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 This article is about the actor. For his father, the filmmaker and director, see Robert Downey, Sr.. For all others, see Robert Downey.


Robert John Downey, Jr. (born April 4, 1965) is an American actor who made his screen debut at the age of five, appearing in his father Robert Downey, Sr.'s film Pound. He has appeared in roles associated with the Brat Pack, such as Less Than Zero and Weird Science. Other films he has starred in include Air America, Soapdish, and Natural Born Killers. He starred as Charlie Chaplin, the title character in the 1992 film Chaplin, earning him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

After being released from the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in 2000 for drug charges, Downey joined the cast of the TV series Ally McBeal playing Calista Flockhart's love interest. His performance was praised and he received a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries, or Television Film. His character was written out when Downey was fired after two drug arrests in late 2000 and early 2001. After one last stay in a court-ordered drug treatment program, Downey finally achieved sobriety.

His more recent films include The Singing Detective, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, Gothika, Zodiac and Tropic Thunder. In 2008, Downey played the role of Marvel superhero Tony Stark / Iron Man in the live action film Iron Man, a role he reprised in Iron Man 2, Marvel's The Avengers, and Iron Man 3. He reprised his role in a cameo appearance in The Incredible Hulk. He will again reprise his role in the upcoming films, Avengers: Age of Ultron and another Avengers sequel. In 2009, he played the title character in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes and again in 2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Downey has starred in six movies that have each grossed over $500 million at the box office worldwide. Two of those films, The Avengers and Iron Man 3, each earned over $1 billion. Downey tops the Forbes list of Hollywood's Highest-Paid Actors with an estimated $75 million in earnings between June 2012 and June 2013.[1]

Early life and family[]

Downey was born in Manhattan, New York City, New York, the younger of two children. His father, Robert Downey, Sr., is an actor, writer, producer, cinematographer, and director of underground films, and his mother, Elsie (née Ford), is also an actress and appeared in Downey, Sr.'s films. His paternal grandfather was of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry and his paternal grandmother was of Irish Canadian and Hungarian ancestry. His mother is of Scottish, German, and Swiss German descent.[2][3][4] His father was born "Robert Elias", and changed his last name to "Downey" (after his stepfather James Downey), when he was a minor and wanted to enlist in the Army.[3][5] He and his older sister, Allyson, grew up in Greenwich Village.[6]

As a child, Downey was "surrounded by drugs".[6] His father, a drug addict, allowed Downey to use marijuana at age six, an incident which his father has said that he now regrets.[6] Downey stated that drug use became an emotional bond between him and his father: "When my dad and I would do drugs together, it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how."[7] Eventually, Downey began spending every night abusing alcohol and "making a thousand phone calls in pursuit of drugs".[7]

During his childhood Downey had minor roles in his father's films. He made his acting debut at the age of five, playing a sick puppy in the absurdist comedy Pound (1970), and then at age seven appeared in the surrealist Greaser's Palace (1972).[3] At the age of ten, he was living in England and studied classical ballet as part of a larger curriculum.[8] He attended the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in upstate New York as a teenager. When his parents divorced in 1978, Downey moved to California with his father, but in 1982 he dropped out of Santa Monica High School and moved back to New York to pursue an acting career full-time.[9]

Downey and Kiefer Sutherland, who shared the screen together in the 1988 film 1969, were roommates for three years when he first moved to Hollywood to pursue his career in acting.[10]

Career[]

Beginnings and criticial acclaim[]

 

 

Downey began building upon theater roles, including the short-lived off-Broadway musical "American Passion" at the Joyce Theater in 1983, produced by Norman Lear. In 1985, he was part of the new, younger cast hired for Saturday Night Live, but following a year of poor ratings and criticism of the new cast's comedic talents, he and most of the new crew were replaced.[9] That same year, Downey had a dramatic acting breakthrough when he played James Spader's sidekick in Tuff Turf and then a bully in John Hughes' Weird Science. He was considered for the role of Duckie in John Hughes' film Pretty in Pink (1986),[11][12] but his first lead role would be with Molly Ringwald in The Pick-up Artist (1987). Because of these and other coming-of-age films Downey did during the 1980s, he is sometimes named as a member of the Brat Pack.[9][13]

In 1987, Downey played Julian Wells, a drug-addicted rich boy whose life rapidly spirals out of his control, in the film version of the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero. His performance, described by Janet Maslin in The New York Times as "desperately moving",[14] was widely praised, though Downey has said that for him "the role was like the ghost of Christmas Future" since his drug habit resulted in his becoming an "exaggeration of the character" in real life.[15] Zero drove Downey into films with bigger budgets and names, such as Chances Are (1989) with Cybill Shepherd and Ryan O'Neal, Air America (1990) with Mel Gibson, and Soapdish (1991) with Sally Field, Kevin Kline and Whoopi Goldberg.

In 1992, he starred as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, a role for which he prepared extensively, learning how to play the violin and tennis left-handed. He even had a personal coach in order to imitate Chaplin's posture and way of carrying himself.[16] The role garnered Downey an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards 65th ceremony, losing to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman.[17] His other films in the 1990s included Heart and Souls, Only You, Natural Born Killers, Restoration, Two Girls and a Guy, Black and White, Short Cuts, Richard III, and The Last Party, a documentary written by Downey.

Career troubles (1996-2001)[]

From 1996 through 2001, Downey was arrested numerous times on drug-related charges including cocaine, heroin and marijuana[18] and went several times through drug treatment programs unsuccessfully, explaining in 1999 to a judge: "It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal."[19] He explained his relapses by claiming to have been addicted to drugs since the age of eight, due to the fact that his father, also an addict, had been giving them to him.[19]

In April 1996, Downey was arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine and an unloaded .357 Magnum handgun while he was speeding down Sunset Boulevard. A month later, while on parole, he trespassed into a neighbor's home while under the influence of a controlled substance and fell asleep in one of the beds.[20][21] He was sentenced to three years of probation and required to undergo compulsory drug testing. In 1997, he missed one of the court-ordered drug tests and had to spend four months in the Los Angeles County jail.

After Downey missed another required drug test in 1999, he was arrested once more. Despite Downey's lawyer, John Stewart Holden, assembling for his client's 1999 defense the same team of lawyers that successfully defended O.J. Simpson during his criminal trial for murder,[19] Downey was sentenced to a three-year prison term at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, California (a.k.a. "Corcoran II"). At the time of the 1999 arrest, all of Downey's film projects had wrapped and were close to release, with the exception of In Dreams, which he was allowed to complete filming. He had also been hired for voicing "The Devil" on the NBC animated television series God, the Devil and Bob, but was fired when he failed to show up for rehearsals.[22][23]

After spending nearly a year in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, California, Downey, on condition of posting $5,000 bail, was unexpectedly freed when a judge ruled that his collective time in incarceration facilities (spawned from the initial 1996 arrests) had qualified him for early release.[6] A week after his 2000 release, Downey joined the cast of the hit television series Ally McBeal, playing the new love interest of Calista Flockhart's title character.[24] His performance was praised and the following year he was nominated for an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a mini-series or television film.[25][26] He also appeared as a writer and singer on Vonda Shepard's Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life album, and he sang with Sting a duet of "Every Breath You Take" in an episode of the series. Despite the apparent success, Downey claims that his performance on the series was overrated and that, "It was my lowest point in terms of addictions. At that stage, I didn't give a fuck whether I ever acted again."[15] In January 2001, Downey was scheduled to play the role of Hamlet in a Los Angeles stage production directed by Mel Gibson.[27]

Before the end of his first season on Ally McBeal, over the Thanksgiving 2000 holiday, Downey was arrested when his room at Merv Griffin's Hotel and Givenchy Spa in Palm Springs, California was searched by the police, who were responding to an anonymous 911 call. Downey was under the influence of a controlled substance and in possession of cocaine and Valium.[28][29] Despite the fact that, if convicted, he could face a prison sentence of up to four years and eight months, he signed on to appear in at least eight more Ally McBeal episodes.[30]

In April 2001, while he was on parole, a Los Angeles police officer found him wandering barefoot in Culver City, just outside Los Angeles. He was arrested for suspicion of being under the influence of drugs, but was released a few hours later,[31] even though tests showed he had cocaine in his system.[32] After this last arrest, producer David E. Kelley and other Ally McBeal executives ordered last-minute rewrites and reshoots and dismissed Downey from the show, despite the fact that Downey's character had resuscitated Ally McBeal's ratings.[33] The Culver City arrest also cost him a role in the high-profile film America's Sweethearts,[32] and the subsequent incarceration forced Mel Gibson to shut down his planned stage production of Hamlet, as well. In July 2001, Downey pleaded no contest to the Palm Springs charges, avoiding jail time. Instead, he was sent into drug rehabilitation and put on a three-year probation, benefiting from the California Proposition 36, which had been passed the year before with the aim of helping nonviolent drug offenders overcome their addictions instead of sending them to jail.[6][34]

The book Conversations with Woody Allen reports that director Woody Allen wanted to cast Downey and Winona Ryder in his film Melinda and Melinda in 2005, but was unable to do so because he could not get insurance on them, stating, "We couldn't get bonded. The completion bonding companies would not bond the picture unless we could insure them. We were heartbroken because I had worked with Winona before [on Celebrity] and thought she was perfect for this and wanted to work with her again. And I had always wanted to work with Bob Downey and always thought he was a huge talent."[citation needed]

In a December 18, 2000 article for People Magazine entitled "Bad to Worse", Downey's stepmother Rosemary told author Alex Tresnlowski that Downey had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder "a few years ago" and added that his bipolar disorder was "the reason he has a hard time staying sober. What hasn't been tried is medication and intensive psychotherapy."[35] In the same article, Dr. Manijeh Nikakhtar, a Los Angeles psychiatrist and co-author of Addiction or Self-Medication: The Truth (ISBN 978-1883819576), says she received a letter from Downey in 1999, during his time at Corcoran II, asking for advice on his condition. She discovered that "no one had done a complete [psychiatric] evaluation [on him]...I asked him flat out if he thought he was bipolar, and he said, 'Oh yeah. There are times I spend a lot of money and I'm hyperactive, and there are other times I'm down.'"[35] In an article for the March 2007 issue of Esquire, Downey told author Scott Raab that he wanted to address "this whole thing about the bipolar" after receiving a phone call from "the Bipolar Association" asking him about being bipolar. When Downey denied he had ever said he was bipolar, the caller quoted the People article, to which Downey replied, "'No! Dr. Malibusian said [I said I was bipolar]...', and they go, 'Well, it's been written, so we're going to quote it.'"[36] Downey flatly denied being "depressed or manic" and that previous attempts to diagnose him with any kind of psychiatric or mood disorder have always been skewed because "the guy I was seeing didn't know I was smokin' crack in his bathroom. You can't make a diagnosis until somebody's sober."[36]

Career comeback (2001-2008)[]

After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapse, Robert Downey Jr. was finally ready to work toward a full recovery from drugs and a return to his career. In discussing his failed attempts to control his own addictive behavior in the past, Downey told Oprah Winfrey in November 2004 that "when someone says, 'I really wonder if maybe I should go to rehab?' Well, uh, you're a wreck, you just lost your job, and your wife left you. Uh, you might want to give it a shot."[37] He added that after his last arrest in April 2001, when he knew he would likely be facing another stint in prison or another form of incarceration such as court-ordered rehab, "I said, 'You know what? I don't think I can continue doing this.' And I reached out for help, and I ran with it. You can reach out for help in kind of a half-assed way and you'll get it and you won't take advantage of it. It's not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems...what's hard is to decide to do it."[37]

Downey got his first post-rehab acting job in August 2001, lip-syncing in the video for Elton John's single "I Want Love".[38] Video director Sam Taylor-Wood shot 16 takes of the video and used the last one because, according to John, Downey looked completely relaxed, and, "The way he underplays it is fantastic."[39]

Downey was able to return to the big screen only after Mel Gibson, who had been a close friend to Downey since both had co-starred in Air America, paid Downey's insurance bond for the 2003 film The Singing Detective.[40] Gibson's gamble paved the way for Downey's comeback and Downey returned to mainstream films in the mid-2000s with Gothika, for which producer Joel Silver withheld 40 percent of his salary until after production wrapped as insurance against his addictive behavior. Similar clauses have become standard in his contracts since then.[41]

After Gothika, Downey was cast in a number of leading and supporting roles, including well-received work in a number of semi-independent films: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Good Night, and Good Luck, A Scanner Darkly, and Steven Shainberg's fictional biographical film of Diane Arbus, Fur, where Downey's character represented the two biggest influences on Arbus' professional life, Lisette Model and Marvin Israel.[42] Downey also received great notice for his roles in more mainstream fare such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Disney's poorly received The Shaggy Dog, and David Fincher's 2007 film Zodiac, in which he played San Francisco Chronicle journalist Paul Avery.

On November 23, 2004, Downey released his debut musical album, The Futurist, on Sony Classical, for which he designed the cover art and designed the track listing label on the CD with his son Indio.[43] The album received mixed reviews,[44][45] but Downey stated in 2006 that he probably will not do another album, as he felt that the energy he put into doing the album was not compensated.[46]

In 2006, Downey returned to his television roots when he guest-starred on Family Guy in the episode "The Fat Guy Strangler". Downey had previously telephoned the show's production staff and asked if he could produce or assist in an episode creation, as his son Indio is a fan of the show. The producers of the show accepted the offer and created the character of Patrick Pewterschmidt, Lois Griffin's long lost, mentally disturbed brother, for Downey.[47]

Downey signed on with publishers HarperCollins to write a memoir, which in 2006 was already being billed as a "candid look at the highs and lows of his life and career". In 2008, however, Downey returned his advance to the publishers and canceled the book without further comment.[48]

Summer 2008 blockbusters[]

With all of the critical success Downey had experienced throughout his career, he had never appeared in a "blockbuster" film. That changed in the middle of 2008 when Downey starred in two critically and commercially successful films, Iron Man and Tropic Thunder. In the article Ben Stiller wrote for Downey's entry in the 2008 edition of The Time 100, he offered an observation on Downey's commercially successful summer at the box office:

Yes, Downey is Iron Man, but he really is Actor Man.[...]In the realm where box office is irrelevant and talent is king, the realm that actually means something, he has always ruled, and finally this summer he gets to have his cake and let us eat him up all the way to the multiplex, where his mastery is in full effect. —-- Ben Stiller, The 2008 Time 100, entry No. 60, "Robert Downey Jr."[49]         

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