Finding out about the man behind the mask and the things that make him a superhero in real life
Words Yvonne Jacob
Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist - that’s how Tony Stark described himself in his famous ‘smarter than thou’ way of conversing. Off the reel, Robert Downey Jr. is no different in real life either. Downey Jr. appeared in his first movie Pound in 1970 when he was just 5-years-old, he played the role of a puppy. Little did we know that the boy from the movie would grow up to be one of MCU’s (Marvel Cinematic Universe) highest paid actors. It has been a year since Avengers: Endgame hit the theatres, but the effects of it are just the same. Watching Iron Man during the end scene is still a tear-jerker for MCU fans and no, clearly, a year has not been enough to move on just yet.
MCU released its first movie Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr. back in 2008 which paved the way for all future Marvel movies. Robert Downey Jr., in a way, catapulted Marvel to immense fame with Iron Man, instantly creating a wide fan base for the character, making him one of the most important Marvel characters who played a vital role throughout the Avengers saga. With every installment, he made the character his own and it was almost like Downey Jr. was born to be Iron Man.
However, going back to the very start of his career, he had his own setbacks. You tend to enjoy him just as much as you enjoy Freddie Mercury. It’s not just the song you hear, but the story of his life. His career had been a whirlwind of sorts and then calm and then again there was a storm. Much like the character he plays, Downey Jr.’s personal life too tells a similar story: rich, drunken adventures - most of them being really bad, supermodels, etc. His father Robert Downey Sr. is a famous actor and filmmaker who has delivered many groundbreaking movies. His mother Elsie Ann was an actress who would appear in Downey Sr.’s films. Downey Jr.’s original family name was Elias which was later changed by his father when he was to be enlisted into the Army.
When Downey Jr. was just a young thing, he was surrounded by drugs because of his father’s drug addiction. Downey Jr. was allowed to use marijuana by the age of six, an incident which his father later clarified saying that he regretted letting his son do it. According to sources, Downey Jr. stated that the drug usage was like an emotional bond he shared with his father, “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."
Eventually, Downey began spending his nights drinking and making a number of calls to score drugs. When he was 10, he was living in England and studied classical ballet which was part of a larger curriculum. After his parents got divorced, Downey dropped out of high school and moved to New York to pursue his acting career full-time. From 1996 to 2001, Downey was arrested a number of times on charges that were related to drugs including cocaine, heroin and marijuana. He went through numerous unsuccessful drug programmes and in 1999, he explained to a judge: “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." In 1996, Downey was arrested for possession of drugs and an unloaded .357 Magnum handgun while he was speeding down Sunset Boulevard. About a month later, he trespassed into a neighbour’s home while under the influence of some substance and passed out in one of the beds. He missed one of his court-ordered drug tests in 1997 and had to spend six months in Los Angeles County jail.
Downey was sentenced to a three-year prison term at California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, California. Downey, on the condition of posting a $5,000 bail, was unexpectedly freed when a judge ruled that his collective term in incarceration facilities, since his arrests in 1996, had qualified for an early release. In April 2001, while Downey was on parole, a police officer found him wandering barefoot and he was, again, arrested for suspicion of being under the influence of drugs.
After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab and relapse, Downey was ready to work towards a complete recovery from drugs and get his career back on track. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Downey discussed his failed attempts to control his addictive behaviour in the past saying, “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.” Much like in the Avengers movie, Downey did get his life back on track and he got back with a number of hits, Iron Man and Avengers being the biggest ones of all. Over the span of his career so far he has shown versatility and effortless flair in the roles he took up. It was no doubt that Avengers had to end with Iron Man, the one who started it all. In Avengers: Endgame, when the superheros are in battle against Thanos, Iron Man takes it upon himself to save the world and stop the supervillain. Before Tony Stark (his character) snaps his fingers with the infinity gauntlet on, he says the words “I am Iron Man” one last time before his character dies, shattering the hearts of countless Iron Man fans all over the world.
In an article for The Time 100 written by Ben Stiller, he wrote about Downey stating: “Yes, Downey is Iron Man, but he really is Actor Man ... In the realm where box office is irrelevant and talent is king, the realm that actually means something, he has always ruled, and finally this summer he gets to have his cake and let us eat him up all the way to the multiplex, where his mastery is in full effect.”