The untold truth of Mel Gibson

After some troubled years, Mel Gibson has started putting together a pretty impressive comeback. Younger film fans may not remember when he reigned the box office with action classics like the Lethal Weapon franchise—or earned critical acclaim with prestige pictures like Braveheart—but his career legacy is more complicated than a couple of well-publicized tirades. We're not excusing his actions by any means, but Gibson is way more than an Australian guy with his own religion and a boatload of kids… and counting.

He was born in America

You could make the case that Mel Gibson and Nicole Kidman are the best-known Australian actor and actress ever, respectively. They obviously have something in common: both are American born. That's right, Kidman's birthplace is Honolulu, Hawai'i, whereas GIbson's is a bit further east. In 1956, Hutton and Ann Gibson welcomed their sixth child—Mel Colmcille Gibson—in Peekskill, NY, a sleepy hamlet in Westchester County about 40 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. At age 12, Gibson and his family moved to Australia.

Mel is a Mel—not a Melvin or Melchior. Mel could have been a Moel, as Gibson's name comes from the 5th century Irish Saint Mel, or Moel as he's also known. His middle name also comes from a saint. You might not recognize Colmcille, sometimes spelled Colm-cille or even Cumcille, but you certainly know his actions. We tend to know him as St. Columba—he's the one who invoked the power of Christ on the Loch Ness Monster, driving the beast away. Or so the story goes…

His dad was on Jeopardy!

Mel Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, is a writer and Holocaust denier—more known for the latter than the former. Prior to embarking on his controversial literary career, Hutton worked as a brakeman on the New York rail system until an injury forced him to retire. It took awhile for his settlement to come through, and while killing time, he paused his usual pastime—making children (he fathered 10!)—to go on a game show. Hutton appeared on Jeopardy! in 1968 and took home over $4600, around $32,000 in today's value. He clearly enjoyed the experience, because he later appeared on a game show in Australia, as shown above.

With those winnings and his injury settlement, Gibson packed up the family and headed Down Under. He had some ties there—his maternal grandparents, Irish immigrants, settled in Australia—but that was close to 100 years before emigrating himself. So why pack up and head to the land where the coriolis effect confuses those northern hemisphere dwellers? Hutton revealed his true reason late in life: he didn't want his eldest son drafted for Vietnam, so he moved the family out of the US.

He's anti-nuke

The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres is a prestigious award presented by the French government to a person contributing significantly in the field of arts (think writers, actors, et cetera). It's basically an excuse to give a famous person a medal. To receive such an honor, one doesn't have to be French—Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Uma Thurman are among the many Americans awarded—but one American/Australian politely declined the honor.

In 1995, without any press release or fanfare, Gibson declined an Ordre des Arts et des Lettres nomination. This was at the height of Gibson's popularity; he'd just directed and starred in Braveheart. He refused the honor in order to make a stand to protest France's South Pacific nuclear testing, which—given the proximity to Australia—stood in solidarity with a substantial portion of the Australian people.

He literally inspired the sexiest man alive

In 1985, People featured Mel Gibson on the cover, with a lead story focusing on the hunky star. Whilst preparing the story, photo editor Mary Dunn walked by a picture of Mel and exclaimed, "He's the sexiest man alive!" And from that moment of inappropriate workplace sexual aggression a tradition began.

Every year since, People has crowned a Sexiest Person. It's obviously subjective, and is ultimately basically a "who's popular right now and is also aesthetic" award. But honest descriptions don't sell magazines, so the tradition continues—decades after it was started because Mel Gibson was just so darn handsome.

His Passion profits went to his ex-wife

Starring in a slew of hit movies affords a guy the kind of clout—and bankroll—it takes to put out his passion project. Gibson did just that with 2004's The Passion of the Christ, his self-financed Biblical epic that became a surprise blockbuster hit. When you self-finance, you obviously get to keep the bulk of the profits. And when a film makes over $600 million worldwide, you can pretty much buy whatever you want—including a divorce.

Gibson married the former Robyn Moore in 1980 in a Catholic ceremony, long before his ascension to Hollywood megastar status (he only made $400 for his first film, Summer City, in 1977). After all was said and done, Passion cleared Mel about $400 million, but his commercial good fortune stood in stark contrast to his marital status: he and Robyn separated in 2006 and she filed for divorce in 2009. When the dust settled, Robyn walked away with half his fortune—approximately $425 million, and reportedly the costliest divorce in Hollywood history.

He built his own church

In 2003, Mel Gibson built his own Catholic church. Harking back to pre-Vatican II, the Church of the Holy Family performs a Latin mass, women must have their heads covered, and the priest doesn't face the parishioners during the eucharistic prayer. Obviously being a Catholic is important to Gibson. He follows in the footsteps of his father as a traditional Catholic. Hutton Gibson is vehemently anti-Pope and ignores the doctorate laid down by Vatican II. Interestingly enough, Gibson's ex-wife is an Episcopalian.

He's not the only acting Gibson

Hutton and Mel aren't the only famous Gibsons: Mel is one of 11 children, and his younger brother Donal is also an actor. He's best known as a voice actor, with a résumé that includes playing the Australian Captain Boomerang in Justice League and John Smith in Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World—stepping in for his big brother in the latter role, which Mel voiced in the original Pocahontas.

Mel's second youngest son also has a bit of the acting bug—Milo was in his dad's critically acclaimed 2016 World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge. So far, the early buzz on Milo is he's a chip off the old block…in a good way: he gets a lot of sexiest Gibson alive talk. He wasn't a bad high school football player, but as a 5'8 offensive lineman—short on any level above high school—he probably made the right call by going into acting.

He started drinking very early

Gibson's drinking earned public attention in 2006, when he was picked up for a DUI and made anti-Semitic comments to the arresting officers, but alcohol had been part of his life for a long time before that: he says he started drinking at age 13. He spoke about his addiction in 2015, claiming at least five years sobriety and crediting Alcoholics Anonymous with his turn for the better. "They say there's only three options: you go insane, you die or you quit," he pointed out. "That's the harsh reality. I'm an old hand at that."

Gibson still hears about his 2006 DUI. Naturally he wishes he didn't, especially in his sober state. The incident came up repeatedly during his press tour for Hacksaw Ridge in 2016, and he admitted he finds it annoying, saying that "for one episode in the back of a police car on eight double tequilas to sort of dictate all the work, life's work and beliefs and everything else that I have and maintain for my life is really unfair."

He's drawn criticism for comments about homosexuality

In a 1991 interview with El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, Gibson had harsh words for the homosexual lifestyle, criticizing gay men for "[taking] it up the ass"—among a number of other problematic comments made during a testy exchange. His adopted brother Andrew, who happens to be openly gay, has publicly defended him.

As one might imagine, growing up in a family with stringent Catholic beliefs wasn't always easy for Andrew. Mel didn't agree with his lifestyle, but has supported him because, as Andrew recalled him saying, "you're my brother." According to Andrew, Mel's 1991 comments should be taken in context. "He's a straight man and he was illustrating that fact," he's argued. "In the same way a gay man wouldn't want to have sex with a woman."

He comes from witch hunters

As previously mentioned, Gibson is American by birth—and his family has some deep, fascinating roots in this country. If we start with Hutton (b. 1918), his father (Mel's grandfather) was John Hutton Gibson (b.1884). Mel's great-great grandfather was John Thomas Gibson (1815). Let's cut to the chase: If we keep digging, we end up at the first Gibson direct relative to land in what we call America today: John Gibson (b. 1601), Mel's great-grandfather nine times removed. And oh, what an interesting Gibson he was.

Around 1660, decades before the Salem witch trials, John Gibson accused Winifred Holman and her daughter of witchcraft. The two then turned around and sued Gibson and his family for defamation, and he ultimately paid a fine for making a false accusation.