The ''Lethal Weapon'' star has gone from entertaining to terrifying

By Nicole Sperling
July 16, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

The infamous audio clip that surfaced on July 12, allegedly featuring Mel Gibson, has many quotable (if not printable) passages. The one that resonates the most? ”The career is over!” Gibson was talking about the singing career of Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of his youngest child. But the same, of course, was immediately said about Gibson’s own career. The public has now had enough glimpses into his inner life — the astonishingly vile, rage-filled audio clips were just the latest — to wonder at what point a man is so consumed by demons that he actually becomes one.

Shortly after the tape was made public, a friend of Gibson’s offered a defense of sorts, telling People the actor had sought therapy: ”He realized how unhealthy the relationship was and recognized that they were in a bad place and he was getting his buttons pushed.” But Gibson, 54, has made shows of contrition before, including one in 2006 when his drunken, anti-Semitic tirade hit the news. His career, however, has suffered, and the revenge movie he released this year, Edge of Darkness, didn’t help much. Last week — just as the world began to hear tapes on which Gibson uses racist and misogynist slurs, as well as threatens to murder Grigorieva, 40 — his agency, William Morris Endeavor, parted ways with him. It was a final turning point for a man who had once made $25 million a film and been called America’s Favorite Movie Star.

In one sense, Gibson doesn’t need Hollywood. He’s worth an estimated $1 billion, and can finance his own movies. (He just wrapped How I Spent My Summer Vacation, which he co-wrote and starred in for his production company, Icon.) But even without Hollywood, Gibson still needs an audience. ”He’s over as a leading man,” says a former studio marketer. ”The American public is generally forgiving when it’s an isolated incident. But when it happens over and over, they don’t come back.”

That leaves those who have gambled in the Gibson business scrambling. Summit Entertainment must figure out what to do with The Beaver, a quirky $20 million film directed by Jodie Foster and starring Gibson as a depressed man fond of a hand puppet. Both the studio and Foster declined to comment, but early talks to release the movie this fall are now on hold. Even if audiences completely shun the film, all may not be lost for Summit: The studio, which is cofinancing the film with Participant Media, already presold the foreign rights to the dark comedy, leaving it with little financial risk. However, it’s a long shot that overseas audiences will show up for Gibson. ”Whatever international appeal he has, you still have to have a domestic launching pad,” says a distribution executive. ”And that launching pad is certainly hurt.”

When EW talked to Gibson last fall, he said he’d contemplated quitting acting: ”I wanted to try to flex a little muscle in the directing field, which is infinitely more rewarding.” But with the recent revelations, it seems clear that audiences will be quitting him instead. (Additional reporting by Dave Karger)

Mel’s List
Some others who have incurred the wrath of Gibson over the years

Jewish people
Female priests
Frank Rich
Bill Clinton
Rhodes scholars

Yet to offend: