Robert Downey Jr’s life could make a proper Hollywood movie. Back in 1997, scrubbing plates in LA County prison’s kitchen, Downey used to earn 8 cents an hour. Fast forward to some 20 years later, he is earning $80 million per movie. Robert Downey Jr. is now one of the most reputed and highest-paid actors in Hollywood. His start-studded success is what the world dreams of, but nobody praised the struggle behind it.
In 1992, after giving his stellar performance in Sir Richard Attenborough’s biopic “Chaplin”, he became one of the greatest actors of his generation, little did he know that instead of walking on the red carpet with shinning trophies, Downey would end up behind the bars in handcuffs. This all happened after he murdered his acting career and dived into the world of drug addiction.
This is his story, the story from a drug addict to people’s favorite Ironman!
If we start from the beginning, show biz and drug addiction run in the Downey family. His father, Robert Downey Sr. also had substance abuse disorder and he introduced Downey Jr. to marijuana at the young age of just 6. The 1996 People article once mentioned that the father-son relationship blossomed over drugs. Drugs facilitated their relationship leading Downey to become a daily drinker.
But despite his drug addiction, Downey Jr. made a name for himself in the industry as a rising young actor in the mid-80s. His show “Saturday Night Live” got him a chance to bag roles in many movies including John Hughes’ Weird Science, and in The Pick-Up Artist in 1987, where he worked alongside Molly Ringwald. He gave wonderful performances in movies like Less Than Zero and Chaplin. By this time, Downey Jr. was slowly setting his path to fame, though secretly struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
His career moving on an upward trajectory came to halt in 1996 when he was arrested for possession of heroin and cocaine. Since then, Downey became a regular in prison, between 1996 and 2001, he was arrested multiple times on drug-related charges. His addiction forced him out of the industry and many career-defining roles were lost from his hands.
One of the most disturbing drugs-related behaviors was when intoxicated Downey entered his neighbor’s house and passed out on their son’s bed. In 1999, he was finally sentenced to 3 years prison stint and ended up serving a year in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. In 2001, Downey was found barefoot walking around Culver City, where he was assumed to be under the influence. This was when he had hit the rock bottom, all the roles in his hands were gone, Hollywood boycotted him, his wife left him and now he was at the edge of bankruptcy. Downey was then assigned to a rehab center.
This was the turning point of his life when he decided to recover once and for all. He did everything to get himself off drugs and finally, he did it. His wife Susan Downey once shared in an interview that Downey completely quit drugs by 2003, when she gave him an ultimatum. By 2004, he was released from the rehab center and was once again back in the industry- clean and focused.
Rise to fame
Though he was clean, Downey struggled to get good roles. He starred in many movies like Gothika, A Scanner Darkly, Zodiac and Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, but none of them were career-defining. Most of the filmmakers didn’t want to hire Downey due to the enormous amount of exorbitant insurance bonds it required to have him on set.
Things changed when Downey was cast as Iron Man by Marvel Studios. But bagging this role wasn’t that easy! Marvel first refused to cast him as Iron Man, “under no circumstances are we prepared to hire him for any price,” said Director Jon Favreau. The Studios pushed the idea of casting him due to his public history. But Favreau saw great similarities between Tony Stark and the actor. They also approached Sam Rockwell and Tom Cruise for the role, but none of them ended up accepting it. After much thought and discussion, Downey was finally cast as Iron Man. Little did everyone know, that Marvel Studios on the verge of Bankruptcy will blow up with Iron Man! The movie literally broke records and both the Studios and Downey’s career was back on track.
‘Iron Man’ (2008) was an international mega-hit and made Downey people’s favorite superhero. The same year he signed Iron Man Trilogy with the Marvel studios. In 2009, he played the role of Sherlock Holmes, which was another mega-hit movie. Downey went on to appear in six more MCU movies and bid farewell to his role as Iron Man in the 2019 Avengers: Endgame. Today Robert Downey Jr. stands synonymous with both Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, two of the most powerful characters in Hollywood.
He is a global star with numerous followers around the world. He fought with addiction, was outcasted from the industry, lost tons of money yet still came back strong and powerful. In all sense, his life is nothing less than an inspiration for generations to come. Thus proving that a Great future does not require a Great past!