Wish to have the last laugh: Fight your worst Demon…Robert Downey Jr. Way

Early struggle should be your ultimate badge of honour

During his childhood Downey had minor roles in his father’s films. He made his acting debut at the age of five, playing a sick puppy in the absurdist comedy Pound (1970), and then at seven appeared in the surrealist Greaser’s Palace (1972). At the age of ten, he was living in England and studied classical ballet as part of a larger curriculum.

He attended the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in upstate New York as a teenager. When his parents divorced in 1978, Downey moved to California with his father, but in 1982 he dropped out of Santa Monica High School and moved back to New York to pursue an acting career full-time.

Downey began building upon theater roles, including in the short-lived off-Broadway musical American Passion at the Joyce Theater in 1983, produced by Norman Lear. In 1985, he was part of the new, younger cast hired for Saturday Night Live, but following a year of poor ratings and criticism of the new cast’s comedic talents, he and most of the new crew were replaced.

In 1987, Downey played Julian Wells, a drug-addicted rich boy whose life rapidly spirals out of his control, in the film version of the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero. His performance, described by Janet Maslin in The New York Times as “desperately moving”, was widely praised, though Downey has said that for him “the role was like the ghost of Christmas Future” since his drug habit resulted in his becoming an “exaggeration of the character” in real life.

In 1992, he starred as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, a role for which he prepared extensively, learning how to play the violin and tennis left-handed. He had a personal coach in order to help him imitate Chaplin’s posture and way of carrying himself. The role garnered Downey an exceptional Academy Award nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards 65th ceremony.


Rise above your fears, frustrations and demons

As a child, Downey was “surrounded by drugs”. His father, a drug addict, allowed Downey to use marijuana at age six, an incident regretted by his father now.

Downey later stated that drug use became an emotional bond between him and his father: “When my dad and I would do drugs together, it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how.” 

From 1996 through 2001, Downey was arrested numerous times on drug-related charges including cocaine, heroin and marijuana, and went several times through drug treatment programs unsuccessfully, explaining in 1999 to a judge: “It’s like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I’ve got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.”

After spending nearly a year in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, California, Downey, on condition of posting $5,000 bail, was unexpectedly freed when a judge ruled that his collective time in incarceration facilities (spawned from the initial 1996 arrests) had qualified him for early release.


Nobody will have faith in you till yours is in right place

A week after his 2000 release, Downey joined the cast of the hit television series Ally McBeal, playing the new love interest of Calista Flockhart’s title character. His performance was praised and the following year he was nominated for an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a mini-series or television film.

In discussing his failed attempts to control his own addictive behavior in the past, Downey told Oprah Winfrey in November 2004 that

when someone says, ‘I really wonder if maybe I should go to rehab?’ Well, uh, you’re a wreck, you just lost your job, and your wife left you. Uh, you might want to give it a shot.” 

He added that after his last arrest in April 2001, when he knew he would likely be facing another stint in prison or another form of incarceration such as court-ordered rehab,

I said, ‘You know what? I don’t think I can continue doing this.’ And I reached out for help, and I ran with it. You can reach out for help in kind of a half-assed way and you’ll get it and you won’t take advantage of it. It’s not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems…what’s hard is to decide to do it.”


You are defined by your ability to bounce back when you hit the rock bottom

Downey was able to return to the big screen only after Mel Gibson, who had been a close friend to Downey since both had co-starred in Air America, paid Downey’s insurance bond for the 2003 film The Singing Detective.

Gibson’s gamble paved the way for Downey’s comeback and Downey returned to mainstream films in the mid-2000s with Gothika, for which producer Joel Silver withheld 40 percent of his salary until after production wrapped as insurance against his addictive behavior. Similar clauses have become standard in his contracts since then.

Silver, who was getting closer to Downey as he dated his assistant Susan Levin, also got the actor the leading role in the comedy thriller Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the directorial debut of screenwriter Shane Black.

With all of the critical success Downey had experienced throughout his career, he had never appeared in a “blockbuster” film. That changed in the middle of 2008 when Downey starred in two critically and commercially successful films, Iron Man and Tropic Thunder.

In the article Ben Stiller wrote for Downey’s entry in the 2008 edition of The Time 100, he offered an observation on Downey’s commercially successful summer at the box office:

“Yes, Downey is Iron Man, but he really is Actor Man … In the realm where box office is irrelevant and talent is king, the realm that actually means something, he has always ruled, and finally this summer he gets to have his cake and let us eat him up all the way to the multiplex, where his mastery is in full effect.”

And as they say the rest is history. For three consecutive years from 2012 to 2015, Downey has topped the Forbes list of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors, making an estimated $80 million in earnings between June 2014 and June 2015.

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.”


A short poem of mine to drive home the point.


You got to find your Grace whatever it takes,

Nothing is beyond if you are willing to take some stakes,

Don’t let fear and insecurity redefine your mental space,

Whatever is close to your heart let it take it’s beautiful shape,

While you are at it, Don’t be afraid of making a lot of mistakes,

You got to find your Grace whatever it takes,

You will eventually be defined by all your mistakes,

Will learn to differentiate between the real and fakes,

You have all the liberty to take as many retakes,

As long as you are willing to learn and embrace.

There is absolutely no fun in being the second rate,

Your strength lies in polishing all your latent traits,

The walls that you have built around yourself need to be erased,

The ability to explore things will reinforce your faith,

You got to find your Grace whatever it takes,

You got to find your Grace whatever it takes,

Look beyond the obvious to get the meaning out of empty space,

Get yourself rightly aligned with the dreams that are in place,

So that you can make some serious dent in the universal space,

You got to find your Grace whatever it takes.


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