Fri, Aug 04, 2006 - Page 17 News List

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Heath Ledger is moving on from riding horses to battling bats.

PHOTO: AFP

Passion of the Christ filmmaker Mel Gibson, who ignited a furor with a drunken, anti-Semitic rant to a sheriff's deputy who stopped him last week along the California coast, was charged on Wednesday with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Gibson, an actor and Oscar-winning director who was at the center of a worldwide controversy over his 2004 blockbuster Christ, was also accused of driving with an open container of alcohol, Los Angeles County prosecutors said.

The two charges stem from Gibson's arrest early on Friday morning by a sheriff's deputy who saw him speeding along Pacific Coast Highway not far from his home in the exclusive Southern California beach town of Malibu.

If convicted, the 50-year-old film star could face six months in jail, Los Angeles County District Attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said. He was scheduled for an arraignment on Sept. 28 in a Malibu courtroom.

Gibson's representatives declined comment on the charges, which accuse him of driving with a blood alcohol count above California's legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The open container accusation apparently refers to a bottle of tequila found in Gibson's car by the deputy who stopped him and wrote the police report that triggered a media frenzy.

Though Gibson has apologized for his actions that night and offered to meet with Jewish leaders to make amends for the inflammatory remarks, some have called on Hollywood to shun him. Already, ABC has pulled a program about the Holocaust that Gibson, a traditional Catholic who built his own church in Malibu, was producing.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has defended itself against accusations that Gibson was given special treatment because of his fame, though the head of a watchdog agency has pledged to investigate accusations that sheriff's brass tried to cover up the anti-Semitic rant.

Gibson has been one of Hollywood's most bankable stars since starring in the Lethal Weapon films of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He won an Academy Award for directing 1995's Braveheart, which also won the Oscar for best picture.

Gibson spent US$25 million of his own money to produce and direct Christ, which recounts the Biblical tale in which Jesus is betrayed by one of his followers and condemned to die on the cross.

The movie caused a major outcry among Jewish groups who considered it anti-Semitic, and at the time of the film's release they worried the movie could stir up anti-Jewish sentiment.

Gibson entered a detoxification program following his arrest, his publicist announced Monday.

“Mel has entered into an ongoing program of recovery,” Alan Nierob said in a short statement.

The widow of a photographer killed in a helicopter crash while filming The Final Season is suing actor Sean Astin, the movie's producers and the pilot, among others.

Kathryn Schlotzhauer alleges that the June 30 crash in eastern Iowa could have been avoided if producers and others involved in the film had scouted the area and noted the power lines that brought the helicopter down.

Her husband — Roland Schlotzhauer, 50, of Lenexa, Kansas — was filming a parade scene when the helicopter crashed into a cornfield, killing the photographer and seriously injuring producer Tony Wilson, 49, and the pilot.

Both survivors are among 19 defendants in the wrongful death lawsuit. The suit also names Wilson's special-effects firm, headquartered in Des Moines, and the rural electric cooperative that owns the power lines.

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