Robert Downey, Jr

American actor Robert Downey, Jr. (born April 4, 1965, New York City, New York, U.S.) is one of Hollywood’s most talented and varied actors.

Downey was reared in Greenwich Village by an artist father, an underground filmmaker who gave him his first role aged five. Downey moved to New York City to perform after dropping out of California high school. Supporting performances in many films, notably the 1985 cult smash Weird Science, led to a 1985–86 stay on Saturday Night Live. Downey led the romantic comedy The Pick-up Artist (1987) and broke out with his visceral portrayal as a cocaine addict in Less Than Zero (1987).

After a steady career, Downey was overlooked until 1992, when he played the main role in Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin biopic, earning him critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for best actor. However, Downey had developed a substance-abuse problem by this time, and his frequent legal issues and public struggle with drug addiction often overshadowed his on-screen successes, from the violent media satire Natural Born Killers (1994) to the costume drama Restoration (1995). He hit bottom in 1999 when he was sentenced to three years for violating parole from an earlier crime.

After receiving an early release, Downey was cast in a recurring role on Ally McBeal in 2000 and won a Golden Globe. Drug issues persisted, and he was detained multiple times. Downey turned his life and career around in 2003 and starred in 13 films over the next five years, including The Singing Detective, Good Night, and Good Luck. 2005, A Scanner Darkly (2006), Zodiac (2007).

Downey was lauded for two 2008 summer blockbusters. He played Tony Stark, a millionaire scientist with a heroic alter ego, in Iron Man and a self-important Hollywood star who wears blackface to play a Vietnam War African American soldier in Tropic Thunder. The latter part earned Downey an Oscar nod for best supporting actor. In 2009’s The Soloist, he plays a journalist who meets Jamie Foxx’s classically trained cellist homeless guy. Downey then played Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes (2009), a visceral reinvention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective series, and received a Golden Globe Award. A sequel was released in 2011.

The road-trip comedy Due Date (2010) portrayed Downey as a worried father-to-be after his stunning rise to Hollywood stardom. He played a lawyer defending his father (Robert Duvall) accused of vehicular homicide in The Judge (2014) after backing him in Jon Favreau’s pet project Chef (2014). Tony Stark returned in Iron Man (2010) and 2013, The Avengers (2012) and its sequels (2015, 2018, and 2019), Captain America: Civil War (2016), and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). Based on Hugh Lofting’s character, Downey appeared in the 2020 family comedy Dolittle. Downey took a three-year break from acting before participating in Christopher Nolan’s historical epic Oppenheimer (2023), about physicist J. Atomic bomb developer Robert Oppenheimer.

Early life

The youngest of two children, Robert John Downey Jr. was born in Manhattan on April 4, 1965. The actor and filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. was his father, while his mother, Elsie Ann (née Ford), featured in his films. Downey’s mother was Scottish, German, and Swiss, while his father was half Lithuanian Jewish, one-quarter Hungarian Jewish, and one-quarter Irish. He and his older sister Allyson grew up in Greenwich Village.

Downey was “surrounded by drugs.” His drug addict father let him take marijuana at six, which he subsequently regretted. Downey later said, “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.” He ended up drinking every night and “making a thousand phone calls in pursuit of drugs“.

Downey had modest appearances in his father’s films as a child. He debuted aged five in the absurdist comedy Pound (1970) as a sick dog, then at seven in the surrealist Western Greaser’s Palace. He learned classical ballet in England at 10 as part of a program. As A Teenager he attended Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in upstate New York. After his parents separated in 1978, Downey relocated to California with his father, but in 1982, he dropped out of Santa Monica High School and returned to New York to pursue acting full-time.

When Downey came to Hollywood to become an actor, he and Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in 1969, were roommates for three years.


Photo: Reuters

1983–1995: Early work and praise

Downey began establishing his theatre career with 1983’s short-lived Joyce Theater musical American Passion, produced by Norman Lear. He joined Saturday Night Live’s new, younger ensemble in 1985, but after a year of low ratings and criticism of the new cast’s comedy, he and most of the new crew were fired. Downey’s “Downey Fail sums up everything that makes SNL great.” That same year, he had a dramatic acting breakthrough as James Spader’s sidekick in Tuff Turf and then a bully in John Hughes’s Weird Science. He was considered for Duckie in John Hughes’s Pretty in Pink (1986), but his first main part was alongside Molly Ringwald in The Pick-up Artist (1987). Due to these and other 1980s coming-of-age films, Downey is sometimes called a Brat Pack member.

Downey starred in Bret Easton Ellis’ Less than Zero in 1987 as Julian Wells, a drug-addicted affluent youth whose life spirals out of control. Janet Maslin in The New York Times called his portrayal “desperately moving”; Downey stated “the role was like the ghost of Christmas Future” since his drug use made him an “exaggeration of the character” in real life. Zero led Downey to bigger-budget films including Chances Are (1989) with Cybill Shepherd and Ryan O’Neal, Air America (1990) with Mel Gibson, and Soapdish (1991) starring Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Cathy Moriarty, and Whoopi Goldberg.

His 1992 performance as Charlie Chaplin required rigorous preparation, including learning to play the violin and tennis left-handed. He got a personal coach to emulate Chaplin’s posture and demeanour. At the 65th Academy Awards, Downey was nominated for Best Actor but lost to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman.

He participated in the 1993 films Heart and Souls with Alfre Woodard and Kyra Sedgwick, Short Cuts with Matthew Modine and Julianne Moore, and The Last Party, a documentary he authored about the 1992 presidential elections. Only You with Marisa Tomei and Natural Born Killers with Woody Harrelson were his 1994 flicks. Restoration, Richard III, Home for the Holidays, Two Girls and a Guy, and U.S. Special Agent John Royce followed. Marshalls (1998), Black and White (1999).

Career setbacks 1996–2001

Downey was arrested multiple times for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from 1996 to 2001. After drug treatment, he told a judge in 1999: “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.” His father, an addict, had given him drugs since he was eight.

Downey was arrested for speeding on Sunset Boulevard in April 1996 for possessing heroin, cocaine, and an unloaded.357 Magnum pistol. A month later, on parole, he entered a neighbour’s home wearing a controlled narcotic and fell asleep on one of the beds. He was sentenced to three years of probation and drug testing. Missing a court-ordered drug test in 1997 cost him six months in Los Angeles County prison.

After failing another drug test in 1999, Downey was arrested again. Even though Downey’s lawyer, Robert Shapiro, hired the same lawyers who represented O. At his murder trial, Downey was sentenced to three years in Corcoran’s California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. All of Downey’s films were finished and near release when he was arrested. After failing to attend rehearsals for the NBC cartoon series God, the Devil and Bob, he was sacked as the devil.

After nearly a year in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Downey was unexpectedly released on $5,000 bail when a judge ruled that his cumulative time in incarceration from the 1996 arrests qualified him for early release. Downey played a new love interest on Ally McBeal a week after his 2000 discharge. He won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series Supporting Actor. Besides writing and singing on Vonda Shepard’s Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life CD, he sang “Every Breath You Take” alongside Sting in an episode. Downey said, “It was my lowest point in terms of addictions. At that stage, I didn’t give a fuck whether I ever acted again.” In January 2001, he was scheduled to play Hamlet in a Mel Gibson-directed Los Angeles stage production.

After responding to an anonymous 911 call, Palm Springs police searched Downey’s room at Merv Griffin’s Hotel and Givenchy Spa and arrested him before the completion of his first season on Ally McBeal on Thanksgiving 2000. Downey was high and had cocaine and Valium. Despite the possibility of a four-year, eight-month jail term, he agreed to appear in at least eight more Ally McBeal episodes.

A Los Angeles police officer caught Downey barefoot in Culver City in April 2001 while on parole. Even though testing indicated cocaine in his system, he was freed a few hours after being detained for narcotics possession. Despite Downey’s character’s ratings revival, Ally McBeal executives ordered last-minute rewrites and reshoots and fired him after this last arrest. The Culver City arrest cost him a role in America’s Sweethearts [56] and Gibson cancelled his Hamlet production due to his incarceration. Downey avoided jail time by pleading not guilty to Palm Springs charges in July 2001. He was sent to drug rehab and given three years of probation under California Proposition 36, which had been approved the year before to help nonviolent drug offenders conquer their addictions.

In 2003, Woody Allen wanted to cast Downey and Winona Ryder in Melinda and Melinda, but he couldn’t get insurance on them. “We were heartbroken because I had worked with Winona before [on Celebrity] and thought she was perfect for this and wanted to work with her again.

In “Bad to Worse” for People magazine on December 18, 2000, Downey’s stepmother Rosemary told Alex Tresnlowski that Downey had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder “a few years ago” and that this was “the reason he has a hard time staying sober. What hasn’t been tried is medication and intensive psychotherapy”[60]. No one had done a comprehensive [psychiatric] examination on him. I asked him whether he believed he was bipolar, and he answered, ‘Oh absolutely. There are times I spend a lot of money and I’m hyperactive, and there are other times I’m down.’”

Downey wrote in Esquire’s March 2007 issue that he wanted to address “this whole thing about the bipolar ” after “the Bipolar Association” called him and asked if he was bipolar. The caller cited the People article, to which Downey replied, “‘No! I mentioned I was bipolar, Dr. Malibusian responded… Downey denied being “depressed or manic” and said that previous attempts to diagnose him with any psychiatric or mood disorder were always skewed because “the guy I was seeing didn’t know I was smoking crack in his bathroom. You can’t make a diagnosis until somebody’s sober.”

2001–2007: Resurgence

Photo: Robert John Downey Jr

After five years of drug misuse, arrests, rehab, and relapse, Downey was ready to rehabilitate and return to work. In November 2004, Downey told Oprah Winfrey 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, he knew he would likely face another stint in prison or court-ordered detention.

Downey lip-synced in Elton John’s “I Want Love” music video in August 2001, his first acting role since rehab. John said the video director Sam Taylor-Wood picked the final of 16 takes because Downey appeared comfortable and “The way he underplays it is fantastic“.

Downey returned to cinema after Mel Gibson, a longtime friend since Air America, paid his insurance bond for the 2003 feature The Singing Detective, directed by his Back to School co-star Keith Gordon. Gibson’s bet allowed Downey to return to popular films in the mid-2000s with Gothika, for which Joel Silver withheld 40% of Downey’s income until after filming to protect him from addiction. Like provisions were typical in his contracts in the 2000s. As he dated his assistant Susan Levin (later Susan Downey), Silver moved closer to Downey and cast him in Shane Black’s directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

After Gothika, Downey played several leading and supporting roles, including well-received roles in semi-independent films like A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Good Night, and Good Luck, Richard Linklater’s dystopian, rotoscoped A Scanner Darkly (in which he plays a drug addict), and Steven Shainberg’s fictional biographical film of Diane Arbus, Fur. Hollywood films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Disney’s badly regarded The Shaggy Dog also garnered praise for Downey.

On November 23, 2004, Downey released his debut musical album, The Futurist, on Sony Classical. He designed the cover art and track listing label with his son Indio. The album received mixed reviews, but Downey stated in 2006 that he probably would not do another album because he felt he was not compensated for his energy.

Downey voiced “The Fat Guy Strangler” on Family Guy in 2006. Since his son Indio loves the program, Downey called the production crew to offer to produce or help with an episode. The show’s producers accepted and gave Downey Patrick Pewterschmidt, Lois Griffin’s long-lost, mentally ill brother.

In 2006, HarperCollins contracted Downey to write a memoir branded as a “candid look at the highs and lows of his life and career”. However, Downey returned his money to the publishers in 2008 and cancelled the book without explanation.

The 2007 David Fincher mystery film Zodiac starred Downey in a genuine story. He played San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery, who covered the Zodiac Killer investigation.

Iron Man and more success 2008–2019

Despite his critical success, Downey had never made a “blockbuster” film. Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, two critically and financially successful films, altered that in 2008. Ben Stiller wrote on Downey’s spectacular summer at the box office for The Time 100 in 2008:

Although Downey is Iron Man, he is also an Actor Man. He has always governed the arena where box office is immaterial and talent is king, where performance matters, and this summer he gets to have his cake and let us eat him up at the multiplex, where his mastery is in full force.

“Downey wasn’t the most obvious choice, but he understood what makes the character tick,” said Jon Favreau, who cast Downey as Iron Man in 2007. He found much of himself in ‘Tony Stark’.” Favreau insisted on having Downey because he said he would be to Iron Man what Johnny Depp is to Pirates of the Caribbean: a main actor who could improve the picture and boost audience interest. For the part, Downey had to develop almost 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of muscle in five months to seem like he “had the power to forge iron”.

Iron Man grossed approximately $585 million worldwide between April 30 and May 3, 2008, and Downey’s performance was lauded. By October 2008, Downey had signed up to feature in two Iron Man sequels and The Avengers, based on Marvel’s comic book series The Avengers. He initially reprised the character in a tiny capacity as Tony Stark in The Incredible Hulk (2008) as part of Marvel Studios’ continuity between Marvel movies.

After Iron Man, Downey featured in Stiller’s Tropic Thunder with Jack Black. Downey plays self-absorbed multi-Oscar-winning Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder, a costly Vietnam-era film starring the three actors. Downey had to wear dark makeup and a wig for Lazarus’ “controversial skin pigmentation procedure” to play African-American platoon sergeant Lincoln Osiris. Stiller and Downey worried about the character’s controversy:

Stiller claims he and Downey always concentrated on skewering annoying performers, not African Americans. Stiller says, “I was trying to push it as far as you can within reality”. “I had no idea how people would react”. Stiller showed a preliminary clip to African Americans in March 2008, and they liked it. The response relieved him. He remarked “It seems people really embrace it”.

Harry Smith on CBS’s The Early Show asked Downey who his Lazarus model was. Downey smiled and said, “Sadly, my sorry-ass self.”

Tropic Thunder, released in the US on August 13, 2008, earned 83% favourable reviews and an average normalised score of 71 on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. It grossed US$26 million on its North American debut and topped the charts for three weeks. The film grossed $180 million in cinemas before its November 18, 2008 home video release. Lazarus earned Downey a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

The Soloist, which Downey finished in mid-2008, opened in late April 2009. The picture was postponed from November 2008 by Paramount Pictures’ tight end-of-year release schedule. The film was considered for an Academy Award by 2008 critics. Tropic Thunder earned Downey an Oscar nomination in 2008.

The first part Downey took following Iron Man was Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s adaptation. On December 25, 2009, Warner Bros. published it. The picture broke multiple US box office records for a Christmas Day release, topping 2008’s Marley & Me by roughly $10M, and finishing second to Avatar in a record-setting Christmas weekend. Sherlock Holmes was the 8th highest-grossing picture of 2009. When Downey won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for his role as Sherlock Holmes, he said, “Susan Downey told me that Matt Damon was going to win so don’t bother preparing a speech”.

Iron Man 2, the first of two planned sequels, starred Downey as Tony Stark in May 2010. Iron Man 2 was the 7th highest-grossing picture of 2010 with $623M worldwide. Downey’s other 2010 commercial picture was Due Date, a comic road movie. The November 2010 film, co-starring Zach Galifianakis, made over $211M globally, making it the 36th highest-grossing of 2010. Downey only appeared in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which debuted internationally on December 16, 2011.

Downey reprised Tony Stark in The Avengers (2012). The picture was well-received and became the third highest-grossing film in the US and internationally. The Judge, a David Dobkin dramedy co-produced by Team Downey, opened the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Downey reprised Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). The Disney+ series Loki used three of his Avengers and Avengers: Endgame sequences as archive material in the first episode.

The 2019 YouTube documentary The Age of A.I. was presented by Downey.

2020–present: Post-Marvel

Downey played Dolittle, a 19th-century Welsh veterinarian who can talk with animals, in 2020. Team Downey’s second film. Critics considered it “too long [and] lifeless” and a box office letdown. Downey was lauded for playing Lewis Strauss in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer in 2023.

Upcoming projects

Photo: Reuters

On July 15, 2021, Downey was revealed to co-star in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer television adaption. He also starred in Play Dirty alongside Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 director Shane Black. Director Dexter Fletcher said Downey will reprise Holmes in a third picture, originally set for December 22, 2021, but postponed indefinitely. Downey was in discussions to feature in Steven Knight’s Vertigo adaptation in March 2023. In March 2023, Adam McKay revealed that Downey will feature in Average Height, Average Build, a political comedy with Robert Pattinson.


Downey has sung on Chaplin, Too Much Sun, Two Girls and a Guy, Friends and Lovers, The Singing Detective, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang soundtracks. He participated in Elton John’s “I Want Love” music video in 2001. He released The Futurist CD in 2004, and he and his co-stars Ben Stiller and Jack Black sang “The Pips” to Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” while promoting Tropic Thunder.

Downey’s remake of Joni Mitchell’s 1973 Christmas song “River” was included on the 2000 Ally McBeal tie-in album Ally McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas, and Larry Paul performs it in the episode “Tis the Season”. It was his most successful song commercially and radio-wise.

Production company

Downey and Susan founded Team Downey Productions on June 14, 2010. Their first project was Judge.

Personal life

Relationships and family

Downey met Sarah Jessica Parker on Firstborn in 1984 and began dating her. The couple divorced in 1991 owing to his drug use.

Downey married Deborah Falconer on May 29, 1992, following a 42-day relationship. Their kid was born September 1993. Falconer left Downey and took their son in 2001 after Downey’s latest arrest and sentencing to a prolonged stint in rehab, causing their marriage to fall down. April 26, 2004 marked Downey and Falconer’s divorce.

On Gothika, Downey met Silver Pictures’ executive vice-president of production Susan Downey (née Levin) in 2003. Though Susan repeatedly rejected his attempts, she and Downey discreetly fell in love during production. After shooting Gothika, Downey proposed to Susan on the night before her thirtieth birthday, despite Susan’s concerns that the romance would not endure since “he’s an actor; I have a real job”. In August 2005, they married in Amagansett, New York, in a Jewish ceremony. He honours her with a “Suzie Q” tattoo on his arm. The Downeys had a boy in February 2012 and a daughter in November 2014.

Mel Gibson and Downey have been good friends since Air America. Downey backed Gibson during The Passion of the Christ issue, saying “nobody’s perfect” about his 2006 DUI. Gibson said of Downey: “He was among the first to contact and offer friendship. He just responded, “Welcome to the club.” Check out how we can improve ourselves. In October 2011, Downey was recognized at the 25th American Cinematheque Awards. He picked Gibson to present him with his life’s work award and utilised his air time to thank Gibson and explain why.

Fun Facts

1. New York is the place of his birth.

On April 4, 1965, Robert John Downey Jr. was born in Manhattan.

2. He comes from a movie family

Downey Jr.’s father, director Robert Downey Sr., had an acting mother.

3. He has other famous relatives

Both Harry Connick Jr. and Barbara Walters are distantly connected to Downey Jr.

4. He’s been acting since he was a kid

When Robert was five years old, he went to see his father’s picture “Pound.”

5. Was he a ‘Brat’?

Although he wasn’t a mainstay of the ’80s group of young performers known as the ‘Brat Pack,’ he’s nonetheless widely included in discussions about that crew.

6. A power couple

Once upon a time, Downey Jr. dated Sarah Jessica Parker.

7 He is the CEO of his own firm.

Robert and his wife Susan are the sole proprietors of Team Downey, their own production firm.

8. He has a great voice.

Downey Jr. has published an album and often contributes his voice to film soundtracks.

9. With friends like these…

In order to film a music video for Elton John, Downey Jr. was once released from rehab for the day.

10. Don’t call it a comeback

Due in large part to his role as Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” Robert Downey Jr. is now considered one of Hollywood’s A-list actors.

11. He’s the best of the best

The number of times Robert has appeared in the MCU is now equal to that of Chris Evans’.

12. He almost played another billionaire playboy

Robert had been in the running for the character of Bruce Wayne in “Batman” before “Iron Man.” The most recent ‘Spider-Man’ picture co-stars Downey Jr. with Michael Keaton.

13. Foreign affairs

Robert had problems promoting ‘Iron Man’ in Japan and other countries because of his criminal past.

14. Other potential roles

Do you think Robert would have been a good Maverick, Ferris Bueller, or Edward Scissorhands? He was considered for all of these parts.

15. From ‘Saturday Night Live’ to Oscar

While his time on “SNL” was less than brilliant, Robert Downey Jr. holds the distinction of becoming the first cast member to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actor category (for “Chaplin”). Previous nominations for both Joan Cusack and Dan Aykroyd were for supporting parts.

16. His well-known childhood companion

Since they were kids, Robert and Moby have been friends.


Since July 2003, Downey has been drug-free thanks to his wife, family, therapy, meditation, twelve-step recovery programs, yoga, and Wing Chun kung fu, which he learned from Eric Oram, a fight consultant in several of his films. Downey’s combat coordinator in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War was Oram. California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Downey unconditionally for his drug offences in December 2015. Oram wrote Governor Brown supporting Downey’s pardon. On The Oprah Winfrey Show, Downey stated, “It’s actually not that tough to overcome these supposedly horrible challenges. Choosing to do it is hard.”

Religious views

Downey calls himself a “Jewish Buddhist” and consults astrologers. Downey has been interested in Christianity and Hare Krishna.

Political opinions

Downey said in a 2008 interview that prison changed his political views: “You can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and understand it and come out a liberal. I have a really interesting political point of view, but I don’t always say it at dinner tables. You can’t. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but it was very, very informative and has shaped my views and inclinations.” In a 2015 Avengers: Age of Ultron promotional interview, he disputed that his prior comment reflected any long term opinions, saying: “I wouldn’t say that I’m a Republican or a liberal or a Democrat.”

Downey is an Anti-Recidivism Coalition board member.

In January 2020, while promoting Dolittle, Downey said that he had become a vegan because “I’m a one-man carbon footprint nightmare colossus” and wants to help fight the climate issue. Downey earlier announced the formation of The Footprint Coalition to minimise global carbon footprints using modern technologies. The Footprint Coalition supports French insect-farming firm Ynsect, bio-based plastic alternative RWDC, and bamboo toilet paper Cloud Paper.


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