Also Credited As:Robert John Downey
|Actor, Director, Producer, Writer, Music|
|Robert John Downey on April 4, 1965 in New York City, New York, USA|
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Robert Downey, Jr. was born on April 4, 1965, in New York City's Greenwich Village. His father, who had changed his surname from Elias as a teen in order to sneak into the Army underage, was a boxer, minor league ball player and playwright before gaining notoriety as an underground filmmaker. His most well-known film was "Putney Swope" (1969), a satire of the New York advertising industry. Downey's mother Elsie was a writer and an actress whom he credited with instilling his love of performing. During Downey's bohemian upbringing, he enjoyed the colorful cast of downtown counter-culture types that congregated in the family apartment, and appeared in his father's films, "Pound" (1970) in which he played a puppy, and "Greaser's Palace" (1972), a Western in which he had his throat slit by God. His older sister Alison was the academic kid in the family, while it was clear that the hyperactive son was headed for a life in the arts. His parents encouraged this interest by sending him to a performing arts camp, Stagedoor Manor, for several summers.
When Downey was 13 years old, his parents divorced and his father moved to the filmmaking mecca of California. Downey followed soon after, appearing in his dad's teen comedy "Mad Magazine Presents: Up the Academy" (1980) and in stage productions at Santa Monica High School, before dropping out in 11th grade to move back to New York to live with his sister. He worked as a busboy while appearing in off-Broadway plays like the family drama "Alms for the Middle Class," the musical "American Passion," and as a piece of living art in a SoHo nightclub. It was at this time that he was spotted by an agent and flown back to L.A., where he landed a small role in John Sayle's 1950s-set teen drama "Baby it's You" (1983) and Michael Apted's family drama "Firstborn" (1984). It was on the set of the latter film where he first met Sarah Jessica Parker - years away from "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004) and Carrie Bradshaw. The pair quickly ignited off-screen sparks and the always extreme Downey moved into her New York apartment after only weeks.
A supporting role in "Weird Science" (1985) introduced Downey to Anthony Michael Hall, who encouraged his new friend to join him at auditions for "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) that year. Both landed in the cast of what unfortunately went down in "S.N.L." history as one of its worst seasons, due largely to a new team of producers who broke the spell of the show's popular Lorne Michaels-era. On film, Downey had a scene-stealing role as a charismatic and quirky college student in the Rodney Dangerfield hit "Back to School" (1986) before landing his first starring role as a smooth-talking charmer opposite Molly Ringwald in James Toback's "The Pick-Up Artist" (1987). His breakthrough screen role and first critical accolades came later that year, however, with his portrayal of tragic, cocaine-addicted Julian in "Less Than Zero" (1987). It was no coincidence that Downey so convincingly embodied the jittery and dangerously out of control character - by the time the film was released he was going through his first rehab program for cocaine addiction. In fact, in light of his future heartbreaking run-ins with the law over his addiction, watching the film years later would prove too close for comfort for family, friends or even fans.
Downey appeared in a few more forgettable young adult comedies before taking a turn for the better with a remarkably mature performance as an idealistic lawyer opposite James Woods in "True Believer" (1989). He turned around in another romantic comedy, playing the confused hero of "Chances Are" (1989), and rose above the mediocre fare with his natural, expressive acting style. He was better showcased in the Vietnam war dark comedy "Air America" (1990), co-starring opposite Mel Gibson as a traffic helicopter personality recruited to transport drugs through Southeast Asia. His riffing, improvised comic style and electric screen energy translated well into the world of the big budget Hollywood picture. However, Downey was not such a big name that audiences would have expected him to land the prestigious lead role in the biopic "Chaplin" (1992). In the Richard Attenborough-directed film, Downey delivered a tour de force performance that inspired Chaplin's daughter (and film co-star) Geraldine Chaplin to suggest that her late father had somehow come to earth and inhabited the actor's body. Although not well received at the box-office, due in part to the subject matter, Downey was universally praised for his ability to capture not only the movements but the essence of the world's favorite tramp, and earned Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and a win at the BAFTAs.
Interest in the actor's unpredictable off-screen life was fueled by the end of his seven-year relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker in 1991 - due to his drug usage - and his marriage to actress Deborah Falconer in 1992 after dating her for only 42 days. In 1993, the couple had a son, Indio. The same year Robert Altman recruited Downey for his ensemble piece based on the stories of Raymond Carver, "Short Cuts," where the actor gave an effortless, nuanced performance that cemented his utter watchability. Altman was quoted as saying, "Downey is America's best actor. I don't know anyone better." America's best actor followed up with a critically-acclaimed role as an Australian talk-show host broadcasting during a prison riot in Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" (1994) and offered a deft comic turn as Marisa Tomei's would-be lover in the predictable but popular romantic comedy "Only You." He was at his manic best in Jodie Foster's "Home for the Holidays" (1995) and part of the universally-hailed cast of Richard Loncraine's 1930's adaptation of "Richard III," starring Ian McKellen. That same year Downey helmed the 17th-century costume drama "Restoration," which fell far short of the previous outing, but earned him the lion's share of praise for the wit and irreverence he brought to his role as a physician who falls out of favor with the King.
By now, Downey had built a loyal following of fans, movie critics, and co-workers in awe of his seemingly endless creativity. None of them were ready to write off the likeable and ever-professional actor in the face of his perpetual drug problems, but a June 1996 arrest signaled that Downey was headed for serious trouble. When he was stopped by police for speeding, they discovered drugs and an unloaded firearm in his car. The actor was ordered into a rehab and given three years' probation. He and his wife separated. In December 1997, after delivering a moving performance as an AIDS patient in HBO's "One Night Stand," he missed several mandatory drug tests and was arrested and jailed. He was in and out of rehab between startlingly effective performances; first as an associate of Kenneth Branagh's Southern lawyer in Robert Altman's "The Gingerbread Man" (1998) followed by a turn as a womanizer confronted by a pair of lovers in "Two Girls and a Guy" (1998). Before he began serving a three year sentence for violating probation on the 1996 cocaine possession charge, he appeared as a documentary filmmaker's homosexual husband who makes a pass at Mike Tyson in "Black & White" (1999) and offered a slyly comic supporting turn as Michael Douglas' hard-partying book editor in the grossly overlooked Curtis Hansen drama, "Wonder Boys" (2000).
Downey was given early release from the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in August of 2000 when an appeals court ruled that he had had served more than enough time to fulfill his sentence, after his prior 323 days in rehab were taken into account. Downey found himself surrounded by forgiving supporters and began fielding offers for work, accepting a recurring role as a love interest to Calista Flockhart's sparky "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002). Downey proved that he still had that electric energy and charm, and quickly won over audiences as well as earned an Emmy nod and Golden Globe win. Unfortunately, by year's end, he was back in trouble again - arrested on weapons and drug possession charges. In April 2001, just prior to the end of the "McBeal" filming season, Downey was arrested via an anonymous phone tip in a drug-filled Palm Springs hotel room. Frustrated producer David E. Kelley summarily fired him and re-wrote the series' last episode, in which his character was supposed to marry Ally. In July 2001, Downey was sentenced to three years probation, including one year in a drug rehab center.
When Downey surfaced again, he was sober. For reasons even he could not fully explain, a 2003 coke bender had ended with a realization that the game was over. His old friend and co-star Mel Gibson helped re-launch his career by casting Downey in his screen adaptation of author Dennis Potter's "The Singing Detective" (2003), a disjointed hodge-podge of a film in which Downey was no less than superb as hero Dan Dark, lost in a musical noir fantasy. He was also nicely cast opposite Halle Berry in the otherwise preposterous horror thriller "Gothika" (2003), playing Berry's colleague, a sympathetic psychologist who tries to determine if she is simply crazy or possessed by an evil spirit. While shooting the film, Downey charmed reluctant producer Susan Levin and the pair began dating. The actor seemed genuinely on the path to a stable new life, boldly expanding his creative offerings by releasing his first album, The Futurist, a collection of jazzy pop ballads on which he played piano and sang. He had hinted at his musical talents earlier in his career with musical numbers in "Chaplin," "The Singing Detective" and "Hearts and Souls," but fans were a bit surprised and impressed with his sincere musical gifts.
Word of his official comeback spread through town resulting in Downey being hired for three films in 2005, starting with the Steven Soderbergh-directed segment of the anthology film "Eros" (2005), playing a stressed out 1950s advertising executive under the care of psychiatrist (Alan Arkin). George Clooney cast him in a supporting role in "Good Night and Good Luck" (2005), where he displayed clear-eyed charm as a member of Edward R. Murrow's news team trying to hide his secret marriage with a co-worker (Patricia Clarkson) as the team takes on Sen. Joseph McCarthy. He received some of his best career notices when he headlined screenwriter-director Shane Black's tribute to the hard-boiled action genre, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005), playing a less-than-bright petty thief brought to Los Angeles for an audition, only to find himself in the middle of a murder investigation.
Downey's 2006 releases were independent films that did not reach large audiences but firmly established that his talent had not only survived his demons, but had strengthened with his newfound sobriety. He appeared in rotoscoped form to add comic flare to Richard Linklater's innovative "A Scanner Darkly" (2006), and essayed photographer Diane Arbus' hirsute muse in Steven Shainberg's "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus." In the memoir-based "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," Downey offered a flinchingly realistic portrayal of a man revisiting his childhood roots in Queens, earning his portion of a Sundance Special Jury prize for the film's ensemble cast.
David Fincher's fact-based story of the San Francisco serial murderer "Zodiac" (2007) topped many a critic's list, with Downey joining a stellar cast to play a veteran police reporter involved in cracking the case. After kicking off 2008 with a quiet start as a high school principal in the indie "Charlie Bartlett," Downey braced himself for a high profile year in several potential blockbusters including Ben Stiller's send-up of Hollywood films and the diva actors who star in them "Tropic Thunder" - in which the actor appeared in blackface - and an even better bet, "Iron Man," director John Favreau's comic book adaptation which found Downey ideally suited to play the duplicitous and conflicted superhero. Both were box office bonanzas. For his hilarious efforts in the former, Downey was even nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, which was followed by a surprising nod in the same category for the Academy Awards.
Returning to dramatic fare, Downey delivered a quiet turn in "The Soloist" (2009), playing The Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez, who discovers a homeless man (Jamie Foxx) on the street suffering from schizophrenia who winds up being a cello prodigy. He next joined forces with director Guy Ritchie and producer J l Silver for an updated version of "Sherlock Holmes" (2009), in which Downey portrayed the titular private investigator with a knack for deductive reasoning. For his efforts, the actor earned a surprise Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. Meanwhile, he reprised conflicted superhero Tony Stark for "Iron Man 2" (2010), one of the most anticipated summer tentpoles that year.