From Addict To Avenger: The Journey Of Robert Downey, Jr.

The 41st Annual People's Choice Awards - Show
Getty Image

It was 1999, and Robert Downey, Jr., an Oscar-nominated actor, teetered on the edge of a chasm. If Superior Court Judge Lawrence Mira — who had seen Downey stand before him on several occasions — had taken mercy on him, he might be dead now; it’s a fact that the actor recognizes. But Mira had no mercy left to grant. Downey had used up the judge’s goodwill with a series of bad choices, and the judge no longer saw the benefit of court-mandated rehabs and facilities.

“It’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth, my finger on the trigger and I like the taste of gun metal,” Downey said, pleading his case to stay free of prison.

“We tried rehabilitation, and it simply hasn’t worked,” the judge responded.

With a slam of the gavel, Downey’s fate was decided… three years in prison. It was the culmination of missteps in the actor’s personal life, but it wasn’t the end of his troubles, nor was it the start.

In The Family

Downey was born into a showbiz family. His father, Robert Downey, Sr., was known as a maverick filmmaker, part of the underground scene. Downey, Sr.’s satirical takes on Hollywood and politics began in 1961, and he acted in and directed a number of films through the ’60s and ’70s, including 1970’s Pound, which featured the acting debut of a 5-year-old Robert Downey, Jr. The counter-culture of the times also contributed to what would become Downey, Jr.’s dangerous obsession with substances. When he was just 8 years old, his father introduced him to marijuana. The drug use between father and son would continue for some time.

“There was always a lot of pot and coke around. When my dad and I would do drugs together,” Downey said in the 1988 book The New Breed, “it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how.”