Robert Downey Jr's return from the brink: The real-life Iron Man who was once shunned by Hollywood

Robert Downey Jr's return from the brink: The real-life Iron Man who was once shunned by Hollywood
(Getty Images)

On the heels of the Avengers: Infinity War release, Marvel fans cannot help but ponder over the fate of the Avengers, given the amount of doom and finality that is anticipated in Anthony and Joe Russo's upcoming superhero blockbuster. To be specific, things look especially grim for the biggest star of the franchise, Robert Downey Jr, who has been associated with the Marvel Cinematic Universe since its very conception in 2008. 

Beginning with Jon Favreau's Iron Man, the 53-year-old star has so far reprised his billionaire-cum-playboy philanthropist role at least eight times. And in Downey Jr's own words, there were numerous times, when he felt it might be the end for his character, Tony Stark aka the Iron Man.

“Believe me, I’m tired of every movie, you know, ‘It’s the end! It’s Armageddon! It’s the Be All, End All, Forever!’ And then it’s … not," the artist had told EW, hinting on the tragedy that could befall his superhero character. "This one actually is.  They’re not kidding. This is a heads-will-roll scenario.” 



(Getty Images)

The actor is clearly referring to the third Avengers movie, where, threatened by mad titan Thanos' growing evils, the Earth-bound Avengers, the space-trekking Star Lord, God of Thunder, and the King of Wakanda will be compelled to join forces and prevent a catastrophe. In the light of these cosmic events, however, all eyes are on Downey Jr and the fate of his Iron Man - especially since his colleague Chris Evans has already confirmed his departure from the million-dollar franchise.       

Will he survive the wrath of Thanos? And if he doesn't, are we nearing the end of an era marked by Tony Stark's genius, wit, and tomfoolery? In carefully-constructed words, Infinity War co-director Joe shared an update, teasing that no one can replace Downey Jr.


"He can’t play the character forever," said the director echoing every Marvel fan's greatest fears. "I am sure there are lots other things he wants to do in his career. But he loves playing the character, I know that, and we love working together. We will see where it goes from here.”

Indeed, the architect of what can be considered as the most ambitious superhero flick, sounds ominous. After all, the discussion is surrounding one of Hollywood's biggest stars, who has traced his way to the top, as an invaluable part of a multi-billion dollar franchise following a series of unfortunate events. 


Robert Downey Jr (Getty Images)

The revered actor, philanthropist, and devoted family man that we have come to know him as, today, is a culmination of years of failure and rejection, mostly of his own doing. Downey Jr. is no stranger to prison or the dire consequences of drug and substance abuse. In fact, at the heights of his initial years of success, he was making trips to rehabilitation centers but with little success.

“It’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth, my finger on the trigger and I like the taste of gun metal,” said the actor back in 1999, while appearing in front of Superior Court Judge Lawrence Mira, who had almost exhausted her goodwill on Downey Jr, as he spiraled back into the same pattern over and over again. 

“We tried rehabilitation, and it simply hasn’t worked,” she said, before sentencing the actor to three-years of jail time. 

As it turns out, The Avengers star's encounter with substance, a catalog that over the years included heroin, cocaine, and alcohol, began early on in his life. At his home. It is said that the actor's father Robert Downey Sr., a reputed filmmaker in his own right, was the one to introduce him to drugs, namely marijuana, even before he stepped into his teenage years. 


Drugs cemented the bond between this unique father-son duo, as Downey Jr. explained, that in his home "there was always a lot of pot and coke around."  

Robert Downey Jr. and his father Robert Downey Sr. (Getty Images)

“When my dad and I would do drugs together,” he told The New Breed in 1998, “it was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew how.” And in the days to come, the actor would eventually “spend every night out getting drunk…making a thousand phone calls in pursuit of drugs,” as per the excerpts from the book on young actors.

Interestingly, Downey was able to continue with his Hollywood endeavors despite his personal life going for a toss amid reports of his drug-addled lifestyle and multiple run-ins with the law and order. Following a troubled decade, by the end of 80's Downey Jr. was making splashes as far as his acting mettle was concerned. 


In 1992, the actor starred in 'Chaplin', a British-American biographical film about the life of British comedian Charlie Chaplin. As ironical as his casting, to play the controversial comedian, was, Downey picking an Oscar nomination for the role that brought him into the good books of filmmakers. 

Quite successfully, though, the actor followed Chaplin's rave reviews with his other projects like 'Hear and Souls', 'Only You', and 1994's 'Natural Born Killers' with Woody Harrelson. But as fast-paced and riveting his life in the spotlight was turning out to be, so was his personal predicament: a nightmarish roller-coaster of one misstep after another. 

From the late 90s until mid-2000s, the actor battled his personal demons, got arrested numerous times on drug-related charges and had quite a few embarrassing escapades including the one when he ended up at his Malibu neighbor's house, stark naked. 


The actor was arrested multiple time over drug-related charges (Getty Images)

A series of jail times later, the actor allegedly suffered the fate that his reckless living was preparing him for: he was beaten black and blue in the jail - where he landed after failing to take a drug test in 1996. The brutal incident would require him to undergo a facial surgery as well. But that hardly stopped the actor from falling back into his old routine or appearing before Judge Mira and trying her patience until the 1999 hearing. 

Thankfully for the actor, he was paroled just after 12 months, in 2000; but fell off the wagon in the subsequent years to make his way to the Wavelengths International, a correctional facility which is still frequented by Downey Jr., but of his own accord. 


The redemption of the star

Something flipped for the actor after his release in 2000: he was on the path of redeeming his career with a Golden Globe-nominated role in the hit TV show 'Ally McBeal' amid a failing marriage to former actress Deborah Falconer. In the course of the next three years, the struggling Hollywood star exhausted all his options of saving his personal life, but started making small leaps, professionally. 


First came 'Singing Detective' (the 2003 film for which Downey has to thank his friendship with Mel Gibson), and soon a slew of critically acclaimed mainstream movies fell in his lap - including 'Gothika'; 'Fur', a Steven Shainberg biographical film of Diane Arbus; 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'; 2007's mystery thriller 'Zodiac'; and so on. 

Downey Jr. was nominated for Oscar for his 'Chaplin' role (Getty Images)  

Describing his genius, in fact, actor Keith Gordon gushed, "Robert can take a two-minute scene and take you through five different arcs of emotion as he takes himself through that... Which is very much like life, but not very much like what we usually see in acting."


Then he makes the mother of all comebacks


Despite an array of hits - critical and commercial - the actor had given to his fans, he didn't hold claims to any blockbuster movie. This is the point, where we start talking about Iron Man. 

Redemption in its truest form, the actor slipped into the armor of this fan-favorite character to mark a remarkable journey (in 2008), shedding the image of an addict to become what he is now better known as, an avenger.  "Downey wasn't the most obvious choice, but he understood what makes the character tick. He found a lot of his own life experience in 'Tony Stark'," were the infamous words of Favreau, who has been instrumental in bringing Downey Jr. back to the limelight.

 There's a lot in common between Downey and Depp (another of Hollywood's misunderstood genius). And Favreau understood this as he insisted on getting the star on board for the billion-dollar franchise, which we have come to know as MCU. 

Robert as Tony Stark aka the Iron Man (Marvel)

Almost 10 years since the first Iron Man movie, Downey is now an integral part of the cinematic universe. So much so, that even before the third phase of the ongoing saga is over, frowns and concerns are running high on whether or not the actor will be returning after Avengers 3 & 4. 

In a way, Infinity War has a sense of finality about it, from the point of view of a storyline, the cast, and all the popular characters; and there might be "new stories to tell" in the future, but as Joe Russo says, “There is nobody who can take over Iron Man from Robert." 


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