Robert Downey Jr. clean and sober

Robert Downey Jr.'s life reads like one of his movies' scripts. By the mid-'80s, Robert had earned a rightful spot in young Hollywood's elite with such roles as the desperate drug addict in Less Than Zero. He had the money, the fame, the actress girlfriend, the whole fantasy life. He also had a big drug problem. Despite his addiction to cocaine and heroin, Robert continued acting, even earning an Oscar® nomination for his triumphant performance as Charlie Chaplin in 1992.

However, Robert's addictions became front-page news in 1996. On a routine stop, police found heroin, crack cocaine and a gun in his car. After skipping mandatory drug tests, there were more arrests and jail time. In 1999, a judge sentenced Robert to hard time in Corcoran State Prison, home to Charles Manson. Despite a stint in prison and his escalating trouble with drugs and the law, Hollywood kept calling. Ratings soared when Robert joined the cast of the hit TV show Ally McBeal—he even won a Golden Globe for his performance as Ally's boyfriend—yet, he still could not control his life-threatening addiction. After two more arrests, he was sentenced to a yearlong live-in treatment program. Today, Robert Downey Jr. says he's been off drugs for two years.

Oprah: Do you still get urges to do drugs?

Robert: I have not even an inkling of a desire.
Robert Downey Jr. on Jodie Foster and Sean Penn

Robert Downey Jr. says despite his problem with drugs, he is fortunate to have had continual support from people within the movie industry who have given him jobs and literally kicked his door down to get him help.

Oprah: Was it Jodie Foster who confronted you at some point? Tell me what that was like. You were on a film that she was directing?

Robert: First of all, Jodie Foster confronting you is not a comfortable situation. She said, "You know you're doing great on this film and I know that you're loaded, too, so, what's wrong with this picture? I'm worried about you. Not on this one, because we're almost done and you're going to be okay, and I know you have a really strong work ethic and you're kind of like a lab rat. You're really resilient. That's not a good thing in this situation. I'm worried about you for the next movie." And she was absolutely right.

Oprah: Is it true that Sean Penn whisked you off once on a private jet to get you into rehab, and then you ran away?

Robert: "Whisked me off." I wish it were that pleasant. Yes. That's half of it. What he did was kicked my door down. That was another thing. Jodie Foster and then the next minute the door flies off the hinges and there's Sean Penn in that leather jacket, like, "It's time to pay the piper!"
Actor Robert Downey Jr.

Surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. says overcoming his addiction was not the hardest part of recovery.

Robert: You think it's supposed to get more and more dramatic, it's not a movie. It's real life. For me, I just happened to be in a situation the very last time and 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 know? Because you can reach out for help in a half-assed way, and you'll get it, and you won't take advantage of it. You know? It's really not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems.

Oprah: You are saying that it's not that difficult?

Robert: No. What's hard is to decide.

Oprah: That's big. That's really big.
Robert Downey Jr. and fiancé Susan Levin

Who knew that the horror flick Gothika, starring Halle Berry, would spawn a love story? And yet, Robert met his fiancée, film producer Susan Levin, during the making of that movie in Montreal. "I was producing the movie, so it was like he was a teacher or an uncle," Susan says. "He wasn't someone I was considering getting together with. I was more worried, 'Is he going to show up for the day?'"

"I just feel like she's my best friend and we really get along well," Robert says of Susan. "And she also just calls me on everything. And she's multi-tasking squared. She's doing this and she's doing that. She's reading a script. She's pinning her hair. And it just blows my mind how capable she is in functioning in life. And she has a great sense of humor and she's a little bit crazy, too, because she's sitting right here next to me. We're getting married."
Robert Downey Jr.'s kung fu lesson

At the Los Angeles Academy of Wing Chun Kung Fu, Robert says that he has developed a new physical, mental and spiritual awareness. Wing Chun, invented by a female Buddhist monk in the 18th century, is a healing and combative martial art form that concentrates on managing fear. Robert says this practice not only keeps him in shape, but also has helped him become more grounded, sensitive and open to others.

Under the watchful eye of his sifu, which is Chinese for teacher, Robert does his intense workout up to six times a week, and says that it has helped him make his life more stable. "[Wing Chun] gives you a sense of comfort and self-defense. It improves your focus. It just does so many things. It makes you feel you're a part of something you respect."
Robert Downey Jr. sings

When he sang a duet with Sting on Ally McBeal, ratings soared. When he appeared in Elton John's "I Want Love" video, fans were thrilled. Robert Downey Jr. now has his own CD, The Futurist, on which he sings eight original songs and a pair of covers, "Your Move" by Yes and "Smile" from the Chaplin movie soundtrack. He also plays piano on several songs—a dream come true for Robert who's been playing piano since he was 12 years old and writing songs for years.

On the show, he performed "Broken."
FROM: Robert Downey Jr.'s Brand New Life
Published on November 23, 2004


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