beverly Hills Hilton to accept his doorstop, he had a clear message for Hollywood.
"I urge you to forgive my friend his trespasses," Downey said to loud applause. "Allow him to pursue this art without shame."
It was Gibson who handed out the award to the "Iron Man" star. That was a choice Downey made clear he had made in part to help his friend rehabilitate his image.
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Gibson has become something of an industry pariah in the wake of taped phone calls during which he had used racial slurs and threatened to beat his estranged girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva. Prior to that, Gibson was already on thin ice with Hollywood, having made anti-Semitic remarks when he was arrested in 2006 for driving under the influence.Slideshow: Mel Gibson's rocky road (on this page)
Gibson was dropped from a cameo in "Hangover 2" after cast members rebelled, although lately Warner Brothers has made a deal with the actor-director to explore an action film about a Biblical-era Jewish rebellion against oppressors. That too has drawn angry responses from Jewish leaders.
Downey, who had well-publicized bouts with drinking and drug abuse, said that by sticking up for Gibson, he was simply returning the favor. After his imprisonment and arrests on drug charges made him uninsurable and thus prevented him from being hired in Hollywood, it was Gibson who stepped up and paid his insurance bond on the 2003 film "The Singing Detective."
"He kept a roof over my head and put food on my table," Downey remembered.Slideshow: Career of Robert Downey Jr. (on this page)
He said that all Gibson asked in return was that Downey do the same for another person who was struggling.
"It is reasonable to assume he didn't know the next guy would be him," Downey joked.
In response, Gibson mockingly hit his head against the set.
It's not clear if the gambit worked. Gibson's appearance in a sketch video ribbing Downey for playing a white man pretending to be a black man in "Tropic Thunder" drew laughs, but some were of the uncomfortable variety.
Moreover, the "Lethal Weapon" star stuck close by his friend and fellow presenter Jodie Foster when he entered the hotel ballroom and remained affixed to her throughout the evening as if she were a bulwark against an unfriendly press and public.
However, as Downey has demonstrated, Hollywood loves a comeback.
As "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau said of Downey at one point during the evening: "Not since Joseph in the Bible went from prison to prophecy has someone elevated themselves from so low."
Now it's Gibson's turn to pull off a miracle.
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