Gibson's friends react to DUI, comments

Some colleagues say they were aware of actor's drinking


No one saw it coming. Not his agent or his bosses - the shoot he had just wrapped had been long, strange and physically difficult but not out of control. Not the Malibu, Calif., restaurant owner who served him appetizers early that fateful evening, nor the two young women with whom he later posed for pictures. Certainly the friends with whom he spent his last scandal-free afternoon had no idea that Mel Gibson was about to go on a life-changing bender. If they had, they would have done everything to stop it - because while conventional wisdom has it that Mel Gibson has been sober since the early '90s, some close to him acknowledge that he has been on and off the wagon for years.

"I have been with Mel when he has fallen off," says producer Dean Devlin, who had spent the afternoon before the arrest with Gibson, "and he becomes a completely different person. It is pretty horrifying."

And horrified is exactly how Devlin and many of Gibson's friends felt when they heard that the actor/director, in the course of his arrest for drunken driving, made sexist and anti-Semitic remarks, including the now-infamous charge that "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving while intoxicated.

Devlin and Tom Sherak, a partner at Revolution Studios who once headed distribution at 20th Century Fox, had spent that Thursday afternoon screening Devlin's film Flyboys for Gibson, and he seemed very much himself. "We were kidding around, talking about our kids. He was very friendly," said Sherak, who met Gibson when working on Braveheart.

"I consider Mel one of my best friends in Hollywood," said Devlin, who met Gibson while co-producing The Patriot. "I'm Jewish. If Mel is an anti-Semite, then he spends a lot of time with [Devlin and his wife], which makes no sense. But he is an alcoholic and while that makes no excuse for what he said, because there is no excuse, I believe it was the disease speaking, not the man."

His sentiments were shared by longtime friend Jodie Foster, who, when she heard the news while on the New York set of her new film, simply refused to believe it.

When it was confirmed, Foster said, she was stricken with sadness that a man she considers "one of the nicest, most honest men I have ever met" had taken such a fall. Although she and Gibson speak regularly, Foster had no idea he was drinking again. "Is he an anti-Semite? Absolutely not. But it's no secret that he has always fought a terrible battle with alcoholism."

Like Devlin, she does not believe drunkenness excuses racist remarks, but she bristles at accusations in the media that Gibson is using his alcoholism as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card from charges of racism.

"It is a horrible disease, and it affects everyone differently," she said. "I have seen it take many paths in people I know. For some, it is a soft slide off the barstool, and some experience true psychotic episodes." She points to friend Christian Slater, who has had many drunken run-ins with the law, including a 1997 conviction for assaulting his girlfriend, as an example of the personality-changing effects alcohol can have on the alcoholic.

"Would I have believed Christian Slater, who is the nicest, gentlest man in the world, would hit a woman? No," she said. "Mel is honest, loyal, kind," she added, "but alcoholism has been a lifelong struggle for him and his family." (The actor and wife, Robyn Gibson, have been married for 26 years and have seven children.)

According to Wensley Clarkson, author of Mel Gibson: Man on a Mission, "he's always fallen off the wagon quite regularly. He is two people, a person of two extremes."

Of course, the condemnation and speculation that has seized Hollywood since Gibson was arrested July 28 are not about an alcoholic's Big Slip - had Gibson confined his remarks to a few general obscenities, this would have been, at most, a two-day sensation. But anti-Semitism doesn't fly in Hollywood, especially coming from a man whose father is a documented Holocaust denier and whose last film, The Passion of the Christ, left many Jews, and Christians, in pain.

"It's been like a powder keg waiting to explode for so long," said Clarkson, who devoted a huge section of his book to Hutton Gibson's anti-Semitism. Gibson "refused to condemn his father."

Even at 50, friends admit, Gibson has a seemingly physiological inability to filter his remarks even when sober - about 14 years ago he apologized to the gay and lesbian community for homophobic remarks. As recently as two years ago, he said publicly that there was a good possibility that his wife would be going to hell because she is not Catholic.

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