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The Life of Terri Schiavo; Faith at the Box Office

Aired March 28, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us tonight, as we start off the week.
You have seen her helpless image countless times. And you know all about the controversy swirling around her, but who really is Terri Schiavo?


ZAHN (voice-over): Tonight, the life of Terri Schiavo before she became the center of the storm, an intimate portrait of a girl growing up.

JOE SHANNON, SCHINDLER FAMILY FRIEND: Full of life, a love of life.

ZAHN: A woman coming of age, pictures you've never seen, stories you've never heard.

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, HUSBAND OF TERRI SCHIAVO: She loved kids. We wanted to have a houseful.

ZAHN: Terri Schiavo's life.

And our special series, "Hollywood and Religion." Tonight, Mel Gibson, the man whose faith and passion stoked the critics, won millions of fans and ignited a debate over faith at the box office.


ZAHN: We begin tonight with the latest on Terri Schiavo. Today, 11 days after her feeding tube was removed, her husband's attorney, George Felos, gave a late afternoon medical update.


GEORGE FELOS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL SCHIAVO: Mrs. Schiavo's appearance, to me, was very calm, very relaxed, very peaceful. There was no -- I saw no evidence of any bodily discomfort whatsoever.


ZAHN: But from Terri Schiavo's sister Suzanne, a very different impression.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUZANNE VITADAMO, SISTER OF TERRI SCHIAVO: The look on her face is, please, help me. And that's exactly what I get from her when I'm in there. Please, help me. So, she's fighting. She's struggling. And does this sound like somebody that wants to die? I don't think so.


ZAHN: As her body grows weaker, emotions surrounding the controversy grow even stronger. Terri's father appealed to the powers that be not to give up on her and raised concerns that the hospice where she is dying might be hastening her death with morphine, something the hospice denied.

There is one thing for sure. The woman dying inside that hospice isn't the Terri Schiavo her friends and family remember. Lost in all the headlines is a life that began with great hope.


ZAHN (voice-over): From the time she was a baby, Terri Schindler was special.

MIKE TAMMARO, UNCLE OF TERRI SCHIAVO: Just a lovely little girl. She was just very happy all the time.

ZAHN: She was born on December 3, 1963, Theresa Marie, named after Saint Teresa of Avila, older sister of Bobby Jr. and Suzanne, the three children of Robert and Mary Schindler, their home, a middle- class Colonial in the suburbs of northwest Philadelphia.

BOBBY SCHINDLER, BROTHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO: We had a big family. And all the holidays and Christmas, we'd just spend those times with the family, and they are times that I'll never forget.

TAMMARO: Terri was a hugger. Terri was, like I said, just a happy individual.

SUE PICKWELL, FRIEND OF TERRI SCHIAVO: She was a shy girl, but very friendly.

ZAHN: Sue Pickwell met Terri in elementary school.

PICKWELL: Something silly happened in the class. Can't remember exactly what it was, but I guess your normal 12-year-old, something silly, great laugh. You hear her laughing. And we started talking and we became instant friends.

ZAHN: Terri shared everything with her friends, her love of romance novels. Danielle Steel was a favorite author, her crushes on David Cassidy and Paul Michael Glaser from "Starsky & Hutch." Terri and Sue would spend countless of hours in Terri's purple and white bedroom writing him fan mail. She loved the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." Terri and her friends would watch it over and over again. But it was Terri's love for animals that everyone remembers.

TAMMARO: She just enjoyed taking care of animals and had a real heart for caring for animals.

ZAHN: Terri the teenager, with that big heart, struggled with her weight, tipping the scales at almost 200 pounds. Weight became her Achilles' heel. She didn't even go to her high school prom, nor did she ever really have a boyfriend.

PICKWELL: When you're a teenager, people do place a lot of emphasis on how you look, and I know she was not real comfortable. You know, when we were growing up, she was a little overweight, and -- so you tend to hold back a little. She didn't like the limelight.

ZAHN: Ironic for a young woman whose laugh was infectious and whose personality made her shine. Friends remember her turning away when the cameras came out, like in these never-before-seen pictures of Terri with her father at a high school dance.

Although shy, she was never lonely. Throughout her life, she relied on her family, friends and faith. Terri had a Catholic school education, first, Our Lady of Good Counsel and then Archbishop Wood High School.

PICKWELL: When you're a child, of course, you go to school, your parents, "This is where we're sending you' type of thing. But she did love it. She honestly did.

ZAHN: Joe Shannon was her brother Bobby's close friend. He spent a lot of time at the Schindler home.

SHANNON: She's always been a beautiful person. It's just people just didn't know it. They didn't know her. If you knew her, you knew she was a beautiful person, no matter what weight she was at.

ZAHN: Soon after graduating high school in 1981, Terri went on a diet and lost more than 50 pounds. Her life would suddenly change.

SHANNON: When she lost the weight, she got more attention she was not used to and she thought it was actually kind of silly.

ZAHN: One person who took notice of the new Terri, a classmate at Bucks County Community College, Michael Schiavo.

M. SCHIAVO: I fell in love with her the instant I saw her. She had this persona, this aura about her that just attracted you. She was just -- a beautiful smile, I mean, just shy and outgoing at the same time, you know? She was just a very sweet, sweet person.

PICKWELL: I was very excited for her, because it was the first, you know, love. It was -- and it felt good for her. And we were happy for her.

ZAHN: Terri and Michael's relationship moved very fast.

PICKWELL: And she said, he wants to get married. And it was their second date. And I remember, oh, my goodness, it's so sudden. I mean, from first date to second date to him wanting to get married. Of course, we drug her aside, and like, no, not yet. It's too soon. But we were very happy for her that she had these feelings and it felt good for her.

ZAHN: November 14, 1984, about a year after their first date and a month shy of her 21st birthday, Terri Schindler married Michael Schiavo. The elaborate wedding took place at her family parish. Their first dance, "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Tonight, I celebrate my love for you.

M. SCHIAVO: When I saw her walking down the aisle, I said, oh, my God, look at that. It was just a vision of beauty. She was gorgeous. And all I saw was her big smile.

ZAHN: Several years after her marriage, Terri's parents retired to Florida. Michael and Terri followed. It was a new life for the couple. Terri got a day job. Michael worked nights. So they didn't see much of each other. With the sun and surf and all the bikinis, Terri continued to lose weight, reaching her lowest weight since high school, 110 pounds.

SHANNON: I never saw an issue with her. I just saw she lost weight. And she told me what program she used to lose weight. And she was very happy and felt better about herself and her -- had a bright smile to her.

JACKIE RHODES, FRIEND OF TERRI M. SCHIAVO: She was comfortable in her new body.

ZAHN: Jackie Rhodes and Terri worked at Prudential Insurance. They would soon become close friends.

RHODES: I knew that she had weighed a lot at one point in time and had lost weight at some time sort of recently. And she was enjoying her new figure. And we loved to go shopping. She would buy clothes. And she just looked good in clothes. I was not aware of any demons that she felt, you know, from being overweight.

ZAHN: Some say this new Terri got more attention, which led to jealousy and put a strain on Terri and Michael's marriage. Jackie Rhodes says Terri confided in her that she wanted a divorce, allegations Michael vehemently denies.

M. SCHIAVO: We had wanted kids, and that's what we were trying to have when all this occurred. She loved kids. We wanted to have a houseful, just to have a happy, little normal life. We didn't want anything big. We weren't into the glimmer and the shine. We just wanted to have a nice little comfortable life together.

ZAHN: But that was not to be. In the early morning hours of February 25, 1990, Terri collapsed outside her bedroom. She had suffered a heart attack caused by a potassium imbalance, which some doctors believe was brought on by the disease bulimia, binging and purging to control weight. Paramedics revived her, but Terri was in serious condition, her brain deprived of oxygen for more than five minutes. Family and friends stood vigil. RHODES: The waiting room at the hospital when Terri first collapsed was very full of her friends and family. At first, we just thought that, you know, she had collapsed. They revived her and that, you know, she was going to be going through some rehabilitation and then she would be, you know, Terri again.

ZAHN: For three years, hope unified the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo. In the beginning, they would move in together to care for Terri at home. Michael even earned a nursing degree to help care for his wife. His brother Scott remembered.

SCOTT SCHIAVO, BROTHER OF MICHAEL SCHIAVO: He wanted to help Terri. And, you know, he put himself through respiratory therapy. Then he became a nurse, and he's a registered nurse right now.

ZAHN: And that is where the story the world now knows begins, the home videos, the allegations, the anger, but often forgotten, the young girl with the great laugh and easy smile.

SHANNON: Full of life, a love of life.

PICKWELL: Happy, friendly.

ZAHN: She was also shy and sometimes withdrawn, the girl who turned away from the cameras 20 years earlier at that father/daughter dance.

PICKWELL: She didn't like the limelight. And that's very ironic in light of everything that's happening right now. But knowing her, I think, if she felt she could make a difference in somebody's life positively, then she would be OK with that.

ZAHN: These are the images that lifelong friends, like Sue Pickwell, will always remember, cherished memories of a trip to the mall, a vacation in Disney World, a high school yearbook with Terri's goodbye words to her childhood friend.

PICKWELL: "I don't have to say remember me always, because I know we'll always be friends forever. You'll always be a good friend and always will be. Love, Terri."


ZAHN: It's heart-wrenching all the way around.

In a bit, we'll be going live to Pinellas Park, Florida, where Terri Schiavo is living out her last days. I'll be talking with one of the Schindlers' most trusted confidants.



ED DAVIS, CANCER PATIENT: We're not supposed to live forever. And if you're living on artificial means, you're not really living. You're just existing. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: An intimate look at how a Georgia man and his family faced the ultimate choice.

But, first, a quick look at a new feature here on our show, where you get to choose our person of the day. Before noon every day, we are going to give you three choices. And you can find them on our Web site. You know where that is. And today's nominees, Pope John Paul II for his valiant struggle to deliver his Easter message to the world, also Leroy Chiao and Salizhan Sharipov, the crew aboard the troubled International Space Station who took a four-hour space walk, venturing from their protected environment, leaving the space station completely unmanned.

And, finally, a 10-year-old Australian boy for his will to survive after doctors reattached both of his hands and one of his feet after a freak accident.

Now the rest is up to you. Again, please log on to and tell us who your choice is for our person of the day. We'll give you the results at the end of the hour.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: As we go behind the headlines of Terri Schiavo's story, we learn that her family isn't alone. Tonight, an intimate, unprecedented look inside one man's decision to die with dignity. And later, Michael Schiavo's other life as fiancee and father.

First, it's about a quarter past the hour. Time to turn to Erica Hill of HEADLINE NEWS for the rest of the day's top stories -- hi, Erica.


We start off with something which obviously rattled a number of people, a massive earthquake off the coast of Indonesian we're now learning may have killed as many as 2,000 people. That is the word from Indonesia's vice president. Initially, the tremor triggered fears about the potential for a repeat of the tsunami disaster. Only a small surge, though, was detected. Officials say much of the damage is on the island of Nias, near the epicenter of the 8.7 magnitude quake.

A major setback for the defense in the Michael Jackson trial. The judge in the case will allow jurors to hear testimony about past allegations about child molestation against the pop star. But DA Tom Sneddon says only one alleged victim will be brought in to testify. The rest of the evidence will come from third-party witnesses. Jackson's attorneys say prosecutors are bringing up the past allegations to try to rescue a troubled case.

A new week, a new record for gas prices, the national average now $2.15 a gallon. And officials say that's thanks to higher crude oil prices. Regular unleaded is about 4.5 cents, almost 40 cents higher than it was a year ago.

Three million truck drivers across the U.S. will soon be fingerprinted and have criminal background checks in the coming months. Federal officials say they want to prevent the use of trucks in possible terrorist attacks. The truckers' information will be crosschecked with terrorism databases. Of the greatest concern here, people who haul flammable, radioactive or other dangerous loads.

And that is the latest from Headline News at this hour -- Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Erica. See you later on this hour.

We continue now with our coverage of the Terri Schiavo case. Among those who have been closest to her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, is Brother Paul O'Donnell. He joins me now from Pinellas Park just outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo is.

Sir, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Brother O'Donnell, I know this is an extremely painful time for you and the Schindler family. But even their own attorney is saying that Terri is at the point of no return. Are the Schindlers accepting the inevitability of her death?

PAUL O'DONNELL, SCHINDLER FAMILY ADVISER: Well, you know, doctors aren't soothsayers, and no one can predict the hour of death. I have a background in hospice care, and I have seen people on the verge of death and once treated live for two or three months when doctors thought they could never make it.

Certainly, if she goes much longer, it will reach that happen point, but Terri is alert. She's awake. She's laughing. She's vocalizing, and we believe she's fighting for her life.

ZAHN: What else have her family members told you about how she's getting along?

O'DONNELL: Well, it's very difficult for her mother to go in the room to see her. It's an emotional tug of war, because this isn't like somebody that's dying of cancer and making a decision not to have treatment. This is court-ordered, something thrusted upon her daughter, and she can't do anything.

She can't even swab out her daughter's mouth or give a cool sip of water. And it's very hard for her. In fact, she physically is ill and has been unable to go into the room today to see her daughter in this condition.

ZAHN: That's so sad. How are you able to comfort her at all?

O'DONNELL: Well, there really are no words that I can say. And sad to say, she's just -- you know, there's no real prayer that I can offer that I can comfort her. She's losing her child. Her child is being murdered.

And it's in the scriptures. You know, when Rachel was losing her children, she said there is no comfort because she has her child lost. And so my answer is, I just have to be there for her. And people see Mary Schindler, the stoic Italian mother, but I see the woman that breaks down and cries and is asking, how can this happen in the United States? And her exact words are, how can people be so cruel? She can't understand it.

ZAHN: Brother O'Donnell, I just know -- and you just made the distinction that you believe this is court-ordered, but I'm curious tonight what you would say to the tens of thousands of Americans who have been guided by living wills and the wishes of patients to end one's life.


ZAHN: Should a person have the right to choose how they die?

SHANNON: Well, I believe in advance directives. I believe people have the right to make health care choices, but the fact is Terri didn't have one.

And Michael Schiavo can talk about Terri's -- that he made promises to Terri, and I hesitate to say this, being a religious person, but the fact of the matter is, Michael Schiavo really hasn't honored his promises he made in his marriage vows when he promised to forsake all others, which he has not done. He has moved on with his life. He has two other children. Mary and Bob just want their daughter.

And I -- I'm sorry. I think what's being done is cruel. It's immoral and, quite frankly, evil. This should not be happening in the United States.

ZAHN: Brother O'Donnell, would you view this differently if she had had a living will and this has been explicitly laid out in writing?

O'DONNELL: Absolutely. We may not have agreed with it, but then there would be clear, certain evidence that this is what she wanted. And that makes all the difference in the world, whether one has had time to think, to pray, to have counsel, to talk to their loved one and document it. So, yes, it would make all the difference in the world.

ZAHN: Brother Paul O'Donnell, thank you.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

ZAHN: We get a pretty strong sense tonight from looking behind you just how tense things are in Pinellas Park this evening.

Terri Schiavo's life, of course, has become a national struggle, but every day, families all over America face the ultimate choice.


DAVIS: I'm not concerned about the cancer. I'm not concerned about dying.


ZAHN: When we come back, an intimate look at one man's deeply personal decision to die.


ZAHN: The fight to keep Terri Schiavo alive is being played out on the national stage, but every day, Americans make these life-and- death decisions with dignity without the courts, Congress or the president.

Elizabeth Cohen visited a family near Atlanta, Georgia, that made a decision on its own painful terms.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An ordinary home in an ordinary American neighborhood. Ed Davis is dying. It's clear the end is near. And so, this past Friday, Ed's children and grandchildren came to say goodbye. They let us share these intimate moments because they wanted to be an example of how to die with love and with dignity.

DAVIS: I'm not concerned about the cancer. I'm not concerned about dying.

COHEN: Cancer was diagnosed just a month ago, so advanced that Ed's surgeons could offer no help.

DAVIS: It was in my liver and my pancreas and also many other part of the body.

COHEN: Doctors offered chemotherapy and dialysis for his ailing kidneys, but they made it clear, these treatments would not buy Ed Davis much time. And what little he would have would be unpleasant. So, Ed said no.

DAVIS: We're supposed to die. We're not supposed to live forever. And if you're living on artificial means, you're not really living. You're just existing.

COHEN: Ed Davis has spent his 84 years a happy man. He's had the love of his wife, Chris (ph), and their three sons and their families. He chose to live the last remaining days at home, with care from hospice and love from his family and friends. As a man of faith, he wanted one thing, to spend one last Sunday in church.

DAVIS: I just got to thinking if I might not ever get to go to church again. And I would like to have that last time.

COHEN: But one last Sunday in church seemed pretty unlikely last Friday. The family took turns sitting by his side feeding him, thanking him for his love and hoping he'd get that one last wish.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just be your sweet, lovable self, and everything will be fine.

COHEN: Over the weekend, the Davises talked about old times. They've been married for 61 years.

DAVIS: She's a country girl for sure. I had to put shoes on her when we got married.


COHEN: For most of the weekend, the family told stories, while they laughed and shared their love.

DAVIS: I don't have a thing to worry about with this girl. She's going to be a fine woman.

COHEN: But Saturday was rough for the Davises.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We really weren't sure he was even going to make it through the night.

COHEN: But he did. And, on Easter Sunday, his last wish came true.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (singing): I will worship with all of my heart.

COHEN: Mr. Davis took communion, his faith steady, an example of grace and dignity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Father, God, we're so thankful for Ed, and, Lord, his courageous witness for you.

COHEN (on camera): Mr. Davis, you said you really wanted to go to church. Now you've been. How do you feel?

DAVIS: I feel fulfilled.

COHEN: Fulfilled by the love of his family and by living out his last few days exactly as he wanted.

DAVIS: It's not hard to make a decision like this when you're 84 years old, lived a good life and raised your family. Of course, it's not always easy to leave, but we have to do that. We cry like this when we go on a trip, so that's where I'm going, is on a trip. I'm going to take the rest of my life and be with the lord in heaven.

COHEN: Ed Davis died Sunday night, just hours after we spoke, surrounded by his family in his own home at peace.


ZAHN: What a beautiful and courageous man.

Elizabeth Cohen reporting.

There is, of course, another side of the Schiavo story, one that infuriates protesters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been with Jodi Centonze for 10 years. That should have disqualified him as looking out for Terri's best interests.


ZAHN: Coming up next, Michael Schiavo's fiancee, the so-called other woman in his life.

Also ahead, "The Passion" as pioneer, Mel Gibson's biblical epic back in theaters and how it's changing Hollywood.

And, remember, there's still time to vote for our person of the day, the choices, Pope John Paul II, the space station crew, or 10- year-old Terry Vo. Go to to cast your vote.


ZAHN: Over the past several days we have learned a lot about Terri Schiavo and her husband, and she's not the only woman in Michael Schiavo's life. David Mattingly now with a look at Schiavo's companion for nearly a decade.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She is the second most talked about woman in Michael Schiavo's life.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Michael, why didn't you get divorced, marry the new woman in your life?

MATTINGLY: Frequently referred to as his fiancee, she's been Schiavo's closest companion for a decade, the mother of his children and part of Schiavo's life the public has never been allowed to see.

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI'S HUSBAND: There's nothing wrong with someday maybe wanting to get remarried.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Are you involved in a -- are you in a relationship now?

SCHIAVO: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Proud of it. And that's what Terri would want too.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): That was Michael Schiavo in October 2002, offering just the briefest of glimpses into his feelings for the woman he shares his life with, Jodi Centonze.

SCHIAVO: I've been with my fiancee for nine years -- or eight? One of those two.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Better get that one right.

SCHIAVO: I have a child.

MATTINGLY: You have a child?

SCHIAVO: Yes. She's three weeks old.

MATTINGLY: Congratulations.

SCHIAVO: And I'm very proud of it.

MATTINGLY: Little girl?

SCHIAVO: Little girl.

MATTINGLY: Now with two small children, people close to the couple say that Centonze was very cautious in the beginning about her emotions toward Michael Schiavo. They were friends for years after meeting at a dentist's office before the romance ever began. People who know her describe her as very compassionate, someone who actually became involved in the care of Terri Schiavo, never suspecting that it would land her one day in the middle of such an intense national controversy.

(voice-over): Family sources tell CNN Jodi Centonze has not wavered in her support for Michael Schiavo's commitment to his wife Terri Schiavo, nor for his legal need to remain married to her. But while she has been a private source of strength, Schiavo's relationship with Centonze has at times become a public liability.

MELODY LUDWIG, PROTESTER: He's been with Jodi Centonze for 10 years. I think this disqualified him as looking out for Terri's best interest.

MATTINGLY: Four weeks ago Terri Schiavo's parents unsuccessfully petitioned the court to grant their daughter a divorce. The motion accused Michael Schiavo of engaging in open adultery.

With emotions running high, Centonze has also become an open target. John Centonze is Jodi's brother.

JOHN CENTONZE, JODI CENTONZE'S BROTHER: I worry about my sister and her kids.


CENTONZE: People have stolen her phone records, called her. They called all of our relatives up north, all of her friends, threatening people, hate mail. I mean, people are fanatics.

MATTINGLY: On Easter Sunday, demonstrators protesting the decision to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube ignored "No Trespassing" signs at the home Michael Schiavo shares with Centonze. Protesters got wet when a sprinkler system turned on. Family members tell CNN Centonze lately spends much of her time with her children behind a security system, at their well-kept ranch house in a nondescript middle class neighborhood in Clearwater, Florida.

A police presence at the house is not unusual, according to neighboring. With one police car parked outside, we observed as many as four police patrols going by the house every 10 minutes.

PAT KAYLOR, MICHAEL SCHIAVO'S NEIGHBOR: It's become a very personal thing, an attack against the family here. And things that have been going on for at least the last six or seven years through the courts has been totally rejected and trying to find some loophole. Everybody is entitled to their rights, and this family should be left alone and let them make their decisions.

MATTINGLY: But being left alone does not seem to be an option right now for anyone close to the controversy. Not even those trying to lead a private life. It raises the question of when Centonze will ever be able to live a normal life with her family after the anything but normal death of Terri Schiavo.


ZAHN: That was David Mattingly, reporting for us. He also tells us that all of the angry phone calls that Jodi have received have come from women.

Moving on now, Mel Gibson's controversial movie, "The Passion of the Christ," is now back in theaters. And when we come back, religion, Hollywood and Mel Gibson as trend setter.


ZAHN: And we are back. Throughout the week, we will be talking about Hollywood and religion. Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was a phenomenal success at the box office last year, surprising critics and the media. And now the entertainment industry is listening, with the major TV networks planning shows with religious themes for their fall lineups. Tonight in our "People in the News" segment, how "The Passion," evolved from Gibson's deep religious faith, become one of the most successful movies of its time.


ZAHN (voice-over): Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," the blockbuster that brought the Bible back to theaters.

MARK PINSKY, ORLANDO SENTINEL: Meg Gibson is not the messiah, but he did make huge changes, I think, in the attitudes of Hollywood towards religious films.

ZAHN: A personal expression of faith has turned Hollywood on its head.

MEL GIBSON, DIRECTOR: And that's what making art is about. It's about sort of throwing it all out there. I think -- and if the fur is not flying, you ain't doing nothing.

ZAHN: Gibson's quest to make "The Passion" was rooted in his own religious convictions. As a young man, he considered joining the priesthood, and was raised as a conservative Catholic, out of the mainstream.

GIBSON: I probably sound like some egotist, you know, saying that the Roman church is wrong, but I believe it is, at the moment, since Vatican II.

JESS GAGLE, SR. EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Mel in his life has been heavily influenced by his father. His father was very unhappy with what he considered the modernization of the Catholic Church in the 1960s. So, Mel has now, after a few wild years, embraced the same kind of very, very conservative Catholicism that his father believed in.

ZAHN: In fact, Gibson has even built his own church in California, where mass is performed in traditional Latin, as it was before Vatican II.

KING: You don't like the new church, the mass in English, the...


KING: Why not?

GIBSON: It's missing some stuff.

KING: Like?

GIBSON: It's missing some very important things. I don't believe that transubstantiation occurs anymore. I mean if there's no rules, if there's not an absolute, then it's not worth much.

ZAHN: Gibson has said he went through a spiritual crisis about 14 years ago. In an interview with the Roman Catholic network Eternal Word Television, he described how he turned toward the story of Christ's crucifixion for help.

GIBSON: Like most of us, I mean, you get to a point in your life when you're pretty wounded by everything that goes on around you, by -- by your own transgressions, by other people's. I mean, life is -- it's a kind of a scarring thing. So I used the Passion as a meditation of healing myself.

ZAHN: But Gibson's decision to make a film of "The Passion" received a cold shoulder from Hollywood. Even with his Oscar-winning resume and box office clout of nearly $1 billion, studios were skeptical of a film about Jesus that Gibson wanted to make in Latin and Aramaic.

MICHAEL FLAHERTY, WALDEN MEDIA: If you go back as recently as two years ago, Mel Gibson couldn't get anybody's attention on this. He couldn't get finance. He couldn't get distribution, and nobody ever assumed that the movie would make a single dime in the movie theaters.

GIBSON: OK. No slowly raise it. Kind of -- perfect.

ZAHN: Gibson decided to finance the $30 million film himself.

TIM LAHAYE, CO-AUTHOR, "LEFT BEHIND": And he said then that he knew that he could lose $35 million of production costs of that movie, but he said, and with passion, he put his fist on the table. He said, "I don't care if I lose every cent. This is something I have to do."

BARBARA NICOLOSI, FILM AND TELEVISION CONSULTANT: He's making something that profoundly reflected his own deepest beliefs. He was making a movie, I think, as an act of repentance, a sign of his own repentance to God. That's one of the thing that gives "The Passion" its power, is that he actually believes this stuff.

ZAHN: But Gibson's beliefs would come under attack. Charges of anti-Semitism were leveled against the film, which Gibson strongly denied.

GIBSON: I don't want to lynch any Jews. I mean, it's like it's not what I'm about. I love them. I pray for them. I pray sincerely that every man, woman and child of the Jewish people ends up with their name in the Book of Life.

ZAHN: That same controversy helped make "The Passion" a must-see event.

PAUL LAUER, ICON PRODUCTIONS: There was like this outbreak of fire, this incredible energy and controversy, and the smoke went up, and everybody wanted to know what was going on.

ZAHN: The result: a film which has grossed more than $600 million worldwide and left Gibson thankful to his public.

GIBSON: Because I circumvented the system in a sense, their participation and their support was extremely necessary. I'm very aware of that. Millions of people got behind it and made it what it was.

ZAHN: When we come back, has Mel Gibson convinced Hollywood to find religion once again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that "The Passion of the Christ" made Hollywood to recognize that America is confronted by spirituality. Every idiom of our culture, from arts to novel to politics are affected by our theology.


ZAHN: And the question all of Hollywood is asking, what will Gibson do next?


ZAHN: And we're back. Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" struck a deep chord with movie goers, tapping into an audience in search of a new level of spirituality on the big screen. And we continue our "People in the News" segment, "Hollywood and Religion," with a look at Mel Gibson's passion for his controversial film and its message to Tinsel Town.


ZAHN (voice-over): January 2005, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" takes home the People's Choice award for favorite drama.

GIBSON: Because one doesn't make work for an elite, and I think that the people have spoken. And that, to me, is all I want to do is just get my message out there. And, you know, I'm pleased as punch.

ZAHN: But what lessons has Hollywood learned from "The Passion"? It may be difficult to tell, because in many ways, "The Passion" was a fluke.

LEAH ROZEN, FILM CRITIC, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: You had a major movie star, Mel Gibson, making this movie that was sort of obsessional with him, and you had all that controversy, so it kind of -- all these things collided in this perfect publicity storm, making it a movie people that felt they must see, and it's unlikely you can duplicate that.

ZAHN: One thing Gibson may have taught Hollywood is that it was overlooking an audience.

CAGLE: The real fallout of "The Passion of the Christ" is that Hollywood is more aware than ever of this very, very profitable or potentially profitable audience of conservative Christians out there.

BILL ANDERSON, CHRISTIAN BOOKSELLERS ASSOCIATION: Christians have a great need for entertainment. We are -- we are not absolved of that human desire for entertainment and escape.

So there have been some attempts at filling that void, but the void is bigger than the inventory of selection.

ZAHN: When marketing "The Passion," Gibson made the unorthodox decision to appeal directly to that audience. Before the film was released, he showed it to hand-picked church groups across the country, most notably, evangelical Christians.

LAUER: We went out, and we had a personal contact, one on one, and we showed the film, and we established a trust factor. And then those people became the transmitters to all of the people around them.

ZAHN: But there's debate over whether those same people will line up at the box office again for any future religious movies.

NICOLOSI: Christians don't tend to vote as a block on either television or movies. "The Passion" was an unbelievable exception. The Christian church got together and said, "Go to this movie." And that's something that never happens, and it's not going to happen again.

LAUER: This faith and family market is enormous. It just flexed its muscle. It wants more. It's hungry. How do we serve it? That should be what they're saying. And I think many are.

ZAHN: While Gibson's vision of "The Passion" was controversial, the quality of his filmmaking was rarely questioned. For religious films going forward, made inside or outside Hollywood, the bar has been raised.

JONATHAN BOCK, PRESIDENT, GRACE HILL MEDIA: So much of what is made for this audience, for religious Americans, is propaganda first and good art second. And this film reversed that order.

PINSKY: If you want a movie to succeed that reaches Christians, that reaches beyond Christians and evangelical Christians, it better be good. It's able to stand up in the marketplace, because we live in a very competitive environment when it comes to Hollywood culture.

ZAHN: Hollywood does have a long history of making biblical films. Most notably, a string of big budget spectaculars in the 1950s and '60s.

CHARLTON HESTON, ACTOR: Behold his mighty hand.

MICHAEL MEDVED, FILM CRITIC: "The Ten Commandments" was one of the most successful movies ever made. And it was one of six movies within 10 years that were number one at the box office that were biblical stories.

ZAHN: But in the mid '60s, the culture changed. Films changed, as well. Movies such as "Bonnie and Clyde," "Midnight Cowboy," and "The Godfather" pushed boundaries and helped push religious films out of fashion.

MEDVED: All of a sudden it was OK to use the "f" word and all of a sudden, it was OK to show nudity. All of a sudden, it was OK to show graphic violence.

ZAHN: But has Mel Gibson made religion an option again in Hollywood? At the very least, it seems to have opened some eyes.

LAUER: There's an increasing supply of people inside of Hollywood who are now saying, "Hey, you know, I've got that little faith-oriented thing or values oriented thing that I've kind of had on the back shelf. Maybe now is a good time to pull that out, see if we can get that out there."

NICOLOSI: I would say Hollywood is definitely more open to spirituality right now than I've ever seen it in my time out here. How long it's going to last? I don't know. But I think the culture in general is open to spirituality.

ZAHN: However, not everyone sees the film industry changing its ways. MEDVED: And a lot of people in the entertainment industry are terribly afraid that the evangelicals are coming, all those hordes with their pitch forks and their flaming crosses. And they're going to storm the castle of popular culture, and they're taking over America.

CAGLE: At a highly cynical level, your primary movie audience is basically 14- to 25-year-old men. What they want to see in a movie is action, stuff blowing up and women with large breasts. So if you can do that now, admittedly, all those elements are in Bible stories, but it's just a little hard to do them in a completely racy way.

ZAHN: Still, a film which took in more than $600 million worldwide, is hard to argue with.

CRAIG DETWEILER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, BIOLA UNIVERSITY: The bottom line is, whatever is the newest hit, they will tend to duplicate. Hollywood will always follow success with a chance to try to duplicate that. That's just good business.

ZAHN: As for Gibson's next movie choice, he's being tight lipped.

GIBSON: Well, I'm going to direct something else. I wrote it, yes.

ZAHN: It's rumored to be another religious based film. But for now, Gibson's next passion remains a secret.


ZAHN: Of course, we shouldn't forget that Mel Gibson has been harshly criticized for violence in some of his own movies that he's starred in. But the re-release of "The Passion" has some of the violent scenes cut out.

Tomorrow on our "People in the News" segment, Hollywood and religion. Faith gets a starring role in prime time. Spirituality front and center in some big television shows. We're going to take you behind the scenes of the CBS show "Joan of Arcadia," where God actually has a weekly recurring role.

And you can find more stories on people shaping our world in "People" magazine.

Still ahead, your choice for our "Person of the Day." But first, it's just about seven minutes before the hour. That means it's time to check in again with Erica Hill at HEADLINE NEWS.

Hi, Erica.

HILL: Hi, Paula.

Police say the juvenile son of the tribal chairman at a Minnesota Indian reservation is in custody now in connection with last week's school shooting. The Associated Press reports the boy was arrested on Sunday as part of an investigation into a potentially wider plot. Ten people died in last month's rampage at the Red Lake Indian Reservation, including the suspected gunman, 16-year-old Jeff Weise. Last week, an FBI agent said it appeared Weise acted alone.

A registered sex offender is charged with first degree murder and kidnapping in the death of a 10-year-old Iowa girl. Thirty-seven- year-old Roger Bentley could face life in prison if convicted. Authorities say Bentley took Jetseta Gage from her home on Thursday night. Her body was found in an abandoned mobile home the next day. According to court documents, there is evidence the girl was sexually abused.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist is back on the bench after being briefly hospitalized Sunday. A court spokesman says, quote, "problems developed" with the 80-year-old's tracheotomy tube and he had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. Rehnquist returned to the Supreme Court last week for the first time since last October when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent a tracheotomy.

A report ordered by Congress finds serious gaps in a new system of computerized background checks for airline passengers. Officials say the system doesn't have enough safeguards to protect the privacy of travelers. And the Transportation Security Administration hasn't met nine of the 10 criteria it must meet before launching it. The project, called Secure Flight, is aimed at identifying passengers who should get additional security attention.

And that is the latest from HEADLINE NEWS at this hour. Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: All I know is I get double-checked every time I go through. I don't know what it is, Erica.

HILL: You and me both.

ZAHN: Thank you.

Time to check in with Larry King, who is coming up at the top of the hour. How are you doing tonight, Larry?

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Hey, Paula. Welcome back.

ZAHN: Thank you. Nice to be back.

KING: You were missed.

We'll have a major panel discussion on the Schiavo matter, and Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, will join us. That's the first half of the show.

And the second half will deal with events in the Michael Jackson case. Big turnaround for the defense today with the admission of the prior dealings. That's all ahead with your phone calls, as well -- Paula.

ZAHN: I'll try to call, if they'll take it, Larry. KING: Try to get in, Paula.

ZAHN: I do. For some reason, they never take my call. See you at the top of the hour.

Coming up next, who is your pick as our person of the day? Pope John Paul II, the space station crew or 10-year-old Terry Vo. Find out when we come back.


ZAHN: And we want to thank you for voting for our PAULA ZAHN NOW "Person of the Day." We have tabulated the Web site vote, and the person you have chosen is one who may have lost his voice but is still sending a powerful message of hope to the world.


ZAHN (voice-over): It is a centuries-old Catholic tradition, the urbi et orbi, a blessing to the city and to the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the joy of Jesus Christ.

ZAHN: Over the past 25 years, Pope John Paul II has greeted the crowd in as many as 50 languages.

On this Easter Sunday, like years passed, tens of thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square. The faithful hoped the pope would make an appearance and give the traditional blessing. The 84-year-old pontiff has not spoken publicly since he left the hospital two weeks ago.

It looked like their hopes would be realized. A frail-looking pope appeared in his window overlooking the square. Then the crowd stood silent as they waited for the pope to speak. But all that could be heard was a faint rasp, and then silence.

Some wept as the pope struggled to speak. Eventually all he could do was bless the crowd with the sign of the cross.


ZAHN: And as you can imagine, it was a very strong reaction among those tens of thousands of people when they saw that mike get pulled away.

Your choice of our person of the day, of course, Pope John Paul II, whose very public suffering has become an offering, a way, he says, to let all of those who suffer know that they're not alone.

Just a reminder, every day before noon, we will give you three options for our person of the day. You log on. We will tabulate it during our broadcast and share it with you at the end of the show.

And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Tomorrow we will take you behind the scenes of "Joan of Arcadia" as we continue our series, "Hollywood and Religion."

That wraps it up for all of us here this evening. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Please joins us again tomorrow night. We'll be back same time, same place. Good night.


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