Robert Downey Jr. is, frankly, lucky to be alive. After making his screen debut in 1970 at the age of 5 (in a film directed by his underground filmmaker father – he played a puppy) he began the long and extraordinarily rocky road to adult stability and a thriving career.
By the 1980’s the young actor was making coming of age films, had a single year stint as a SNL cat member and had already nurtured a full blown drug habit. By the mid-90’s that habit had resulted in jail time, public humiliation and countless efforts at rehab, all of which failed. During these years he also starred in Chaplin as Charlie Chaplin, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and won an Emmy for his appearance on the TV show Ally McBeal opposite Calista Flockhart. Despite the popularity of the character and Downey’s obvious talent and charm, he was written out of the show in 2000 because he could not stay clean. Between 1996 and 2001, Downey was in the news far more often for drug offenses than for acting roles. He was spiraling the drain.
After a Palm Springs arrest in 2001 he was offered yet another shot at rehab. This time he took it. Downey emerged clean and ready to work, with only one problem – no one could hire him because no company would insure a project in which he was involved. With the help of former co-star Mel Gibson (the two starred in Air America in 1990), who paid his insurance bond, he was able to complete The Singing Detective in 2003. And that was the beginning of a truly triumphant comeback.
Not every film Downey has touched has been golden, for sure. He starred in duds like The Shaggy Dog, but also in well received small movies like Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and the big budget David Fincher film Zodiac.
Of course the movie that solidified Downey as a superstar was Ironman (2008). It didn’t hurt that the same summer saw the release of Tropic Thunder, for which he would receive his second Academy Award nomination. In one season he became one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood. Starring roles in Sherlock Holmes and Ironman 2 as well as the lead in the drama The Soloist followed and in 2010 Downey and his wife Susan formed their Team Downey production company. Their first project is slated to be the Steve McQueen scripted Yucatan.
Downey lives in California with his wife Susan. He has one son, Indio Falconer Downey, born in 1993 with his then-wife Deborah Falconer. He’s an accomplished singer and is known to be something of an ass. Which he readily admits.
Photo by Edgar Meritano