07.18.10

Mel Gibson's Wild Kids

Nicole LaPorte reports on the lives of the seven kids Gibson had with his ex-wife, Robyn, who’ve been called the “holy terrors of Malibu.”

They have a history of partying, used to hang with a surfer gang, and have been described as “the holy terrors of Malibu.”

Before Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva had a daughter, who, at 9-months-old, is now at the center of their hideous, and very public, custody battle, Gibson was married for 28 years to his ex-wife, Robyn, with whom he had seven children. It turns out some are nearly as colorful as their dad.

The three eldest Gibson kids “did their thing, partying, and whatnot, with the local kids,” said one source. “They kept a pretty low profile. They’re very understated, pretty grungy, surfer-looking people.”

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Little has been written about les enfants Gibson, who are: Hannah, 29; twins Edward and Christian, 27; William (“Willie”), 25; Louis, 22; Milo, 20; and Thomas, 11. Despite their swollen ranks, and the fact that they reside in one of the most paparazzi-heavy havens in the world—Malibu—they have lived on the down-low, eschewing the spotlight and downright rejecting Hollywood, unlike other ‘Bu-born celebu-spawn, such as brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez.

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Although Hannah Gibson has worked as a make-up artist and production assistant on some of her father’s films, and Christian had a small part in We Were Soldiers, the Gibsons have steered clear of the high-class trappings of the entertainment industry. They didn’t even go to prestigious private schools, like Harvard-Westlake or the artsier Crossroads in Santa Monica. Instead, they’re alums of Malibu High School, where Milo (’08), a 200-pound, goatee-ed fullback, was co-captain of the football team.

According to Mitch Taylor, manager of Becker Surfboards in Malibu, Milo shares one of the closest relationships with his father. He and Mel are “pretty darn close,” Taylor said. “I’d see Milo hanging out with his dad all the time.”

And Andrew Heric, who played football with Milo, told The Daily Beast that Mel Gibson came to a few games and cheered on from the bleachers.

Yet the family is not exactly the Brady Bunch, and some of the kids have battled alcohol and drug problems, much like their father. According to MX, a free daily paper in Melbourne, Australia, Milo was expelled from school when he was 12 for smoking pot (William was kicked out for a similar offense). In 2006, Christian was arrested for drunk-driving while he was a student at the University of Colorado. In 2007, the National Enquirer reported that Edward, who at one point was cozy with Britney Spears, checked into rehab. And the twins used to associate with the “MLO” (Malibu Locals Only), a gang known for picking fights with Valley kids and spray-painting graffiti.

“I wouldn’t say they’re wild, they’re just kids,” Taylor said. “Maybe they just get picked on more because of who they are. I know a lot of families who have kids that have gotten DUIs.”

And last year, a source close to the Gibsons told People magazine: “They’re a rowdy bunch, but also very nice—very ‘Yes, sir, no, sir,’ which you don’t get a lot of around here.”

Perhaps, but not everyone has been so generous in their assessment of the family. In 2006, just after Mel Gibson’s DUI arrest and anti-Semitic tirade, one neighbor of the actor’s $14.5 million compound (“Lavender Hill Farm”) wrote a letter to the editor of Malibu Surfside News, saying, “If Mr. Gibson would only pay attention to his own family and children [who] have had issues of their own…he would [stop] perpetuating what he points to in others as evil.”

(When reached by telephone by The Daily Beast, the author of the letter, Shary Nassimi, said he had nothing to say about the Gibsons and quickly hung up.)

Around that same time, two neighbors told the New York Post that the Gibson spawn were “the holy terrors of Malibu. They do whatever they want.”

They claimed that two of the Gibson boys had tried to buy kayaks at a local store, and asked to get them on credit. When the owner said that they did not have a credit policy, the kids started screaming, “Don’t you know who we are?!”

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But others say that their behavior is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to Malibu, a community that may be known for its multimillion-dollar mansions and private beaches, but that has a decidedly scrappy underbelly populated by surf punks and skaters with a strong, even dangerous, territorial streak. Members of the local gang, the MLO, are known for spray-painting their acronym all over town; deflating the tires of outsiders; and picking fights with Valley guys (“Vals”) who “snake” their waves (i.e., cut them off while they’re riding). At times, things have become violent. In 2004, Brawley Nolte, the son of actor Nick, and a friend of some of the Gibson boys (he played Mel Gibson’s son in Ransom), was sued for beating up a teenager from the Valley so badly at a party that he was left brain-damaged. The case was dismissed.

The Gibsons have never been involved in anything so serious, but according to a source who knows them, Christian and Edward were associated with the MLO when they were in their teens and early 20s, and would drive around in a pick-up truck with their sister. “The three of them would get around the neighborhood, smoking and drinking, it was pretty average behavior… They did their thing, partying, and whatnot, with the local kids down there. But they kept a pretty low profile. They’re very understated, pretty grungy, surfer-looking people.”

But if the Gibsons' style is in keeping with the shredder ethos of Malibu, it’s hardly the image that Mel Gibson has cultivated over the years as a serious, family man who is so devoted to his particular brand of Catholicism, that he built his own church in Agoura Hills—there is also a chapel on Lavender Hill Farm, known as “St. Mel’s.” (That image, of course, is in the process of being destroyed, due to leaked tapes featuring a demonic-sounding Gibson threatening and demeaning his ex-girlfriend Grigorieva.) The only sign that Mel’s devotion had any effect on his children was the announcement, back in 2002, that Hannah, who was then 21, was going to be a nun—a decision that Mel said made him “ happy.”

Fast-forward to 2006, when Hannah married Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a blues-rock guitarist who, like Mel, has suffered alcohol and drug abuse, but became sober. The wedding took place at Gibson’s Holy Family Traditional Church, and was, according to Maggie Warwick, a rockabilly singer who’s close with the Shepherd family, “just a beautiful wedding.”

The Gibson’s were “very hospitable,” Warwick told The Daily Beast. “Everything was first-class, it was just beautiful, they were very family-oriented.”

(Interestingly, the wedding was just two months after Mel Gibson’s DUI arrest, and one month after he and Robyn separated.)

As they’ve grown up, Gibson’s children have started to curb their wild ways. Hannah, now the mother of two, is an artist who designs patterns for her husband’s signature guitars. Christian has taken up landscape photography and exhibits his work in Malibu galleries. “I got really inspired after visiting Australia a few years ago and seeing some of the work of Ken Duncan, one of Australia’s biggest landscape photographers,” he told the Malibu Times earlier this year. “He really lit a fire underneath me. An artist tries to have a dialogue with the viewer and that’s what I want my work to do.” And Milo has been playing the role of family do-gooder—in 2008, he presented a $50,000 check on behalf of his family to the Kidney Foundation of Fiji (the Gibsons own an island in Fiji). (“I love Fiji and everyone here is nice,” Milo said when he presented the check.

Now, if only their dad would follow suit.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story cited a letter-to-the-editor that appeared in the Surf Rider News—the publication is actually called the Malibu Surfside News. And the author of the letter was Shary Nassimi, not Shari Nassimi.

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Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.