Drug Use at a Young Age
One could say that Robert Downey, Jr. was born into drug use. According to Downey, he began using marijuana at age six and often used drugs with his substance-abusing, celebrity father. Before long, Downey’s life was consumed by drug and alcohol addiction. His police record includes arrests for drunk driving, drug possession, trespassing and illegal firearms.
After achieving significant success as a film actor throughout the mid-1980s, Downey landed the part of Julian Wells in the motion picture adaption of the award-winning Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero. The 1987 depiction of a rich drug addict whose life spirals rapidly out of control was prophetic for Downey. In later years, he would describe his role in the film as “the ghost of Christmas Future.”
Heavy Drug Use in the Past
From 1996 to 2001, Downey was consistently in trouble with the law due to his heavy use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana. In addition to his numerous arrests for drug possession, Downey faced charges for carrying an illegal .357 Magnum handgun while speeding down Sunset Boulevard and trespassing into a neighbor’s home and falling asleep in one of its beds. Missing or failing one drug test after another, he hit rock bottom in 2000 when an anonymous 911 call directed police to his room at Merv Griffin’s Hotel in Palm Springs, California. Upon entering the room, police found Downey in a state of severe physical and mental impairment and in possession of both cocaine and Valium.
Robert Downey Jr’s Rock Bottom
Five months later, while still on probation, Robert Downey Jr. was picked up wandering shoeless around the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City with cocaine in his system. Although he was promptly released, this last bit of bad press proved to be the final straw for many in the entertainment industry. Downey’s recurring character in the popular television show Alley McBeal was written out of upcoming scripts and his contract with the program was promptly terminated. He also lost a key role in the upcoming film America’s Sweethearts and a chance to play Hamlet in a high-profile stage production.
His inability to get work ultimately served as a powerful wake-up call for Downey. After years caught in a vicious cycle of abuse, arrest, rehab and relapse, he was finally ready to work toward full recovery and maintained sobriety. This time, Downey entered his court-appointed probation and drug dependency program with a determination to make it stick. Because his past record made obtaining on-set insurance for Downey difficult if not downright impossible, it would be years before he acted in another major production. Eventually, however, a completely sober and dependable Downey returned to acting with a serious focus that no one could have anticipated.
A Successful Come Back
Although he had garnered significant critical acclaim throughout his career, Downey had never appeared in a true blockbuster hit. That all changed in 2008 when his personal recovery from chemical dependency culminated in a professional comeback of epic proportions. That year, he would star in both Tropic Thunder and Iron Man—two high-grossing films that earned Downy both critical and commercial recognition. Downey would follow these successes by playing the titular role in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes—a project that would soon become the eighth highest grossing film of that year.