Actor, director and producer Mel Gibson was born Mel Cumcille Gerard Gibson on January 3, 1956, in Peekskill, New York, the sixth of 11 children born to Hutton and Ann Gibson, Roman Catholics of Irish descent. Shortly after the onset of the Vietnam War, Hutton Gibson relocated his family to Australia for fear that his sons would be drafted into battle. Mel spent the remainder of his childhood in Sydney, where he attended St. Leo’s Catholic College, an all-boys Catholic high school. He finished his high school education at Asquith Boys High School in Asquith, New South Wales, Australia.
Following his graduation from Asquith, Gibson considered becoming a chef or journalist, but ended up taking a different career path after his sister submitted an application on his behalf to the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, and he decided to audition. Without any prior acting experience, he was accepted into and enrolled at the drama school. Not long after, Gibson made his stage debut in a NIDA production of Romeo and Juliet, and his screen debut in the low-budget film Summer City in 1977.
Following his graduation from NIDA that same year, Gibson joined the Southern Australian Theater Company, where he appeared in title roles in classical productions, including Oedipus and Henry IV.
After conquering the stage, Gibson tried his hand at television, landing his first role on the Australian series The Sullivans (1976-83). He graduated to mainstream cinema in 1979 with two film roles: as a futuristic warrior in Mad Max, and as a mentally disabled man who falls in love (with Mary Horton, played by Piper Laurie) in Tim. For his performance in the latter film, Gibson earned his first Australian Film Institute Award, for best actor. Furthermore, Mad Max became the biggest commercial success of any previously released Australian film, grossing more than $100 million worldwide.
Gibson received his second AFI Award (again for best actor) for his performance as a patriotic idealist in Peter Weir’s 1981 World War I drama, Gallipoli. Later that same year, he reprised his role as the leather-clad hero in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (released in the United States as The Road Warrior in 1982). The film’s success established Gibson as an international star. His second collaboration with Weir, The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), featured the actor in his first romantic lead, alongside Sigourney Weaver.
Gibson’s American film debut in 1984’s The River was considered a success. The film earned four Academy Award nominations, including a best actress nod for Sissy Spacek. In 1985, Gibson returned to Australia to complete the Mad Max trilogy in the less-impressive Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which also starred singer Tina Turner. Later that year, the actor’s popularity was confirmed when he was featured on the cover of People as the magazine’s first-ever “Sexiest Man Alive.”
After a brief hiatus, Gibson returned to the screen with the blockbuster hit Lethal Weapon (1987), playing volatile cop Martin Riggs opposite Danny Glover, who portrayed by-the-book character Roger Murtaugh. The success of Lethal Weapon inspired three sequels—Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) and Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)—all featuring Glover and Gibson in their respective roles as “good cop” and “bad cop.”
In Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990), Gibson gave a notable performance as the tormented prince. Hamlet also marked the first film produced by Gibson’s newly formed production company, Icon Productions. (Other productions by Icon include the Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved (1994) and the 1997 remake of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenia.)
Gibson made his feature directorial debut with the 1993 tearjerker The Man Without a Face, in which he also starred as a severely disfigured burn victim.
Gibson released his most passionate project to date in 1995, directing and starring as 13th century Scottish nobleman Sir William Wallace in the medieval epic Braveheart. The film went on to triumph at the Oscars, winning top honors in five categories, including best picture and best director. Also in ’95, Gibson diversified his range of characters by providing the voice of John Smith in Disney’s Pocahontas.
In the late ’90s, Gibson starred in a handful of crime thrillers, including 1996’s Ransom (with Renee Russo and Gary Sinise), 1997’s Conspiracy Theory (with Julia Roberts) and the independent film Payback (1999). In 2000, the actor headlined the highly anticipated war saga The Patriot, in which he played a reluctant hero during the American Revolution. That same year, he starred in the romantic comedy What Women Want alongside Helen Hunt, Lauren Holly and Bette Midler.
In 2002, Gibson headlined another box-office hit, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, playing a rural Pennsylvania farmer whose life takes a drastic turn when 500-foot crop circles begin appearing in his cornfields.
Mel Gibson returned to the director’s chair for his next project, an ambitious film about the final 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life entitled The Passion of the Christ (2004). The unlikely blockbuster made headlines for its controversial adaptation of the Crucifixion. A devout Catholic, Gibson stated at the time that the Holy Spirit was making the film through him: “I was just directing traffic,” he said. Gibson’s next historical epic, Apocalypto, released in December 2006, focused on the decline of the Mayan civilization.
He served as a producer on the 2008 PBS documentary Another Day in Paradise, and as an executive producer on the related PBS miniseries Carrier. After years of directing and producing, Gibson stepped back in front of the camera for the 2010 thriller Edge of Darkness, starring as a police detective who investigates his daughter’s death.
Gibson starred in the 2011 film The Beaver alongside Jodie Foster, playing a suicidal man who bonds with his hand puppet. Gibson returned to the action genre for his next four roles on the silver screen—in Get the Gringo (2012), Machete Kills (2013), Mad Max: Fury Road (2014) and The Expendables 3 (2014).
In 1980, Gibson married Robyn Moore. The couple had seven children together before filing for divorce in 2009. Shortly after his divorce proceedings began, Gibson began dating singer Oksana Grigorieva. The couple had their first child shortly before splitting in 2010.