The Fall and Rise of Robert Downey Jr.
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
WRITTEN BY: Richard Bush
He may be one of the most influential and inspiring figures in cinema, but that didn't happen overnight - far from it. Downey Jr.'s life has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, with heavy substance abuse and legal troubles plaguing his youth. But somehow, he went from forgotten star and prison inmate, to arguably the most integral Avenger in the MCU, one of the most successful franchises of all time! What do YOU think of Robert Downey Jr's comeback? Let us know in the comments!
Script written by Richard Bush
The Tragic Life of Robert Downey Jr.
He may be one of the most influential and inspiring figures in cinema, but that didn’t happen overnight - far from it. Downey Jr.’s life has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, with heavy substance abuse and legal troubles plaguing his youth. But somehow, he went from forgotten star and prison inmate, to arguably the most integral Avenger in the MCU, one of the most successful franchises of all time! Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’re taking a look at the tragic life of Robert Downey Jr.
From as young as eight years old, Downey claims that he was addicted to drugs. Introduced to drugs when he was just six years old by his father, who was a movie director, he says he was constantly surrounded by marijuana and cocaine. And at the time, taking drugs with his father was a way they bonded together. Downey states that he felt like it was his father’s way of trying to express his love for him. Not only would Downey sit at home and take whatever drugs were available, but he would also drink heavily and find himself making non-stop phone calls into the night, in the pursuit of procuring even more drugs.
Appearing in a number of his father’s movies, Downey eventually went on to study acting as a teenager - and following his mother and father’s divorce, he dropped out of high school and moved to New York to pursue an acting career. And things started out pretty well for him, with appearances in movies like “Weird Science” helping earn him an audition and a spot on the legendary “Saturday Night Live” sketch show. Unfortunately, Downey’s stint on the show came at a particularly bad time, and the 1985 season he starred in was regarded as one of the worst in the show’s history. As a result, most of the cast was fired and replaced.
Around this time, Downey was dating actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who according to Downey’s father would help keep his wild side restrained. The late 80s were a huge highlight of his movie career - with praised performances in “Less Than Zero” and “Chances Are.” However, even though he was having success in his acting career, he was still very much tackling drug addiction. In fact, in 1988, his then manager Loree Rodkin forced him into rehab, only for him to come out of rehab and fire her, angered at the idea of being put in there in the first place.
But in the ‘90s, Downey’s downward spiral got worse and worse. Although he would sometimes get clean for a few months - and was starring and impressing in more and more movies, even earning an Oscar nod for his role in “Chaplin,” he would ultimately slump back into his old ways. Sarah Jessica Parker split with him due to his drug abuse, he was arrested several times and he was even found curled up in a bed, practically naked, in his neighbor’s house. As a result, he was sent to a drug-rehab program by court order, which he then escaped, but was captured shortly after and sent to jail. A familiar cycle repeated itself throughout the 90s for Downey. He was being released from facilities, making movies, and then being arrested again for minor crimes or drug abuse. In 1996, he was infamously arrested for speeding down Sunset Boulevard in possession of cocaine, heroin, and .357 Magnum. Downey told of his time in prison, and how he was beaten by other inmates, sent to solitary confinement, and would clean pizza pans for eight cents an hour.
In the year 2000, Downey was out of rehab and working on the show “Ally McBeal,” earning heaps of praise for his performance. But he was still on a rocky path. Shortly after, he was arrested for possession and the “Ally McBeal” producers had him written out of the show. Again, he was sent to rehab. But 2001 onwards looked brighter for Downey. He had decided to fight his addiction, and in mid-2001 he earned his first post-rehab acting job, famously lip-syncing to the song “I Want Love” in an Elton John music video. From there, he starred in movies like 2003’s “The Singing Detective” and “Gothika,” 2005’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and 2007’s “Zodiac”. Although, during this time, he found insurance clauses written into his contracts due to his past addiction. His wife, Deborah Falconer, who he had been married to since 1992, left Downey in 2004, citing his drug abuse and prison time as a strain on their relationship.
But in 2003, during the divorce proceedings, Downey met Susan Levin, who he would later marry in 2005. And meeting Levin was integral to Downey’s continued recovery, with her stating that she wouldn’t marry him unless he completely kicked the drugs, for good. Dramatically throwing his stash of narcotics into the ocean, this was a key part of Downey’s soon to be gigantically successful career. Building up a head of steam towards the end of the 2000s, Downey starred in huge movies like “Tropic Thunder,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and, of course, the biggest role of his career, 2008’s “Iron Man.” And as we now know, that movie spawned sequels and would eventually become the lynchpin to the astronomically successful “Avengers” franchise.
With his huge success, it’s easy to look back at Downey Jr.’s early career and dismiss his run-ins with the law as the behavior of a typical eccentric, young, mischievous actor. But as we’ve just seen, it was much worse than that. If it wasn’t for the support of friends and loved ones, and his own determination to get clean, Downey Jr. may very well have faded into obscurity and never shaken loose from the shackles of addiction. Imagine all of the amazing performances we would have missed out on, including arguably one of the greatest character interpretations of all time - Tony Stark.
And that… is the tragic life of Robert Downey Jr. He may have looked down and out throughout most of his life, but ultimately, he became the ‘genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist’ we all love today!