Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Tony Stark’s modest self-evaluation feels as though it could almost be repurposed to apply to the man who has become synonymous with the character, but just over a decade before he became Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr looked to be down and out. The actor is now one of the biggest (and richest) names in Hollywood, but he hasn’t always had it easy.
There’s no denying that the MCU wouldn’t be the cinematic behemoth it is today, were it not for the star power of Robert Downey Jr. The actor ultimately helped to launch the MCU back in 2008 with his Iron Man movie, paving the way for almost 30 more Marvel movies since. And, of course, one of the defining moments of the Marvel journey so far, is Tony Stark’s tragic sacrifice in Avengers Endgame.
But, the man who started, and ended the Infinity saga, has had one hell of a rollercoaster ride on his way to the top. The incredible amount of fame, respect, and adoration Robert Downey Jr enjoys now, and zeros on his pay-cheques he can demand, is a far cry from the man who was at rock bottom in 1996.
Downey Jr shot to fame in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and even picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Lead Actor for his role in Chaplin, in 1992. He didn’t win the award, but being recognised by The Academy before your thirtieth birthday isn’t bad going.
You’d think an actor in this position would be on the up and up, but unfortunately, in 1996, Downey Jr was arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine, and an illegal firearm, all while speeding down Sunset Boulevard.
Just a month later, an intoxicated Downey Jr would break the conditions of his parole by trespassing into a neighbour’s home, and falling asleep in one of their beds. He also missed a mandatory drug testing in 1997 and spent six months in jail.
These problems with addiction continued right through to 2001, with the actor spending plenty more time in jail, and even more time in rehabilitation facilities and courtrooms. Downey Jr appeared to be at rock bottom, with no sign of getting out.
Millennium bug: The best 2000s movies
Thankfully, after all the issues he had endured, Downey Jr had a wake-up call and decided to get clean and back on the straight and narrow. And, his path to success opened up from there, slowly but surely.
Believe it or not, we may have Mel Gibson to thank for the brilliant career Robert Downey Jr has enjoyed. In 2003, Gibson paid the insurance bond to allow Downey Jr to appear in The Singing Detective, which then opened up opportunities in mainstream cinema once again.
He then got a role in Gothika in 2004, before the producer on that movie, Joel Silver, hooked him up with Shane Black for the first of their collaborations, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2006. They’re not kidding when they say “it’s all about who you know.”
This is when things really started to pick up for Downey Jr. In 2007 he bagged a role in David Fincher’s riveting thriller movie Zodiac, where he played the role of journalist Paul Avery. Zodiac, of course, was acclaimed by critics, and Downey Jr was well and truly back on the map.
But, it’s 2008 which is the banner year for the movie star, when he spearheaded the inception of the MCU. The man behind it all at Marvel, Kevin Feige, has even admitted that casting Robert Downey Jr was “the biggest risk” he took when building the MCU. I think it’s safe to say that risk paid off.
Incredibly, in that same year, Downey Jr would also go on to nab his second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actor, for his role in the comedy movie Tropic Thunder. Sadly, still no win, but how fitting that in the year which crowned his unbelievable comeback, he also found favour with The Academy once again.
Follow the clues: The best detective movies
Since then, Downey Jr’s career has gone from strength to strength. Alongside his central role in the MCU, he has also played the world’s most famous detective in a new Sherlock Holmes franchise, has flexed his acting chops in various drama movies, and was the highest paid actor in the world for three consecutive years from 2013 to 2015.
Undoubtedly one of the most bankable megastars in Hollywood, the face of one of the most popular movie franchises in the history of cinema, and with a variety of charity work and ecological initiatives under his belt, Robert Downey Jr appears to have it all. If you pretend Dolittle doesn’t exist, that is.