See This Guy: Robert Downey Jr.


We all get stuck in life. But what if your “stuck” meant a cycle of arrest, rehab and jail – all the while under the glaring eye of the public.

The biggest movie star in the world knows this cycle all too well.

Robert Downey Jr. was on his way to becoming a huge star in the late 80’s and early 90’s, with several high-profile roles, culminating in an Oscar nomination for his brilliant work in Chaplin.

Then his train got derailed. And we’re talking completely off the tracks.

As a child, illicit substances surrounded Robert. His father, a drug addict, allowed his son to smoke marijuana at age six. Drug use became an emotional bond between the two. So it’s not surprising that Robert was a continual user throughout his adulthood.

In early 1996, he was arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine and a .357 Magnum handgun, while speeding naked in his car. He received probation, dependent upon submitting himself for drug tests.

A year later, he was arrested for violating probation, when he wandered into a neighbor’s home under the influence and fell asleep in one of the beds. This time, however, he was given six months in a Los Angeles County jail.

You can probably imagine how well a celebrity fit in there. Inmates repeatedly targeted Robert for beatings. Two times, he awoke in a pool of his own blood.

If that experience wasn’t humbling enough, he was now earning 8 cents/hour scrubbing dirty pizza pans in the prison kitchen.

In 1999, after missing a required drug test, he was arrested again – and sentenced to a three-year prison term at a Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. He spent nearly a year there before being released.

A week later, he joined the cast of TV’s Ally McBeal, and even won a Golden Globe for his performance. The feel-good moments were short-lived: he was arrested again for a disturbance at a California hotel but made parole.

The next year, after being found by police wandering the streets barefoot and high, an arrest led to his firing from the series. Another stint in rehab followed.

This time, he was ready to quit. He began a slow, painful comeback to recapture acting glory. His first job sober was lip-syncing in a Elton john video – a far cry from the leading man status he enjoyed just a decade before.

But his talent was never in doubt. And slowly, work returned.

By 2008, he was a full-fledged superstar, with the lead role in the blockbuster Iron Man movie and for his Academy Award-nominated turn in Tropic Thunder.

Today, he is the highest-paid actor in the world for four years running, with 2015 estimated earnings of over $80 million.

Not bad for a guy who probably should have been dead on a few dozen occasions. All is takes is a will of Iron to come back.


John Lavallo57 Posts

John is Columbia Business School MBA with expertise in marketing, business leadership, and law. John is a successful entrepreneur who took his first company public. He currently resides in New York City.