Robert Downey Jr. Forgive Mel Gibson

10/15/2011 6:30 AM PDT

Robert Downey Jr.: Forgive Mel Gibson

Robert Downey Jr.
created what could become a turning point in Mel Gibson's public rehab last night, by heaping praise on Mel, telling a large crowd of celebrities that Mel deserved forgiveness.

Downey was being honored for his life work in Beverly Hills, when Mel took the stage and recalled how he had helped Downey when he was down and out, reflecting that people had warned him of Robert's bad ways, but all Mel could see was a good guy. Then Mel made fun of himself, cautioning the crowd to remember who was making the assessment.

Then it was Downey's turn. The two had worked together in "Air America," but more significantly, Mel had posted an insurance bond for Downey when all the movie companies refused because he was such a high risk.

Downey used a metaphor that he and Mel shared, telling the crowd, "When I couldn't get sober, Mel helped me" ... by giving him food and shelter. Downey said Mel told him to find faith and accept responsibility -- Mel called it "hugging the cactus."

Then Downey told the Crowd ... Mel hugged the cactus long enough, and the place erupted in applause.

Downey also noted he and Mel shared the same lawyer, publicist and shrink, and said the two of them should stage an intervention for the 3 professionals.