The slow but methodical rehabilitation of Mel Gibson in Hollywood took another step forward Friday night, courtesy of Robert Downey Jr.
Dozens of famous faces who've performed onscreen with Downey or directed him -- among them Gibson, Jodie Foster, Garry Shandling, Michael Douglas and Jon Favreau -- gathered to pay tribute to (and roast) the "Iron Man" star at the Beverly Hilton as he received the 2011 American Cinematheque Award.
The evening kicked off with a humorous video of Gibson, Shandling and Jamie Foxx poking fun at Downey. That was followed by a video clip of Foster receiving the Cinematheque Award in 1999 -- and receiving a congratulatory call from Downey, who was then incarcerated in a California state prison after several arrests on drug-related charges.
Numerous other presenters, including Foster, Douglas, and Jennifer Aniston came to the stage and made various references to Downey's long battle with addiction as they paid tribute to his abilities as an actor and his strength in overcoming his substance abuse issues.
Last onstage was Gibson, who starred with Downey in the 1990 film "Air America" and reunited with him onscreen in 2003 in "The Singing Detective" -- Gibson reportedly put up the money for Downey's insurance bond on the project when he was considered essentially untouchable by others.
Gibson has been inching back into the public eye in the last six months, after he settled the ugly custody dispute with his ex-girlfriend that exploded into public view last year and after his movie "The Beaver" (directed by Foster) finally was released.
Gibson joked that people had warned him about Downey's unpredictability but said he just saw a good guy who was "making a few adjustments." Then, he added self-depricatingly, it was essential to remember that this was Mel Gibson making this assessment.
When Downey came to the stage, he acknowledged his long friendship with Gibson and quipped that the two had shared the same lawyer, same publicist and same shrink. We should stage "an intervention" for them, he joked.
Turning more serious, Downey said that "when I couldn't get sober, Mel helped me," keeping a roof over his head and food on his table, and helping him get work. According to Downey, Gibson told him that he needed to find his faith and embrace responsibility for his acts, and if he did so, his life would find new meaning. "Hugging the cactus, he called it," Downey said. "And all he asked was that I help the next guy" in a similar situation.
"It's reasonable to assume," Downey added sardoncially, "that he didn't expect the next guy would be him."
As Gibson looked at his shoes, Downey proclaimed that Gibson himself had "hugged the cactus long enough" and deserved support. Then the two shared a long embrace as the crowd broke into applause.
-- Julie Makinen
Photo: Mel Gibson speaks onstage during the 25th American Cinematheque Award ceremony honoring Robert Downey Jr. at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Friday evening. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images