LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Val Kilmer took the unusual step Wednesday of going before a county commission in rural New Mexico to make amends with some of his neighbors who are angry over disparaging comments attributed to the actor over the years.
San Miguel County commissioners invited Kilmer to explain magazine interviews in which he said he lives in the "homicide capital of the Southwest" and proclaimed that 80 percent "of the people in my county are drunk." He also made insensitive comments about war veterans.
Hard feelings about Kilmer's words resurfaced with a plan for his Pecos River Ranch to open three guest houses to paying customers. After Wednesday's meeting and Kilmer's apology, commissioners gave Kilmer the go-ahead.
Dressed in a black blazer, blue button-up shirt and a bolo tie, the star of movies including "Tombstone," "Top Gun" and "The Doors" had his hair tied back as he stood before commissioners and more than four dozen people at the county courthouse. With a prepared statement folded in his hands, he explained that his words were taken out of context and misunderstood.
"I can only ask that you view my apology as a stepping stone toward repairing this misunderstanding between us so that we can go forward, working together toward a common interest in promoting and protecting our beloved New Mexico," Kilmer said.
He said he has lived in the area for more than two decades and loves it. His grandfather is buried here, his father lived here, and his children were born here and have grown up here, Kilmer said.
But he understood why some residents are upset.
"I have the same concerns as anyone else when you hear negative things about a place you love," he told The Associated Press before the meeting. "That's the good part of this story. Really, they care about where they live, and I do too. I share their concerns."
Kilmer said he feels guilty "that I haven't done enough work to make sure people know this isn't me. I'm on the other side of the fight."
There was increased security, with six officers from state police, the sheriff's office and Las Vegas police inside the commission chambers. Some people were not allowed into the crowded room.
Commission chairman David Salazar said Kilmer wasn't forced to appear Wednesday but was simply offered an opportunity to speak.
"It took a lot, I think, for him to come down here and face everybody," Salazar said. "It takes a lot to apologize, and a lot of people wouldn't have done it, but he chose to come down here and do what he did, and I think he was sincere."
The commission ultimately decided to approve a permit for Kilmer's guest houses. The county's zoning and planning commission approved the proposal 3-2 in March, but Rowe resident Abran Tapia appealed.
Tapia has accused Kilmer of being a bad neighbor and a racist. He claims the actor is trying to create "a segregated facility" by charging people to stay at the guest houses. He reasons that local Hispanics would be excluded because they couldn't afford a stay at the private ranch.
As in his previous pleadings with the commission, Tapia pointed Wednesday to comments Kilmer made in the magazine articles. Tapia didn't accept Kilmer's apology.
"We're trying to make the world better too, but we won't do it if we allow people like him to instigate," Tapia said.
In October 2003, Rolling Stone published an article that quoted Kilmer as saying he lived in the "homicide capital of the Southwest," and 80 percent "of the people in my county are drunk."
Rolling Stone stood by the article, but Kilmer denied the statements and said he had bragged about New Mexico during the interview. Days later, he took out an ad in the Santa Fe New Mexican, saying he loved New Mexico and Pecos.
Two years later, Kilmer explained for an Esquire writer the emotional toll acting takes on an artist by talking about soldiers who fought in Vietnam and how they couldn't have mentally prepared for the horror of war. He was quoted as saying most were sent to the war because they were "borderline criminal or poor."
Commissioners asked Kilmer about the articles.
"No one in this room, in this county, in the state, in the country, in the world, can make one statement and say that I've ever said one disparaging thing against anyone that has defended our nation, because it's not true," Kilmer said.
He said his words were twisted and he hopes residents of San Miguel County and New Mexico recognize he regrets the impact the comments had. He also discussed his efforts to help schools, improve wildlife habitat and encourage filmmakers to come to New Mexico.
County Attorney Jesus Lopez said the matter has been trying for him and the commissioners. Lopez said they have received hate mail, phone calls and e-mails from supporters of Tapia as well as from people who stand behind Kilmer.
"I hope we can put this to bed today and all live as neighbors," Lopez said.