Mel Gibson: The Iconic Yet Controversial Actor and Filmmaker
Early Life and Career Beginnings
Born on January 3, 1956 in Peekskill, New York to Irish Catholic parents, Gibson moved with his family to Australia as a child to avoid the Vietnam War draft. There, Gibson discovered a passion for acting and landed his first roles in theater and film while still in his late teens. His rugged charisma soon earned high praise in Australia for performances in films like Summer City (1977) and Tim (1979), the latter of which won Gibson his first Australian Film Institute award for Best Actor.
Rise to Fame With 'Mad Max' and 'Lethal Weapon'
Gibson's star began to rise with his casting as the titular character in George Miller's dystopic action thriller Mad Max (1979). With Mad Max launching Gibson into international fame, he starred in several critically acclaimed Australian features like Gallipoli (1981) before making his American debut in The River (1984). The commercial success of the Lethal Weapon series in the late '80s and early '90s firmly cemented Gibson as a bankable Hollywood action star.
Gibson the Director: Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ
After striking a production deal with Paramount, Gibson founded the production company Icon Productions. Its first film was the thought-provoking drama Man Without a Face (1993) which Gibson also starred in and directed. However, Gibson's directorial prowess culminated with the multi-Oscar winning Scottish epic Braveheart (1995). Starring as historical hero Sir William Wallace, Gibson won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director for Braveheart while the film grossed over $200 million worldwide. Icon's next ambitious production was The Passion of the Christ (2004), Gibson's controversial, yet hugely profitable Biblical drama chronicling the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. Shot predominantly in Aramaic without a screenplay, Gibson invested $30 million of his own money to fund the production which went on to gross over $600 million worldwide, making it among the highest grossing R-Rated films ever.
Scandals, Controversies and Comeback
At the height of his fame and influence, Gibson's public standing began to deteriorate amidst a confluence of alcohol abuse accusations, homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic rants and domestic abuse charges by an ex-girlfriend. After years out of the public eye, Gibson reemerged as the leading man for the action thriller Edge of Darkness (2008).
While Mel Gibson continues to wrestle with personal demons, he has clung onto a career comeback via roles in independent films, B-movie exploitation flicks and ensemble action movies like Machete Kills (2013) and The Expendables 3 (2014). His acclaimed direction of the World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge (2016) earned Gibson new accolades, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. At 65, Gibson remains a complicated icon—both substantially gifted and deeply flawed. But the complexity of his legacy shows how even the most larger-than-life stars are profoundly human at the core.
Mel Gibson's Childhood and Early Inspirations
As the sixth of eleven children born to parents Hutton and Anne Gibson in Peekskill, New York, Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson led an Irish Catholic upbringing. Due to growing unease over Vietnam War conscriptions, Mel's father Hutton moved the entire family to Sydney, Australia in 1968 when Mel was 12 years old.
Young Mel attended St. Leo's Catholic College, an all-boys high school in Sydney. Upon graduation from high school, Mel briefly contemplated becoming a chef or a journalist before a surprise intervention by his sister landed him an audition at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) in Sydney. Despite no acting experience or training, Mel's combination of talent, luck and versatility secured him acceptance into NIDA's prestigious drama program.
Mel's Personal Life and Relationships
Mel Gibson has experienced major upheavals in his personal life. Married to Robyn Moore for nearly 30 years from 1980 to 2009, the couple has seven children together. Gibson then had a contentious relationship with ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, with whom he shares a daughter.
Gibson's high-profile divorces, custody disputes and frequent controversies have often distracted attention from his professional work. His battle with alcohol abuse also severely impacted his public conduct at times during the 2010s. However, recent sobriety and his relationship with champion equestrian vaulter Rosalind Ross signal hopes of stability in Gibson's recent and future endeavors.
Gibson's Breakout As Mad Max and Versatility As A Young Leading Man
After minor theatrical roles, Gibson landed his film debut portraying a surfer in the teen drama Summer City (1977). He continued studying drama at NIDA while playing small TV roles in cop shows and historical miniseries throughout the late 70s.
In 1979 came Gibson's career-defining performance as the title hero of George Miller's dystopian action thriller Mad Max. With limited dialogue and a gripping, kinetic visual style tailor-made for Gibson's raw charisma, the film became a runaway smash in Australia and abroad. Grossing over $100 million on just a $300,000 budget, Mad Max instantly made Gibson into Australia's hottest young star and a newly minted action movie icon thanks to enthusiastic reviews and Gibson's magnetic anti-hero persona.
Following Mad Max's phenomenal success, Gibson expanded his range with more complex, dramatic lead roles throughout the early 80s. He garnered a second AFI Best Actor Award for his unhinged yet sympathetic portrayal of a mentally challenged man in Tim (1979) opposite Piper Laurie. In Peter Weir's World War I drama Gallipoli (1981), Gibson's star quality elevated the film into a box-office smash in Australia while earning him acclaim as a soulful leading man. Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner then cast Gibson as a planter's rebellious son in the Golden Globe-nominated colonial drama The River (1984), establishing Gibson as a versatile talent poised for American stardom.