Understanding Robert Downey Jr’s Battles With Addiction, His Comeback and Family Life

The life of every human being in the world is certainly full of ups and downs. The peculiarities of this, however, differ as many have had more ups than downs while others have had very few ups to celebrate. Robert Downey Jr.’s life looks to fit into the former category as he is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. His work has garnered him wide recognition as he has become one of the world’s highest-grossing box office stars of all time. This, among many other achievements, makes it appear as if he has enjoyed a smooth road to success.

But before becoming the globally recognized star he is today thanks to his roles as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin (1992), Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and its 2011 sequel, Downing’s life was a huge mess due to his battle with substance abuse. Those familiar with his story; how he did not lose his life and was able to turn things around to become sober, view it as nothing short of a miracle.

How Robert Downey Jr Began Using Drugs

Robert Downey Jr.’s namesake father has taken the brunt of the blame for why his son began using drugs in the first place. As the story goes, the older Downey who was also an addict, began giving his son drugs when he was eight years of age and the young boy grew up to get addicted to substance use.

“When my dad and I would do drugs together”, Downey Jr. is quoted as having said in an ABC interview, “it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how”.

Robert and his father were very close to each other and they bonded over their common interest in substance use. Before all of that which his father has since expressed regret for, Downey Sr. who was an actor and filmmaker gave his son his acting debut when he was only 5. This came in the 1970 comedy film Pound where he played the role of Puppy.

The Effects of Substance Abuse On His Career

Robert Downey Jr. was doing very well for himself in the early stages of his career, a period that was, however, filled with heavy substance abuse. By 1995 when it all came crashing down on him, the actor had appeared in over thirty projects, including Chaplin where he put in a BAFTA Award-winning and Academy Award for Best Actor-nominated performance.

Between 1996 and 2001, Robert was arrested on several occasions for drug-related offenses that included driving under the influence, trespassing, and possession of illegal substances. The first notable incident occurred in April 1996 when he was arrested for possession of heroin and cocaine after he was stopped speeding down Sunset Boulevard. He also had an unloaded handgun with him at the time of his arrest.

While on parole, Robert continued using drugs. On one occasion, he trespassed into a neighbor’s home and fell asleep in one of the beds while under the influence. He received three years probation for this and was also ordered to undergo mandatory drug testing which he failed to do in 1997 and had to spend six months behind bars.

In 1999, Robert Downey Jr. again missed out on another drug test and was sent to prison, this time for three years. He, however, spent only a year in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison before being surprisingly released by a judge. By this time, the actor had lost more than a few gigs, notably a voice role in the NBC animated sitcom God, the Devil, and Bob.

Robert Downey Jr jailed
Robert Downey Jr was jailed the second time in 1999: Image source

After regaining his freedom, Downey made strides towards getting his career back on track. He did so by landing a role in the hit television series, Ally McBeal. For his performance on the show, he received an Emmy Award and won a Golden Globe. Things looked to be getting back to normal for the star until he was arrested during Thanksgiving in 2000 in his hotel room. The cops had been called anonymously to the location and they found the actor to be under the influence of a substance. He further had Valium and Cocaine in his possession.

A few months later in April 2001, while out on parole and after his stepmother had revealed that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder years ago, Robert was found wandering barefooted in Culver City. He was arrested by police officers on suspicion of being under the influence but was released soon after. This cost him some of the roles he had at the time, including the one in Ally McBeal as he was fired from the show. He was later sentenced to three years of probation and sent to a drug rehabilitation facility.

This last arrest proved to be the eye-opener for the actor as he said he was tired of spending time in prison and was not ready to do so ever again. He thus worked on getting himself clean and has been so ever since.

His Comeback and the Success He Enjoyed

After leaving rehab in 2001, the first gig Robert Downey Jr. could find was a role in the video for Elton John’s “I Want Love”. Two years later, he landed his first big-screen project in The Singing Detective (2003). Other projects that featured him in the mid-2000s include Gothika (2003), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), and Zodiac (2007).

In a 2008 interview with New York Times’ David Carr, Downey said that he had been drug-free for the past five years. The actor was enjoying every bit of life at the time and had just completed the shooting of two critically and commercially successful movies; Iron Man (2008) and Tropic Thunder (2008). He received rave reviews for his performance in both films, specifically the latter which earned him best supporting actor nominations at the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards. He was further named among the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine that year.

In the years that followed, Robert Downey Jr. has made sure to stay clean and focus on his work. This has allowed him to feature in multiple blockbuster projects, particularly those from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Along with his wife, he has also launched his very own production company called Team Downey which has produced films such as The Judge (2014) and Dolittle (2020).

Interesting Details About Robert Downey Jr.’s Family

Robert Downey Jr and wife Susan
Robert Downey Jr credits his wife for helping him to overcome addiction permanently: Image source

Robert Downey Jr.’s addiction to drugs has not just been a problem to him but also his family. It is said that his repeated trips to rehab and jail were what crashed his first marriage. The actor was previously married to actress and singer Deborah Falconer in 1992. The pair, who share a son named Indio Falconer Downey (born in 1993), remained together until 2001 when Falconer left him following his last arrest. They finalized divorce proceedings in April 2004.

In 2003, while estranged from his wife, Downey met producer Susan Levin on the set of the film Gothika. Things did not get off to a smooth start for the couple as Levin twice turned down the actor’s advances. She later accepted his proposal and they soon began dating. Downey later proposed to Levin and in August 2005, they exchanged marital vows and have been by each other’s side ever since.

Together, Susan Levin and Robert Downey Jr. have welcomed two kids; a son named Exton Elias Downey who was born on February 7, 2012, and a daughter named Avril Roel Downey who was born on November 4, 2014.


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