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  • Robert Downey, Jr. has been a fixture in Hollywood longer than many of his fans have been alive.

  • While his talent and charisma have always been undeniable, he was long plagued by offscreen troubles that threatened to sink his career.

  • But over the last decade, he's experienced a personal and professional resurgence that has him on top of the world and Hollywood's A-List.

  • It's not easy to go from high school dropout to founding member of the Avengers, but showbiz and struggle have been in Downey's blood from the beginning.

  • Underground Dad

  • Downey's irreverence, self-deprecating humor, and anti-authoritarian streak make a lot of sense if you're familiar with his father.

  • Robert Downey, Sr. started writing and directing independent films in the early 1960s.

  • His first film to receive a wide release was the 1969 satire Putney Swope, the story of a black man accidentally put in charge of an advertising agency.

  • Junior made his film debut as a 5-year-old in his dad's 1970 movie Pound, in which all the actors play dogs.

  • "That tornado scared me so much, it made my hair disappear."

  • "Have any hair on your ball(s)?"

  • A year later, Downey, Sr. let his 6-year-old son try marijuana for the first time, which Downey Sr. later came to greatly regret.

  • When his parents divorced in 1978, a 13-year old Junior followed his dad from New York to L.A.

  • At the age of 16, he dropped out of high school to pursue acting full-time.

  • New York Beginnings

  • Rather than attempt to break into Hollywood, the teenage Downey returned to his mother's in New York.

  • He landed roles in a couple of small productions, including 1984's Firstborn, a little-remembered drama co-starring an 18-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker.

  • The two hit it off immediately, beginning a relationship that would last for years even as Downey became a mainstay on the New York party scene.

  • In 1985, Downey joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.

  • Producer Lorne Michaels had just returned to the show after five years away, and he hired an entirely new cast.

  • It became painfully apparent that Downey was out of his element.

  • "That simply represents a dramatic synthesis of the..."

  • Much of the new cast failed to click with each other, and Downey was among those who were canned at the end of the season.

  • Professional Success, Personal Troubles

  • The sacking from SNL was a blessing in disguise, as it coincided with the rise of Downey's film career.

  • He had small roles in the John Hughes films Weird Science and Pretty in Pink, as well as the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School.

  • 1987 brought two highlights: his first lead role in The Pick-Up Artist, and Less Than Zero, his most critically acclaimed performance to date.

  • Less Than Zero featured Downey as the hard-partying cocaine addict Julian Wells.

  • It earned him recognition as a serious actor, but the experience of making it had some very unfortunate repercussions.

  • Drugs had virtually always been a part of Downey's life, but he's pointed to Less Than Zero as the time when the troubles really began.

  • He explained to The Guardian:

  • "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."

  • The A-List

  • The 1992 bio-pic Chaplin cemented Downey's reputation as a critically acclaimed actor.

  • His performance as screen legend Charlie Chaplin made him one of the most in-demand stars in Hollywood and earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

  • He followed that up with acclaimed turns in Robert Altman's Short Cuts in 1993 and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers in 1994.

  • His personal life was also looking up, as he married actress Deborah Falconer in 1992, and they had a son two years later.

  • But his troubles with addiction would soon boil over.

  • Nearly Losing It All

  • In June 1996, Downey was arrested for felony cocaine and heroin possession after being pulled over for driving while completely naked in Malibu.

  • A few weeks later, an extremely confused neighbor found the actor cozily tucked into bed in one of his guest rooms.

  • Numerous trips to rehab seemed to do nothing to quell his habit, and his film roles diminished in size and frequency as the arrests piled up.

  • A brief comeback on the hit TV series Ally McBeal was derailed by more drug charges in 2001.

  • He appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004 and spoke about his struggles:

  • "It's not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems."

  • You are saying that it's not that difficult?”

  • No.

  • What's hard is to decide.”

  • Cleaning Up His Act

  • Downey's marriage to Falconer ended in divorce in 2004, but he had just met producer Susan Levin the year before on the set of Gothika, and things turned serious pretty quickly.

  • But Levin let it be known that she wouldn't marry Downey unless he gave up drugs completely.

  • This was the final nail in the coffin for his old life, and the two married in 2005.

  • With a newfound focus and sobriety came an uptick in the number of interesting roles offered to Downey.

  • Well-received turns in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Good Night and Good Luck, and A Scanner Darkly culminated in a supporting role in the 2007 thriller Zodiac, one of the most acclaimed films of that year.

  • The Role Of A Lifetime

  • 2008's Iron Man has been called, in retrospect, the riskiest film in history.

  • By the time of its release, Marvel had been planning that all of its future films would take place in the same shared universe, with characters crossing over between films.

  • Iron Man set the tone for this universe, essentially selling the whole concept of the MCU to filmgoers.

  • Much of this depended upon its leading man, and if the film had flopped, Downey's career might have recovered, but Marvel likely never would have.

  • But of course, the film was a smash hit with critics and audiences alike, and among all of the praise, Downey was singled out for inhabiting his character in a way that few superhero movie leads have done before or since.

  • The MCU has gone on to become the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, and Downey has been its face from the very beginning.

  • While he's also continued to snag an Oscar nomination for 2008's Tropic Thunder and to create a popular new spin on Sherlock Holmes, it's become increasingly difficult to tell where Downey ends and Stark begins.

  • "The truth is...I am Iron Man."

Robert Downey, Jr. has been a fixture in Hollywood longer than many of his fans have been alive.

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This Is How Robert Downey Jr Became Iron Man

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    Nina posted on 2019/09/01
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