Robert Downey Jr. Biography

Film Actor, Actor(1965–)
Robert Downey Jr. is an American actor known for roles in a wide variety of films, including 'Iron Man,' 'The Avengers, 'Sherlock Holmes' and 'Chaplin.'

Synopsis

Born in New York City on April 4, 1965, Robert Downey Jr. began acting as a young child. He made his first film appearances and was a cast member on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, but his growing success was marred by years of struggles with drug abuse. Eventually turning his life around, he earned a resurgence of critical and popular acclaim, and is considered one of Hollywood's A-list actors.

Family Life

Famed actor Robert Downey Jr. was born on April 4, 1965, in New York City, the son of the avant-garde filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., who is best known for the 1969 film Putney Swope. Downey began acting as a young child. His mother, Elsie, was an actress who instilled in her son a love of performing. Raised in Greenwich Village with his older sister, Alison, Downey made his film debut playing a puppy in his father's film, Pound (1970), in which actors played dogs. He would go on to have small parts in several more of his father's films.

Downey's parents divorced when he was 13, and the young actor ended up living in Los Angeles, California, with his father. At the age of 16, however, he dropped out of high school and was on the move again, relocating to New York to live with his mother.

Early Roles

Downey made his earliest feature film appearances in such films as Baby, It's You (1983), Firstborn (1984), Weird Science (1985) and Back to School (1986). From 1985 to '86, he was a regular cast member of Saturday Night Live, NBC's popular sketch-comedy program.

Downey's first leading role on the big screen was a charming womanizer in The Pick-up Artist (1987), a romantic comedy co-starring Molly Ringwald that was written and directed by James Toback. His breakthrough performance came in 1987 with Less Than Zero (1987), in which he co-starred with Andrew McCarthy. Downey played the party loving, cocaine-addicted Julian Wells in the film.

Struggles with Substance Abuse

Sadly, the story line and character rang especially true for Downey, who had been introduced to drugs at the age of eight by his father, and developed a full-fledged addiction as he headed into his 20s.

"Until that movie, I took my drugs after work and on the weekends," he later explained. "Maybe I'd turn up hungover on the set, but no more so than the stuntman. That changed on Less Than Zero. I was playing this junkie-faggot guy, and, for me, the role was like the ghost of Christmas future. The character was an exaggeration of myself. Then things changed, and, in some ways, I became an exaggeration of the character. That lasted far longer than it needed to last."

A stint in drug rehabilitation followed shortly afterward, but Downey's struggles with drugs and alcohol would continue. And yet, his career continued to advance forward. By the early 1990s, Downey had established a reputation as a critically acclaimed A-List actor. He earned praise for his comic turn as a shifty soap opera producer in Soapdish (1991), co-starring Sally Field, Kevin Kline and Whoopi Goldberg. More adoration followed when Downey landed a featured role in Short Cuts (1993), the critically lauded ensemble film by Robert Altman.

Critical Successes

A particular high point in Downey's career came in 1993, when he was nominated for an Academy Award (best actor) for his performance in Chaplin (1992), directed by Richard Attenborough. In the highly acclaimed film, which didn't go over nearly as well with audiences as with critics, Downey nimbly portrayed the legendary Charlie Chaplin from ages 19 to 83. The role displayed his dramatic range as well as his considerable talent for physical comedy. By this time, the 27-year-old Downey had come to be seen as one of the most gifted actors of his generation, but he had also earned a reputation as a troubled and controversial figure in Hollywood.

In the wake of his critical success with Chaplin, Downey anchored a documentary about the 1992 presidential election, The Last Party. In 1994, he appeared in the romantic comedy Only You, as well as in Oliver Stone's acclaimed but controversial Natural Born Killers. The following year, the actor starred in the period film Restoration alongside Meg Ryan and Sam Neill; an updated film version of Richard III (1995), co-starring Ian McKellen and Annette Bening; and the Jodie Foster-directed Home for the Holidays, also starring Holly Hunter.

Personal Life and Challenges

Downey's personal life had expanded, too. In May 1992, he married actress Deborah Falconer. Two years later, the couple had a son, Indio, naming friend and actor, Anthony Michael Hall, as the boy's godfather.

If Downey was ever really grounded by his new status as husband and father, it was short-lived. In June 1996, the actor was stopped by police after driving naked in his Porsche on Sunset Boulevard, and found not only to be without clothes, but in possession of cocaine, heroin and a .357 Magnum. Less than a month later, and just a few hours before he was slated to be charged, Downey ran afoul of the law again after he was found passed out in a neighbor's house.

For the next several years, Downey's life was a haze of headline-generating, dependency induced mistakes and their consequences. There was a 12-month stay in prison, and another visit to drug rehab. In November 2000, Downey was again arrested, this time in a Palm Springs hotel room, where he was discovered with cocaine and in a Wonder Woman costume. He was charged with felony drug possession.

Downey's trial, originally set for late January, was delayed for several months while his lawyers negotiated with prosecutors. In March 2001, the two sides failed to reach a plea bargain, and the case was set for a preliminary hearing at the end of April. On April 24, 2001, Downey was arrested for allegedly being under the influence of an undisclosed "stimulant." Downey's personal life was in turmoil, too, as Falconer sued him for divorce in 2004.

Despite his troubled history with the law, these days, Downey has a much more stable home life. He married producer Susan Levin in 2005, and the couple welcomed their first child together on February 7, 2012. They named their son Exton Elias. On November 4, 2014, Downey and Levin welcomed their second child, a daughter named Avri. In December 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Downey for the 1996 drug conviction that sent him to prison for a year.

'Ally McBeal'

Despite his personal turmoil in the early 2000s, Downey continued working. He gave a memorable performance in Wonder Boys (2000) and had roles in several other films, including Auto Motives and Lethargy. Additionally, Downey made the move to the small screen in 2000, becoming a regular cast member of the popular show Ally McBeal, starring Calista Flockhart. With this new role, Downey once again reminded fans and critics of his talent, likeability and versatility. He went on to pick up a 2001 Golden Globe Award, and won a Screen Actor's Guild Award soon after.

But Downey's increasingly complicated personal life pressed his employer's patience. After that second arrest in April 2001, Downey's tenure on Ally McBeal came to and end; producers had decided to wrap production of the final episodes of the season without the actor. Around this same time, lawyers reached an agreement with prosecutors that required Downey to plead no contest to cocaine-related charges. He was sentenced to three years' probation—a ruling that allowed him to continue live-in drug treatment instead of returning to prison.

'Iron Man'

Since then, Downey's life has significantly turned around. He became a husband again in 2005, when he married actress Susan Levin, whom he'd met two years before on the set of the thriller, Gothika. He's an ardent student of Wing Chung kung fu, and through the support of his family and friends, he's been able to stay clean.

One of the people to play a key role in his turnaround is Mel Gibson, with whom Downey co-starred in Air America (1990). Gibson stuck by his friend's side, even as Downey's life was completely unraveling, and when Downey was unable to get something as routine as an insurance bond due to his past troubles with the law, Gibson found him work, casting him in the 2003 film The Singing Detective. The two actors remain close friends today.

Also in 2003, Downey starred opposite Halle Berry in Gothika, which did better at the box office than it did with the critics. He continued to dedicate himself to his craft, playing a supporting role in the critically acclaimed Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) and the lead in the independent drama A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006), which he also co-produced. In Zodiac (2007), Downey played a journalist who gets wrapped up in the hunt for the infamous Zodiac Killer.

In 2008, Downey transformed from an often critically admired actor to a box-office star. He played the wealthy industrialist-turned-crime fighter Tony Stark in the smash hit Iron Man (2008), which grossed more than $318 million. Taking a huge risk, Downey then starred in the comedy Tropic Thunder (2008) with Ben Stiller and Jack Black; he played a white actor pretending to be a black actor in this war movie spoof. His efforts received mostly positive reviews, with Variety magazine's Todd McCarthy stating that "the audacity of Downey's performance" was one of "the best reasons to see the film." Downey garnered a number of accolades for his performance in Tropic Thunder, including an Oscar (best performance by an actor in a supporting role), Golden Globe (best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a motion picture) and Screen Actors Guild (outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role) award nominations

'The Avengers'

More recently, Downey co-starred with Jamie Foxx in The Soloist (2009), which tells the story about the friendship between a Los Angeles journalist (Downey) and a homeless Juilliard-trained musician (Foxx). The film registered a respectable showing at the box-office and earned the praise from critics, who lauded Downey and Foxx for their performances.

Demonstrating he isn't afraid of blockbusters (or English accents), Downey starred in the Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes in 2009. The film co-starred Jude Law as Dr. John Watson. In addition, 2010 returned Downey to superhero status with the second installment of the Iron Man franchise. The crime fighting picked up again in 2012, when Downey's Iron Man character was back in action in The Avengers, a movie that featured a bevy of Hollywood talent, including Don Cheadle (Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury) and Scarlett Johansson (the Black Widow), among others. Downey was back playing the popular Tony Stark in 2013's Iron Man 3. In 2014, he starred as sharp city lawyer Hank Palmer opposite Robert Duvall as his father Judge Joseph Palmer in the drama The Judge.

His Tony Stark/Iron Man character remains in high demand. Downey returned to the role for 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron. While promoting Age of Ultron, Downey made headlines for walking out of an interview with British journalist Kristnan Guru-Murthy. The actor had been upset with some questions that Gury-Murthy had been asking him. As he later told to radio personality Howard Stern, Downey thought that Guru-Murthy was "a bottom-feeding muckraker" for his prying questions.  Downey reprised his role in the next installment of the Captain America film series, Captain America: Civil War Is Here in 2016.

For his part, Downey isn't taking this professional and personal resurgence for granted. "I think part of my destiny has to be realizing that I'm not the poster boy for drug abuse," he told reporters in 2005. "I'm just this guy who has a really strong sense of wanting home and wanting foundation and having not had it, I now choose to create it."

In 2017, it was announced that Downey would star in The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, based on the classic children's book series by British author Hugh Lofting.

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