From drug addict to super star family man, Robert Downey Jr. finds redemption
By Lisa Respers France
(CNN) — Bravo to you Robert Downey Jr.
The actor has successfully transformed his life from a man fans once feared would lose his life to substance abuse to a megastar who also happens to be a devoted husband and father. Gone is the wisecracking playboy daredevil and here now is a witty man enthralled with the woman in his life and clearly focused on his work.
It’s hard to tell if Robert Downey Jr. is channeling Tony Stark or if the moviegoers are buying into the actor’s portrayal of “Iron Man” because the character is not that much of a stretch. And we aren’t the only ones who think so. EW posed the question “Anyone else got a sneaking suspicion that Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark are actually the same person?” in a story about the actor’s recent appearance on “The Daily Show.”
With the third film in the “Iron Man” franchise out this week, there is time to yet again marvel at the fact that there was a time when Downey was beyond down and out in Beverly Hills. In fact, he was pretty much the Lindsay Lohan of his time: an incredibly talented artist who seemed to attract trouble the moment he stepped out the door.
He reportedly had his first experience with drugs at age 6 when his father, the director Robert Downey, gave him a toke of marijuana (years later the elder Downey would confess to regretting that decision.) In the 1980s, roles in films like “Less Than Zero” and “The Pick-up Artist” gave him honorary status in the Brat Pack, a group of hot young actors who dominated the movie scene during that decade.
He also had a highly publicized romance with Sarah Jessica Parker, who would go on to find fame as the star of “Sex and the City.” But for all his luck in love and on screen (a turn as the iconic Charlie Chaplin in the 1992 film “Chaplin” earned him a best actor Oscar nomination) the dark side of show business resulted in multiple arrests for everything from driving under the influence to gun possession.
“It’s like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I’ve got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal,” the actor famously told a judge in 1999.
His lifestyle not only took a toll on his reputation (he became fodder for jokes when in 1996 after a night of partying he wandered into a neighbor’s home in Malibu and fell asleep in a child’s bed), but also helped end his relationship with Parker.
“I was so selfish,” he said in a 2008 interview. “I liked to drink, and I had a drug problem, and that didn’t jibe with Sarah Jessica, because it is the furthest thing from what she is. She provided me a home and understanding. She tried to help me. She was so miffed when I didn’t get my act together.”
Even a stint on the then very popular show “Ally McBeal” didn’t stop his addiction and in 2001 he was fired from the series after yet another drug arrest.
But like Tony Stark, Downey wrapped himself in the armor of his work and pulled himself out of the depths of addiction. By 2005, he had critics raving with his performance in films like “Wonder Boys” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” That same year he married producer Susan Levin, whom he met when she served as a producer on the 2003 movie “Gothika.”
Levin (now Susan Downey) told Harper’s Bazaar that she made it clear to her now husband that he would have to clean up his act.
“I did meet Darth Vader (what she calls his troubled persona), for like a minute,” she said, “right after the movie wrapped, and I said immediately, ‘This isn’t gonna work.’ I made it clear that to stay with me, nothing could happen.”
The couple became parents of a son in 2012 and Downey also has an older son from an earlier marriage.
Such stability has clearly helped Downey reach the pinnacle where moviegoers are eagerly awaiting his new film and even Buzzfeed has hopped on board, producing a piece titled “32 reasons Robert Downey Jr. is the most perfect man in the universe.”
“You’re very handsome, don’t let anyone tell you different,” Jimmy Kimmel said to the actor, to which he responded: “They don’t.”
“Iron Man” co-star Gwyneth Paltrow went so far as to rank Downey’s Stark above another popular superhero set to bow at theaters soon, the “Man of Steel.”
“(Tony Stark’s) gorgeous,” Paltrow said. “I’m still not convinced with the man in tights and the cape.”
And with all Downey’s toughness, resilience and charm, it’s no wonder “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart had a straight face when he told the actor “You are Iron Man. You are.”