Robert Downey Junior is a very lucky man. He has always been possessed of enormous talent, not only as a rare and gifted actor, but as a singer as well. He is now happily married with a family and, professionally, he is at the top of his game. In 2008 he earned $500,000 for Iron Man. Two years later pay-day for Iron Man 2 had escalated to 10 million dollars, and in 2013 he picked up a cool fifty million for the third Iron Man offering. In Hollywood nothing succeeds like success. But for Downey success has not come easy. His alcohol and drug issues were for a long time out of control and came close to destroying his career.
I do not know if he blames his former drug problems on his father, but if he doesn’t he should. The man was himself a drug addict who offered Bob his first joint when the boy was just eight years old! His folks used to say he ‘looked cute getting high’, so his Mum is no clean-skin here either. Star of the Disney TV series So Weird, Mackenzie Phillips, had a similar introduction to drugs when she was ten. Her abominable, drug-crazed father John Phillips, former member of the pop group the Mamas & Papas, was rolling joints for her at that age. He even deposited her in his pal Mick Jagger’s bed the moment she turned eighteen. The list of lousy Hollywood parents is both long and distinguished. Happily, like Downey, Miss Phillips would ultimately kick her cocaine addiction later in life.
Mackenzie Phillips in American Graffiti
In the 1980s Bob Downey was room-mates with young actor Kiefer Sutherland for a while, before moving in with Sarah Jessica Parker (now Mrs Matthew Broderick) for seven years. Although openly bisexual, he met and married former top model Deborah Falconer in 1992. The union lasted 12 years and produced one child. Professionally, 1985 provided one of the lowest spots in a long list of low spots in his career. On the set of Weird Science he threatened to ‘take a dump’ in someone’s office if people did not start treating him better. Then he actually carried out his threat, much to the disgust of his co-stars, Bill Paxton and Robert Rusler, and the entire crew.
The clearly troubled young man was first arrested for drugs in August 1996 when he was 31 years old. A judge gave him a 3-year suspended sentence and remanded him to a drug rehab centre after he was pulled over and charged with drunk driving, possession of heroin, and possession of an unloaded .357 Magnum revolver. In October 1997 his probation was revoked after further drug use. A month later he was jailed for 6 months for violating probation. Earlier that year he had made Two Girls and a Guy, and had been drug-tested daily. The results ultimately led to his arrest.
On one occasion he wandered into a neighbour’s house, out of his skull on drugs and booze, and climbed into their 11 year-old child’s bed! Police were called and he was charged with possession of drugs and violating parole for the third time. On another evening he was apprehended stark naked in his car and tossing imaginary rodents out of the window.
All this nonsense had to come to an end sooner or later. In 1999, after yet again violating his parole through continued drug use, Downey at last came before a judge who lost patience with him. He was given a three year prison term, ‘to save your life’, said the judge, which was probably an accurate assessment of the actor’s situation at the time. His lawyers did him no favours, however, by springing him much earlier than the prescribed November 2000 release date.
While inside he had been generously granted permission (to considerable public uproar) to spend five weeks on location making the Tommy Lee Jones action-thriller US Marshals. He later described the picture (rather harshly) as ‘possibly the worst action movie of all time’, adding, ‘I’d rather wake up in jail for a TB test than have to wake up another morning knowing I’m going to the set of US Marshals’. Clearly, the expression ‘count your blessings’ held little meaning for him.
Downey Junior in U S Marshals
Equally clearly, by 2001 he still had an on-going drug problem. In July he pleaded ‘no contest’ to substance abuse charges and was ordered into rehab again, and placed on a 1-3 year probation again. The producers of the super popular TV sitcom Ally McBeal decided that was the final straw and fired him off the show. Robert Downey’s career was now hanging by a thread unless he could find the willpower to turn it around. To his credit he did just that.
By 2003 he was a changed man. He made Gothika that year, had the good fortune to meet producer Susan Levin, fall in love, and marry her in 2005. They now have two children. He counts among his friends actors Sean Penn, Mel Gibson and Anthony Michael Hall. Of Gibson he said: ‘He’s a stand-up guy, he always has been for me, and certainly when I was not-hireable, he put his ass on the line and said, ‘I’ll take that chance’. It has been quite some time since anyone has said anything nice about Mel, but Downey has a reputation for calling them as he sees them. Contrastingly, he gave his opinion on his Restoration (1995) co-star Hugh Grant: ‘I just thought Hugh Grant was a dick, that’s all. And I still do’. Well, a lot of people thought the same about Robert Downey. And they probably still do. He is a serious talent just the same.
Hugh Grant & RDJ in Restoration