Despite a thick Australian accent in some of his earlier films, actor Mel Gibson was born in Peeksill, NY, to Irish Catholic parents on January 3rd, 1956. One of eleven children, Gibson didn't set foot in Australia until 1968, and only developed an Aussie accent after his classmates teased him for his American tongue. Mel Gibson's looks have certainly helped him develop a largely female following similar to the equally rugged Harrison Ford, but since his 1976 screen debut in Summer City, Gibson has been recognized as a critical as well as physiological success.
Though he had, at one point, set his sights on journalism, Gibson caught the acting bug by the time he had reached college age, and studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, Australia, despite what he describes as a crippling ordeal with stage fright. Luckily, this was something he overcame relatively quickly -- Gibson was still a student when he filmed Summer City and it didn't take long before he had found work playing supporting roles for the South Australia Theatre Company after his graduation.
By 1979, Gibson had already demonstrated a unique versatility. In the drama Tim, a then 22-year-old Gibson played the role of a mildly retarded handy man well enough to win him a Sammy award -- one of the Australian entertainment industry's highest accolades -- while his leather clad portrayal of a post-apocalyptic cop in Mad Max helped the young actor gain popularity with a very different type of audience. Gibson wouldn't become internationally famous, however, until after his performance in Mad Max 2 (1981), one of the few sequels to have proved superior to its predecessor.
In 1983, Gibson collaborated with director Peter Weir for the second time (though it was largely overlooked during the success of Mad Max 2, Gibson starred in Weir's powerful WWI drama Gallipoli in 1981) for The Year of Living Dangerously, in which he played a callous reporter responsible for covering a bloody Indonesian coup. Shortly afterwards, Gibson made his Hollywood debut in The Bounty with Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, and starred opposite Sissy Spacek in The River during the same year. He would also star in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) alongside singer Tina Turner.
After the third installment to the Mad Max franchise, Gibson took a two-year break, only to reappear opposite Danny Glover in director Richard Donner's smash hit Lethal Weapon. The role featured Gibson as Martin Riggs, a volatile police officer reeling from the death of his wife, and cemented a spot as one of Hollywood's premier action stars. Rather than letting himself become typecast, however, Gibson would surprise critics and audiences alike when he accepted the title role in Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990). Though his performance earned mixed reviews, he was applauded for taking on such a famously tragic script.
In the early '90s, Gibson founded ICON Productions, and through it made his directorial debut with 1993's The Man Without a Face. The film, which also starred Gibson as a horrifically burned teacher harboring a secret, achieved only middling box-office success, though it was considered a well-wrought effort for a first-time director. Gibson would fare much better in 1994 when he rejoined Richard Donner in the movie adaptation of Maverick; however, it would be another year before Gibson's penchant for acting, directing, and producing was given its due. In 1995, Gibson swept the Oscars with Braveheart, his epic account of 13th century Scottish leader William Wallace's lifelong struggle to forge an independent nation. Later that year, he lent his vocal talents -- surprising many with his ability to carry a tune -- for the part of John Smith in Disney's animated feature Pocahontas.
Through the '90s, Gibson's popularity and reputation continued to grow, thanks to such films as Ransom (1996) and Conspiracy Theory (1997). In 1998, Gibson further increased this popularity with the success of two films, Lethal Weapon 4 and Payback. More success followed in 2000 due to the actor's lead role as an animated rooster in Nick Park and Peter Lord's hugely acclaimed Chicken Run, and to his work as the titular hero of Roland Emmerich's blockbuster period epic The Patriot (2000). After taking up arms in the battlefield of a more modern era in the Vietman drama We Were Soldiers in 2002, Gibson would step in front of the cameras once more for Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan's dramatic sci-fi thriller Signs (also 2002). The film starred Gibson as a grieving patriarch whose rural existence was even further disturbed by the discovery of several crop circles on his property.
Gibson would return to more familiar territory in Randall Wallace's We Were Soldiers -- a 2002 war drama which found Gibson in the role of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, commander of the First Battalion, Seventh Cavalry -- the same regiment so fatefully led by George Armstrong Custer. In 2003, Gibson starred alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Robin Wright-Penn in a remake of The Singing Detective.
The year 2004 saw Gibson return to the director's chair for The Passion of The Christ. Funded by 25 million of Gibson's own dollars, the religious drama generated controversy amid cries of anti-Semitism. Despite the debates surrounding the film -- and the fact that all of the dialogue was spoken in Latin and Aramaic -- it nearly recouped its budget in the first day of release.
The actor stepped behind the camera again in 2006 with the Mayan tale Apocalypto and was preparing to product a TV movie about the Holocaust, but by this time, public attention was not pointed at Gibson's career choices. That summer, he was pulled over for drunk driving at which time he made extremely derogatory comments about Jewish people to the arresting officer. When word of Gibson's drunken, bigoted tirade made it to the press, the speculation of the actor's anti-Semitic leanings that had circulated because of the choices he'd made in his depiction of the crucifixion in Passion of the Christ seemed confirmed. Gibson's father being an admitted holocaust denier hadn't helped matters and now it seemed that no PR campaign could help. Gibson publicly apologized, expressed extreme regret for his comments, and checked himself into rehab. Still, the plug was pulled on Gibson's Holocaust project and the filmmaker's reputation was irreparably tarnished. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi