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Robert Downey Jr. Discusses His Own Darkest Periods

Updated November 5, 2019 23.7k 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’s History With Substances Began With His Father

    RDJ’s History With Substances Began With His Father
    Photo: Ranker

    The son of two actors, Robert Downey Jr. was born into the entertainment realm. While his family's celebrity status undoubtedly helped RDJ land early acting opportunities, it also led to an unsheltered childhood with access to numerous substances.

    In a 1988 interview for The New Breed, RDJ detailed how his father gave him weed before the age of 10; coke soon followed. To most, this may seem like a blatant display of bad parenting. However, RDJ says he interpreted the behavior as a misguided expression of love between a hard-partying father and his son. 

  • He Dropped Out Of School At Age 16

    He Dropped Out Of School At Age 16
    Photo: Ranker

    Dependency can spin out of control very quickly for people from all backgrounds. Given access to a variety of habit-forming elements before the age of 10, it didn’t take long before RDJ had a problem with substances

    He began partying hard before he even got to high school and his emergence as a young star only increased access to temptation. It came as little surprise when RDJ dropped out of school at age 16, by which point his substance-related affliction had grown, though he’d yet to spiral out of control by his estimation.

  • 'Less Than Zero' Changed The Face Of Dependency For Him

    'Less Than Zero' Changed The Face Of Dependency For Him
    Photo: Ranker

    The role of Julian Wells in 1987's Less Than Zero was a turning point for Robert Downey Jr. In this adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel by the same name, RDJ played a young man struggling with an increasing dependence on coke. The character ultimately passes from heart failure. 

    Until that point, RDJ kept his substance use issues separate from his career. However, as he immersed himself into the character of Julian, his habits began to change. He started using more frequently and explained in an interview with The Guardian that he was suddenly unable to control what he was taking. 

  • By 1995, He Was Using A Variety of Habit-Forming Substances

    By 1995, He Was Using A Variety of Habit-Forming Substances
    Photo: Ranker

    Robert Downey Jr.'s issues with dependency began with the most common party favors of choice in Hollywood: weed and coke. However, he eventually moved on to harder stuff. Like many before him, RDJ became dependent on H, and his life spiraled further out of control.

    RDJ admitted to using a variety of different substances to feed his burgeoning habit.