Robert Downey Jr., an American actor-producer, is known for his enigmatic Tony Stark, in Marvel’s superhero film Iron Man. Unlike certain Hollywood actors who choose to keep a clean reputation, Downey Jr. on the other hand faced several serious controversies throughout his career. These included a period of substance abuse and legal troubles. Even though such ups and downs, he managed to maintain a balance in his professional and personal life. He got both critical and popular appreciation for his acting roles.
Downey Jr. was named among the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine and was listed by Forbes as the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.
Born Robert John Downey Jr., he is the younger of the two children. Raised in Manhattan, New York City, his father, Robert Downey Sr., was an actor-filmmaker, while his mother, Elsie Ann, acted in Downey Sr.’s films. Robert’s original family name was Elias which was later changed to enlist in the Army, by his father. Downey Jr. along with his older sister Allyson grew up in Greenwich Village.
Downey Jr. during his childhood was surrounded by drugs. As his father was a drug addict and allowed to use marijuana when he was six, which his father later regretted. Downey Jr. felt it was his way of expressing love. Eventually, Downey Jr. began drug and alcohol abuse.
At the age of five, with his father’s film Pound, he made his acting debut. At seven he appeared in the surrealist Western, Greaser’s Palace. At ten, he studied classical ballet as part of a larger curriculum in England.
As a teenager, he attended the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in upstate New York. After his parent’s divorce Downey Jr. moved to California with his father. Later he dropped out of Santa Monica High School and went to New York to pursue an acting career full-time.
Downey and Kiefer Sutherland acted in the drama 1969, they were roommates for three years when he first moved to Hollywood to pursue acting as a career.
Downey Jr. started his career with theatre roles. In 1985, he was cast in Saturday Night Live (SNL) as one of the new and younger cast members. But it received poor ratings and his comedic talents were criticized. Later he was dropped and replaced. That same year, he had his breakthrough with his dramatic acting, by playing James Spader’s character’s sidekick in Tuff Turf and then a bully in John Hughes’s Weird Science. He was even considered for the role of Duckie in John Hughes’s Pretty in Pink. His first lead role was with Molly Ringwald in The Pick-up Artist.
In 1987, he played Julian Wells, a drug-addicted rich boy whose life spirals out of his control, in the film Less Than Zero. This film gave him his big break. He was being considered in big-budget productions and was cast alongside notable actors. These include Chances Are with Cybill Shepherd and Ryan O’Neal, Air America with Mel Gibson and Soapdish with Sally Field, Kevin Kline, and Whoopi Goldberg.
In 1992, he starred as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, for which he prepared rigorously. Learning to play the violin as well as playing tennis, left-handed. He had personal coaching to learn Chaplin’s posture. For this he got an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, ultimately losing to Al Pacino’s Scent of a Woman.
Since then, he started experimenting with his roles. These include Only You with Marisa Tomei and Natural Born Killers with Woody Harrelson. Followed by Restoration, Richard III, Home for the Holidays, Two Girls and a Guy, U.S. Marshals, and Black and White.
From 1996 through 2001, Downey Jr. faced a lot of problems, that took an impact on his career as well. He was arrested several times on charges of drugs like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. In April 1996, he was arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine, and unloaded. 357 Magnum handgun while speeding down Sunset Boulevard. He was later ordered to undergo compulsory drug testing. Missing one of them led him to spend six months in Los Angeles County jail.
After missing another drug test in 1999, he was arrested again. Downey Jr. was sentenced to a three-year prison term at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, California.
After spending a year in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, he was released. A week after this he joined the cast of the hit television series Ally McBeal, playing a new love interest. He was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Before the end of his first season on Ally McBeal, he was arrested again. After this last arrest, Ally McBeal executives ordered last-minute rewrites and reshoots and fired Downey Jr., despite his character increased Ally McBeal‘s ratings. The Culver City arrest cost him a role in the high-profile film America’s Sweethearts.
Director Woody Allen wanted to cast Downey and Winona Ryder in his film Melinda and Melinda in 2005 but was unable.
Even after all these, many other serious accusations and allegations never left his side. From court cases to jail time Downey Jr. definitely hit rock bottom.
After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapse, Downey Jr. was ready to work toward a full recovery from drugs and return to his career. Post-rehabilitation his first acting job was in August 2001. Lip-syncing in the video for Elton John’s single “I Want Love”.
He was able to return to the big screen after the 2003 film The Singing Detective. Mel Gibson financially supported the movie. His gamble ultimately paved the way for a comeback and Downey Jr. returned to mainstream films.
Starting with Gothika, later he got the leading role in the comedy thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was the directorial debut of screenwriter Shane Black. This is followed by A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Good Night, and Good Luck, A Scanner Darkly, and Steven Shainberg’s Fur. In 2007, Downey Jr. appeared in David Fincher’s Zodiac, based on a true story.
Enter Iron Man
With the critical success he experienced throughout his career, he still did not have any blockbuster films. Cut to 2008, this all changed. Downey Jr. starred in two critically and commercially successful films, Iron Man and Tropic Thunder.
John Favreau, director of Iron Man insisted on having Downey Jr. play the role. As he wanted him to be like Johnny Depp is to the Pirates of the Caribbean series: a lead actor who could carry a whole franchise. For this, he had to gain more than 20 pounds of muscle in five months to look the part.
Iron Man gained a lot of popularity, finally cementing him as the face of MCU after the success of The Avengers.
The first role he accepted after Iron Man was the title character in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. It ended up being the 8th highest-grossing film of 2009.
Later he returned as Tony Stark in the first of two planned sequels to Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 2 was the 7th highest-grossing film of 2010. His other successful films include the comedy Due Date, opposite Zach Galifianakis, and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with Noomi Rapace.
He then returned as Tony Stark in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War finally completing it with Avengers: Endgame.
He won the British Academy Film Awards, Best Actor for Chaplin, a Golden Globe for Sherlock Holmes, Kids Choice Awards for Iron Man 3, MTV Movie Awards for The Avengers and Avengers: Endgame, People’s Choice Awards for The Judge, Captain America: Civil War, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers. He even won a Screen Guild Award and a Golden Globe for miniseries Ally McBeal.
Downy Jr. after going through several ups and downs in his career, ultimately succeeded to become a star. His acting is highly appreciated by the audience. He happens to be drug-free since July 2003. He has maintained his sobriety with the help of his family, therapy, meditation, twelve-step recovery programs, yoga, and the practice of Wing Chun kung fu, which he learned from Eric Oram. His life is very inspiring.
He will be next seen in All-Star Weekend, directed by Jamie Foxx. He will reprise his role as Holmes in a third film. Co-star in the television adaptation of novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel, The Sympathizer, and play Lewis Strauss in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming biographical film Oppenheimer, along with Cillian Murphy.