Robert Downey Jr. is widely known as an accomplished actor. He is credited as an actor in 91 movies!
What RDJ is less known for is being a former drug addict. Before turning his life around and being cast as Iron Man, Downey Jr. had to make the difficult decision to face his demons once and for all.
The story of Robert Downey Jr’s drug addiction and subsequent recovery has a lot to teach those struggling with drugs and/or alcohol. Here are the most vital takeaways.
It Can Happen to Anyone
Addiction does not discriminate, and it can happen to anyone. Whether you’re living in poverty, you’re a multimillionaire, or you’re a middle-class American in the suburbs, you can still fall victim to addiction.
He was just a child when Robert Downey Jr’s drug addiction began. From an early age, he had witnessed both of his parents struggle with their own addictions. RDJ’s father is actually the one who introduced him to marijuana.
“There was always a lot of pot and coke around,” Downey Jr. said of his home life. But he insists that it wasn’t all bad.
He likes to talk about the family dog named Sturgess; how his father would read Sturgess’ mind and make them all “fall out laughing.”
It is debatable what the state of RDJ’s life was like when his addiction began, but the press saw it persist both through various stages of homelessness and stardom.
He experimented with drugs as a preteen. He sought out drugs as a young adult living with Sarah Jessica Parker in New York City. His addiction drove them apart, and it destroyed his first marriage with Deborah Falconer as well.
An unfortunate series of events, including an incident in which RDJ wandered into a neighbor’s home and fell asleep nearly-naked in her son’s bed, led to the actor spending a year in prison.
Immediately following his release, he was cast in a television series called Ally McBeal. Despite fantastic ratings and awards won, Downey Jr. was not passionate about acting at this point in his life.
There he was, living the dream, and his addiction still haunted him.
There Is Always a Way Out
Circa 2001, Robert Downey Jr. was at his lowest point. He was written out of Ally McBeal, he was still facing problems with the law, and his wife was leaving him.
By this point, RDJ had been charged with possession of cocaine, heroin, and a gun. He had been dragged to rehab several times, but always found a way out. He had refused help and lost everything.
When he got out of prison, he had trouble finding work. Despite his obvious talent, he couldn’t be hired because of an impossibly high insurance premium.
Mel Gibson, a close friend of Downey Jr’s, generously paid the insurance premium himself in order to cast RDJ in The Singing Detective.
After that, Downey Jr’s comeback finally began – but it wasn’t easy. He managed to land a role in Gothika, but not without stipulations. A significant chunk of his paycheck was withheld until the movie was finished.
It was on the set of Gothika that RDJ met his current wife, producer Susan Levin. He was in a good place, and yet…
Levin did meet Downey Jr’s “Darth Vader” side at one point. She had to give him an ultimatum: the drugs or their relationship. After that, RDJ finally got his life back on track.
The point: RDJ had hit rock bottom. He had no job, no wife, little money. The only things he did have was a prison record and a poor reputation.
It would have been easy for Downey Jr. to give up. But he was able to claw his way back. And if he can do it after sinking so low, then others struggling with addiction can, too.
You Have to Want It
Robert Downey Jr. had been forced into rehab more than once during the course of his addiction.
One of his managers begged him to go in 1987. And he did, but when he got back, he fired her.
Fellow actor and friend Sean Penn reportedly kidnapped him and drove RDJ to rehab himself. That didn’t work either; Downey Jr. escaped a few days later.
After that, a judge sentenced the actor to attend a 24-hour drug rehabilitation program. He escaped from that one, too.
In the coming years, Downey Jr. would violate his probation more than once by skipping drug tests.
The simple fact is that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. RDJ was not able to stay sober until he was good and ready.
“And I reached out for help and I ran with it, you know? Because you can reach out for help in a half-assed way, and you’ll get it, and you won’t take advantage of it,” he told Oprah.
If you or someone you know is considering rehab, this post can help you get an idea of what to expect.
Support Systems Are Important
Robert Downey Jr. would most likely not be here today if it weren’t for his support system.
He pushed many, many people in his life away. Luckily for him, true friends like Sean Penn and Mel Gibson stuck by his side.
RDJ had to get clean for himself, but there’s no denying that Susan Levin was a contributing factor, as well. Word is that she’s known around Hollywood as the Miracle That Saved Robert Downey Jr.
But a support system doesn’t always have to be close friends or significant others. There are plenty of hotlines, centers, and resources for those struggling with addiction.
If you think that you or someone you know might have a drinking problem, Coastal Detox is one such resource.
There Is Hope
If there’s one thing that Robert Downey Jr’s drug addiction journey has taught us, it’s that there is always hope.
If you are worried about a loved one, click here for common symptoms of drug abuse.