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Robert Downey Jr. Discusses His Own Darkest Periods

Updated November 5, 2019 23.8k views14 items

These days, Robert Downey Jr. is perhaps best known for his on-screen representation of Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a role that has won him unprecedented earnings and critical praise. However, it wasn’t all that long ago the actor had an entirely different reputation around Hollywood, one of a teen star turned notorious celebrity with a substance abuse problem.  

Born into stardom in 1965 as the son of notable performer Robert Downey Sr. and actress Elsie Downey, RDJ began acting when he was a child and received his first starring role before the age of 20. Unfortunately, his habits also got an equally early start and stayed with him for much of his adult life. During his lowest of lows, it looked like he might never act again. Today, however, RDJ is sober, happy, and one of the best actors working. He is also one of the greatest actors to have never won an Oscar. For the Iron Man himself, it’s been quite a journey. 

  • RDJ Initially Thought Sober Life Was Pointless 

    Photo: Ranker

    Some of the interviews given by Robert Downey Jr. during periods of heavy use offer a startling glimpse into the soul of someone struggling with dependency. On most occasions, RDJ hid his issues and claimed his problems had nothing to do with this serious affliction. 

    He even once described a sober life as pointless, and this new set of priorities began to show up in his work. As RDJ started to lose roles because of his reputation and legal troubles, it was apparent intervention was necessary.

  • He Began A Cycle Of Incarceration And Rehabilitation

    Photo: Ranker

    Before cleaning up, Robert Downey Jr. was caught up in a vicious cycle of confinement and rehabilitation. When he did get help, it was usually court-mandated after another run-in with the law. One memorable 1996 incident resulted in his detention after being stopped for driving in the buff on Sunset Boulevard with various substances in his car.  

    During one plea for clemency before a judge, RDJ described his turmoil in desperate terms. Attempts - and failures - to resolve his dependency continued for RDJ throughout much of the mid-to-late '90s and into the early part of the new millennium.

  • He Did A Stint Behind Bars 

    Photo: Ranker

    Robert Downey Jr. ended up jailed on several occasions, and they weren’t always short stays. During one stint, he spent 12 months behind bars, which was an uncommon sentence at that time for an A-list celebrity. 

    Understandably, RDJ doesn’t talk much about this time in his life. He says it's, in part, because he ends up in a cycle of self-deprecation, as he explained in an interview with Rolling Stone: "Bad form, self-deprecation, another character flaw." 

  • 'Ally McBeal' Marked His Lowest Point

    Photo: Ranker

    A role on Fox's Ally McBeal in 2000 marked a creative resurgence for Robert Downey Jr., but it was also a distinctive low point for the actor. In an interview with The Guardian, RDJ said he felt like he was phoning it in, more focused on maintaining a habit than his acting career. 

    While RDJ's role garnered him plenty of critical praise, he felt his performance was severely lacking and an indication of how far he had sunk into the throes of his disease.