The Krewe of Endymion’s annual parade through New Orleans normally boasts 3,200 riders, 80 floats, and a handful of celebrity guests tapped as co-grand marshals.
As one of the groups tasked with organizing New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras festivities, the Krewe of Endymion usually picks a couple of celebrity guests—often musicians, actors, or media personalities—to act as co-grand marshals of its annual Mardi Gras parade. This year, one of its marshals will be Willie Fritz, the head coach who revitalized Tulane University’s struggling football program and spurred the team on to victory at this year’s Cotton Bowl Classic.
The other, until Sunday night, was Mel Gibson.
Less than a day after announcing that Gibson would lead the super-krewe’s procession through the city, Endymion officials backpedaled on the decision, citing “significant feedback.” In a statement, krewe president Dan Kelly added, “Some of this commentary included threats that caused us great concern.” He did not elaborate on the nature or source of the alleged threats.
Boasting an $8 million budget, Endymion deploys 3,200 riders onto its 80 floats every year, rolling past jubilant crowds, with many audience members having staked out prime viewing spots for hours or even days prior to the parade. With a reputation to uphold as one of only three of Mardi Gras’ so-called super-krewes, Endymion has never shied away from creativity in its grand marshal choices. Sometimes, as in 1988, that results in Dolly Parton leading the parade alongside Spuds MacKenzie, the fictional Bud Light spokes-dog. The organization is no stranger to playing the hits, either, having invited Florida rockers KC and the Sunshine Band back no fewer than four times to marshal the parade in 1979, 1995, 1998, and its 50th-anniversary parade in 2017.
But rarely, if ever, has Endymion courted controversy with its marshaling pick, making Mel Gibson—best known for his habit of lashing racist, sexist, antisemitic, or homophobic vitriol upon whatever ex-girlfriend, co-star, or police officer just happens to be within earshot—an unusual choice.
Gibson’s career in Hollywood, once thought sunk, has rebounded in recent years, beginning with his directorial efforts on 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge, which garnered him fruitless Oscar buzz. More recently, it was announced that he would be handed the reins to the final Lethal Weapon installment by longtime franchise director Richard Donner.
The Saturday night announcement that Gibson would co-marshal the parade was met with withering criticism on social media, with one Twitter user snarking, “Really #Endymion? Mel Gibson? Was David Duke not available?” Another, New Orleans-based crime analyst Jeff Asher, joked, “I’m hearing Mel Gibson was Endymion’s fall back plan after Andrew Tate couldn’t make it.”
After Gibson’s removal, a coalition of Jewish organizations released a statement condemning the choice in the first place. In the joint statement, issued by the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, and the Greater New Orleans Rabbinic Council, ADL regional director Lindsay Baach Friedmann wrote, “There is still a great deal of pain associated with his name and deep wounds in the Jewish community. His choice as Grand Marshal of Endymion was completely insulting and shortsighted.”
The last time Endymion reversed course over a marshaling decision, it was to remove Woody Harrelson, then a fresh-faced actor on Cheers, from the 1991 parade after he was linked to an anti-war rally in Los Angeles.
“We don’t need that kind of controversy,” the krewe captain told the Associated Press at the time. Harrelson shrugged it off, telling the wire service, “As far as I’m concerned, Mardi Gras had nothing to do with politics.”
Reps for Gibson did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on Sunday night. And with Endymion officials apparently unable to immediately get through to KC and the Sunshine Band’s manager over the weekend, it was not immediately clear who might be tapped to replace Gibson for February’s parade.