Robert Downey Jr: From heroin addict to Hollywood's top star

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 06, 2015 16:32 IST

Before he became Iron Man, he was Inmate P50522 -- the man who had to wash dishes for eight cents an hour in a prison. We are talking about Robert Downey Jr, the Hollywood mega-star who at $80 million a year is the highest-paid actor in the world, according to Forbes.

That's his second innings though. There was a drug-addled phase and incarceration, followed by no offers for work and bankruptcy. And then, Robert Downey Jr proved that time-tested Hollywood dictum wrong, "There are no second acts."

The actor started flirting with drugs early on (when he was six, actually) and it turned into an obsession in the late '90s and early 2000. He once told a judge that taking drugs was "like having a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of gun metal."

Robert Downey Jr with his father who apparently started him on drugs.

According to a report in Daily Mail, he was once arrested, naked and hallucinating, inside his Porsche. On another occasion, Robert Downey Jr was discovered behind a squalid LA hotel in a foetal position.

He once turned up for an audition barefoot and with a loaded gun. He had no idea why he had the gun. In 1996, he was arrested for possession while speeding on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard.

In 1997, he was sentenced to three months in jail for violating probation and missing a number of drug tests. Once in jail, he was targeted frequently by other inmates due to his celeb status. "I would never tell you the worst things that have happened to me," he had said later about his time in jail.

His time in jail was followed by one year in a secured rehab facility. Once released, he got work on Ally McBeal. It didn't end well.

The actor found immense fame as Iron Man.

He was arrested again in 2001 for wandering the streets while being high. His wife left him, he almost went bankrupt and Hollywood gave up on him. In 2003, his turnaround began after he met his current wife, Susan Levin. She refused to marry him till he gave up on drugs.

In true Robert Downey Jr fashion, the actor threw all his drugs in the Pacific, joined a rehab and has been clean ever since.

When Marvel was hiring for Iron Man, director Jon Favreau's suggestion to hire Downey Jr met with resistance -- he was considered almost uninsurable. "Even when there was resistance, Robert said, I will do whatever it takes, will hang in there, fight for this thing. It came down to Robert offering to do a screen test. And once we rolled the camera it was inarguable. There was nobody who could say he was not Iron Man," Favreau has said.

The rest, as they say, is a turnaround good enough for a superhero.

Read: 50 things you should know about RDJ

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