Mel Gibson cops to domestic abuse

The actor is set to enter a plea of no contest -- but will it kill his career?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published March 10, 2011 9:25PM (EST)
Actor Mel Gibson watches the Los Angeles Lakers play the Chicago Bulls in their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles November 18, 2007.  (© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters)
Actor Mel Gibson watches the Los Angeles Lakers play the Chicago Bulls in their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles November 18, 2007. (© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters)

You'll soon be free to officially refer to him as a domestic abuser. Mel Gibson, Oscar winner, Jew blamer and king of bad breakups, is set to plead no contest today to a misdemeanor count of domestic violence in Los Angeles court. It was a defensive move for the hotheaded former Sexiest Man Alive, currently embroiled in a child custody dispute with his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. He had been expected to be formally charged this week with misdemeanor battery against Grigorieva for a 2010 incident in which he allegedly punched her in the face during an argument. In court papers last year, Gibson insisted he only slapped Grigorieva "with an open hand in an attempt to bring her back to reality" as she held their baby daughter, Lucia -- a slap that was apparently forceful enough to knock out her veneers. And in one of their infamous telephone conversations, Grigorieva says, "You were hitting a woman with a child in her hands ... Breaking her teeth, twice, in the face, what kind of man is that?" To which the gentleman alleged to be Gibson answers, "You fucking deserved it."

Today, however, a considerably more toned-down Gibson is gingerly trying to ease his way back into the public's good graces. His oft-delayed new movie "The Beaver" is premiering this week at South by Southwest, and will open in May. The last thing he needs is some drawn-out battle, detailing precisely what went down that night he knocked his girlfriend around. Or as his lawyer put it, "I know from almost 20 years as a criminal defense lawyer that sometimes justice can come for a client at too high a personal price. That is particularly so for Mel, whose right to due process can only be exercised in this case with an enormous media circus attached. Mel's priority throughout all of this has been that the best interests of his young daughter Lucia and the rest of his children be put first in any decisions made. It is with only that in mind that he asked me to approach the district attorney with a proposal that would bring all of this to an immediate end."

Note clever use of words like "justice" at "too high a personal price," "due process" and "a proposal to bring this to an end." Well, wasn't that nice of poor Mel, a man who has admitted he hit girlfriend, not in self-defense but "to bring her back to reality." Gibson will now likely be placed on probation and ordered to complete a yearlong program for batterers. Gibson's planned extortion charges against Grigorieva appear to have died on the vine as well, with Radar reporting that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has dropped the investigation due to lack of evidence.

So now, for the bargain price of a "no contest" plea, a little counseling and an unsatisfying resolution to his accusation of extortion, he's essentially a free man, with only a slight official taint to his name. If Chris Brown's still working, why not Mel? Speaking to the Los Angeles Times Thursday, veteran producer Mike Medavoy said, "Would I take him off my list of people I would hire as an actor, no I wouldn't. If he's learned something from this experience and if he changes, then I would have no problem. But that's a bunch of ifs." Publicist Howard Bragman, however, put it more decisively. "He's even further away from redemption in Hollywood, and he was far away to begin with." But if redemption is possible anywhere, it's in Hollywood. It's not his spotty history or an admission of battery that could be the final nail in his career -- it's a crappy opening weekend for "The Beaver." In the entertainment industry, the only real crime  is no longer being a draw -- and as Charlie Sheen and his over 2 million Twitter followers could tell you, being a crazy ranting domestic abuser never stopped anybody from being just that.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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