These days, Robert Downey Jr. is a household name that is worth a ton of money and a man that always seems to have something witty to say. But 40+ years ago, he was just an adorable little boy appearing in his father’s films. Since his film debut in 1970, RDJ has gone on to have a very successful career, yet that success did not come without setbacks. He had a very public battle with addiction that led to many arrests, but ultimately he came out on top! See his career trajectory from start to now.
Robert Downey Jr. made his film debut in his father's film Pound when he was just 5-years-old. He had a few minor roles in his father's films as he grew up, and after his parents split, he moved with his father across the country to pursue a career in acting full-time. On his own, he began building his resume with theater roles, including in the short-lived off-Broadway musical American Passion. In 1985 he was cast on Saturday Night Live, as part of a younger crowd, but after a poorly reviewed season, he got the boot.
Brat Pack Era
Luckily, RDJ found success after his SNL shortcomings. He had a breakthrough playing James Spader's sidekick in Tuff Turf and then the bully in John Hughes' Weird Science with Anthony Michael Hall (who was also on SNL with him). He was considered for the role of Duckie in John Hughes' film Pretty in Pink but the role went to John Cryer and RDJ didn't work with Molly Ringwald until The Pickup Artist. Roles like these are what had him dubbed as a member of the Brat Pack, which also consisted of a lot of actors that also appeared in John Hughes films like Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. After all this success, he played Charlie Chaplin in 1992's Chaplin and earned his first Academy Award nomination.
Rock Bottom Era
New Line Cinema
RDJ was no stranger when it came to addiction. His father was a drug addict and even let him experiment with marijuana at the tender age of 6, which his father now regrets. From 1996 to 2001, RDJ was arrested many times for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana possession, entering rehab several times, though the attempts were unsuccessful at helping aide his addiction. He told a judge in 1999: "It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal." That same year he was sentenced to three years in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, which led to him losing his gig on the NBC show God, the Devil and Bob. After a year in the facility he was released with $5,000 bail and probation. He was signed on to play Calista Flockhart's new love interest on Ally McBeal and seemed to be on the up, but sadly over Thanksgiving in 2000 he was arrested again, for possession of cocaine and Valium.
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Warner Bros. via Everett Collection
After 5 years of running the the cycle of addiction and arrests, RDJ resigned himself to getting clean and getting his shit together. In a 2004 interview with Oprah, he told her that after his final arrest in April 2001, he thought "I said, 'You know what? I don't think I can continue doing this.' And I reached out for help, and I ran with it. You can reach out for help in kind of a half-assed way and you'll get it and you won't take advantage of it. It's not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems...what's hard is to decide to do it." RDJ owes a big portion of his comeback to his good friend Mel Gibson, who paid his insurance bond for the film The Singing Detective and got him back on the big screen. This paved the way for him to appear in mainstream films again and his role in the film Gothika led to him being cast in many other big projects.
Iron Man Era
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
It's hard to believe this, but until Iron Man, throughout RDJ's entire career he'd never appeared in a classic "summer blockbuster". Since 2008 RDJ has been playing Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, beginning with the standalone film Iron Man, to 2012's box office smash hit The Avengers, to now where Iron Man is battling his teammate Captain America in the highly anticipated Captain America: Civil War. Since first appearing as Iron Man, RDJ has become a very hot commodity, also playing big characters like Sherlock Holmes in two films (and will appear in a third, yet no release date is set) with Jude Law as his Watson. These days, RDJ's net worth is a cool $220 million. That's only $15 less than the rest of the Avengers (Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo) net worths combined.