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Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 08/ 1/2006

Parsing Mel's Meltdown

By Liz Kelly

For the second time in as many years, we are witnessing the unraveling of a fervently religious star.

The first, Tom Cruise, is taking the long way round. He hasn't lost all credibility, but his increasing deference to Scientology isn't doing his questionably flagging career any favors. The second -- Mel Gibson -- has literally gone straight to jail, without passing go, without collecting $200.

Gibson in October 2005. (Reuters)

Disbelief gave way to embarrassment-tinged outrage as details about Gibson's DUI arrest and subsequent anti-Semitic tirade trickled out over the weekend. The first thing to do, of course, was to make Mel the butt of our jokes, which I did here yesterday morning. The short-lived mirth has subsided, though. There just isn't much humor in watching a once-great superstar commit professional suicide by way of slurring an ethnicity and descending into alcoholism.

For some, though, there is an element of smug triumph in watching Gibson slowly twist in the wind. In 2004, he denied shades of anti-Semitism in his epic paean to Christianity, "The Passion of the Christ." The film helped make an increasingly galvanized segment of American Christians mainstream. Being an out, devout Jesus-lover was suddenly cool.

Nothing wrong with an upsurge in churchgoers, of course, until one of the architects of this social phenomenon outs himself as a hater of the worst kind.

Although Gibson has in the past denied sharing his father's views as a Holocaust denier and issued an apology for Friday's statements, many see the recent outburst as an "in vino veritas" confirmation of long-held suspicions about Gibson's less than charitable beliefs about non-Christians.

The truth will out, I suppose.

Personally, I'm left with nothing but pity for Gibson -- a cult legend for his work in "Mad Max" who earned directorial stripes with "Braveheart" and major success in both blockbusters ("Lethal Weapon") and actorly roles ("Gallipoli," "The Bounty") along the way. What a sad end note to a mostly stellar career.

Conscious or not, Gibson's extreme outburst -- like most extremes -- is a clear cry for help. Let's hope he gets it.

Update, 1:05 p.m. ET: Full text of Gibson's apology.

Discussion: Ray Richmond, entertainment media columnist for The Hollywood Reporter and blogger answers questions about the Mel Gibson case live at 4 p.m. ET.

By Liz Kelly  | August 1, 2006; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities  
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