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How Robert Downey Jr. Went From Addict To Becoming Iron Man

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Robert Downey Jr. is one of the biggest stars today with a leading role in the most profitable movie franchise in history.

Hes had a long history in Hollywood, but he also has a darker story of addiction and pain in his past that threatened to derail his career entirely.

So today were going to tell you one of the greatest comeback stories ever

of how Robert Downey Jr. went from being an addict to becoming Iron Man, but first a little background.

Who Is Robert Downey Jr.?

Robert Downey Jr.’s career stretches over nearly 50 years with over 90 movies and television credits.

His most successful films include Chaplin, Sherlock Holmes, Tropic Thunder, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

He also co-starred in the popular show Alley McBeal for a couple of seasons and released a studio album called The Futurist.

However, his greatest success has come from being an integral part of the Marvel Universe in the role of Iron Man.

This role was responsible for Downey being named by Forbes as Hollywoods single highest-paid actor

from 2013 to 2015 and has boosted his net worth to $300 million.

He also helped propel Marvel Studiosunmatched success in the movie industry.

But it was a long road for Downey to make it to this height of success, so lets go back to the start of his acting career.


Robert Downey, Jr., was introduced to acting at a young age since his father, Robert Downey Sr., was an actor and director,

and his mother, Elsie Ann Downey, was an actress. Robert acted in his first film when he was 5 years old, a film his father directed called Pound Puppy.

Robert has stated in interviews that as a child he was surrounded by drugs.

He tried marijuana for the first time at the age of six when his father gave it to him.

Downey Sr. was a drug addict, and he used drugs to create bonding experiences with his son.

By the time Robert was a teenager, he was regularly consuming alcohol, weed, and narcotics.

Throughout his childhood, he had minor roles in his fathers films, and when his parents divorced at the age of 13,

he moved with his father from New York to Santa Monica, California.

Four years later, he dropped out of high school and went back to New York to act full time, but there were some very dark days ahead for him.

The Struggle

In 1987, Downey played a drug addict in the film Less Than Zero.

It wasnt long before art began imitating life as Downey delved deeper into drug addiction and alcohol abuse.

He no longer was restricting his addictive behaviors to nights and weekends, and it became harder to control.

In 1991, his girlfriend of seven years, Sarah Jessica Parker, broke up with him because of his drug problem.

Still, he continued on acting and was even nominated for a best actor Academy Award for the 1992 film Chaplin.

Downey tried to turn things around when he got married to Deborah Falconer in 1993 and became a father to their son Indio.

He even dug a hole and buried his costume from Less Than Zero to symbolize that he was leaving that destructive life behind.

But less than a year later he secretly began drinking again along with using cocaine and ecstasy.

Not long after that, he tried heroin for the first time.

He knew his life was spiraling out of control as he bounced in and out of rehab, and this was only the beginning of his problems.

Legal Trouble

The first of several times Downey was arrested was on June 23, 1996, at the age of 31.

He was pulled over for speeding on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and was then arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine, and a firearm.

Just one month later, he accidentally staggered into his neighbors house in a drugged state, stripped off his clothes, and fell asleep in an empty childs bed.

He was ordered to serve three yearsprobation and to go to rehab.

In the meantime, his wife left along with their son and he lost his house in Malibu.

In 1997, after missing a court-ordered drug test, he was sent to Los Angeles County Jail for 113 days.

He had to be moved to solitary confinement because he fought with other inmates so much.

This still didnt straighten him up, and after he was released, he missed another required drug test.

In 1999, he hired Robert Shapiro, who had successfully defended OJ in his murder trial, to try to keep him out of jail from his latest probation violation.

However, the judge sentenced him to 3 years at the state prison in Cocoran, California.

Trying to explain his addiction, he told the judge, “Its like I have a shotgun in my mouth and Ive got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of gun metal.”

He went from making about 7 million per year to making 8 cents per hour working in the prison cafeteria.

Less than a year later, he was unexpectedly freed on early release, but he still wasnt ready to change.

Rock Bottom

When he was released, he had the opportunity to start over with a major role in the popular show Ally McBeal.

He received rave reviews and even won a Golden Globe in 2001, but behind the scenes, he was about to hit rock bottom.

He was arrested at a hotel in 2000 for possession of cocaine and valium.

Still, the producers of Ally McBeal allowed him to sign on for eight more episodes,

but that changed when he was arrested once again in April 2001 while wandering around barefoot in public with cocaine in his system.

He was fired from the show and sentenced to 3 years of probation and drug rehabilitation.

His wife also officially decided to divorce him.

At this point, he was finally ready to take rehab seriously and try to get his life back on track.


After getting sober, Downey faced a new challenge in his career.

Although some directors, including Woody Allen, were willing to give him a chance,

the studios were not willing to pay the extremely high insurance premium associated with Downey.

He couldnt afford to pay the premium either, but his close friend Mel Gibson took a gamble

and paid his insurance bond so that he could appear in the 2003 film The Singing Detective.

Also in 2003, he was cast in the Halle Berry film Gothika, but only after he agreed that 40% of his salary could be withheld until production wrapped up.

He also met his future wife, Susan Levin, while on set.

This helped pave the way for his re-entrance into the mainstream, but his biggest blockbusters were yet to come.

Becoming Iron Man

In 2006, Marvel Studios chose Iron Man to be its first self-financed film.

The director, Jon Favreau, thought that Downey would be perfect for the leading role as his vision for the character revolved around a man reinventing himself.

Downey nailed the screen test, but the studio was not ready to cast him because he was still seen as risky, even though he had been sober for 5 years.

But the director was relentless, and the studio finally agreed that Downey would play Iron Man.

The gamble paid off in a big way.

For the first Iron Man film, which was released in 2008, Downey was paid $500,000 and the film went on to gross $585 million worldwide.

Stan Lee himself said that Downey was born to play Iron Man.

Downey was then paid $10 million for Iron Man 2 in 2010 and 50 million in 2012 for The Avengers, which grossed $1.5 billion globally.

He later earned about $75 million each for Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.

In total, for playing the role of Iron Man, Downey has earned between 400 and $435 million.

He has now been sober for 16 years and says he doesnt even have an inkling of a desire to go back to his old ways.

The Lesson

Robert Downey Jr. once said, “Just because you hit rock bottom doesnt mean you have to stay there.”

Downey could have easily just resigned himself to being an addict who would be in and out of prison until dying an early death, and he almost did,

but once he made up his mind to put in the work, take his rehab seriously,

and face all the obstacles in front of him, he was able to reach greater levels of success than ever before.

And if he can do all of that coming from a lifetime of drug addiction and years of prison time, just imagine what you could do.

If you need some inspiration and practical advice to help you face some of the challenges on your path, check out the book Making Ideas Happen.

The author, Scott Belsky, studied the habits of successful creative people for 6 years and found out how they make their ideas happen time and time again.

It isnt magicit comes down to particular habits and skills that can be learned, and he tells you exactly how to do it.

This book normally costs $22, but you can listen to it for free on Audible.

Just go to and sign up if it's your first time you can get the audiobook version for free thanks to our partnership with Audible!

The Quote

While researching his story, weve come across this inspiring quote from Downey wed like to share with you that goes like this:

People rise out of the ashes because, at some point, they are invested with a belief in the possibility of triumph over seemingly impossible odds.”

Robert Downey Jr.’s story is the perfect reminder that it is possible to overcome just about anything if you have the drive and desire to do so.


Now that were wrapping up this story, wed like to know:

Now that Downey appears to be moving away from the Marvel Universe, what would you like to see him do next?

Let us know in the comments. And of course, for sticking with us until the here's your Bonus.

Robert Downey Jr. was nearly chosen over Tom Cruise for the leading role in the 1986 film Top Gun.

Cruise also came close to being Iron Man instead of Downey.

The rights to the movie were owned by New Line Cinema in 1994, and they were in serious talks with Cruise to star in the film.

When they decided instead to sell the rights to Marvel, the discussions with Cruise continued,

but the newly independent studio quickly realized that they would not be able to afford him.

They were able to pay Downey a much lower fee for the first film, which quickly proved to be the right move.

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