The actor Robert Downey Jr., or RDJ, made himself a household name with his role as Iron Man. But years before The Avengers, his future looked bleak as he battled alcoholism and drug abuse in front of the tabloids.

Decades later, sobriety has stuck, and RDJ is now one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors. With his triumph in the face of hopelessness, his story now inspires recovering addicts to create their own success stories. Here’s how he made the journey from addict to action hero.

A Questionable Upbringing: Robert Downey Jr.’s Past

Born in 1965 to filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., Robert Downey Jr. was thrust into the spotlight from a young age. He landed his first film role at five years old, and with a father whose roots in the entertainment industry ran deep, it wasn’t long until he was exposed to drugs and alcohol.

In 2000, Robert Downey Sr. admitted to giving his son his first taste of marijuana when he was just six years old. Upon passing his son the drugs, Downey Sr. said he instantly knew he’d made a “terrible, stupid mistake.”

On his foray into drugs and alcohol, Downey Jr. says it was a way for him to build an emotional bond with his father the only way they thought possible. Unfortunately, as he aged, RDJ’s dependence on the substances only grew, resorting to daily drinking and drug use.

An Interrupted Career

Despite his growing addiction, RDJ rose to stardom as a young adult in the 1980s. He landed roles alongside the Brat Pack in Weird Science and The Pick-Up Artist and spent a season on Saturday Night Live. In 1992, he starred in the film Chaplin, a biopic based on the life of the legendary comic. Downey was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the role and spent a few years enjoying the life of a Hollywood movie star.

Unfortunately, this momentum was cut short. With his drug use spiraling out of control, Downey was arrested in 1996 for possession of drugs that included heroin and cocaine. For the next several years, he incurred multiple arrests and several stints in jail, mainly for drug possession. A notable low point was his arrest in 1999, when he trespassed on a neighbor’s property while drunk and fell asleep in their home.

The same year, he failed to pass multiple drug tests and was sentenced to three years in prison. Though he ended up serving only a year of his sentence, RDJ’s addiction troubles were far from over.

In 2001, he attempted to revive his career with a role in Ally McBeal, but was fired after he was arrested for walking the streets of Culver City while intoxicated. After the arrest, Downey was given the order to attend rehab in lieu of another stay in prison.

In a 2009 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Downey’s wife, Susan, revealed that she had given the actor an ultimatum after his 2001 arrest. Lucky for RDJ, this proved to be the extra push he needed: he has now been sober since 2003.

Addiction and Fame

Unfortunately, Robert Downey Jr.’s addiction struggle is common among celebrities. Alcoholism and substance abuse has claimed the lives of countless icons, including:

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Janis Joplin
  • Michael Jackson
  • Heath Ledger
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Elvis

But not all celebrities succumb to their addictions. Stars like Johnny Depp, Drew Barrymore, Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie have all struggled publicly with drugs and alcohol. Like Robert Downey Jr., these A-listers overcame their substance abuse disorders and now lead lucrative careers.

Not even fame can shield a person from addiction. Celebrity survivors are an important source of inspiration for many who suffer from this disease. While addiction can target anyone, everyone has the power to overcome it with the right care.

Committing to Recovery

Susan’s ultimatum isn’t the only thing Downey credits with his sobriety. He revealed to Daily Mail in 2013 that he relied on a mix of yoga and meditation to stay clean, in addition to therapy and a series of 12-step programs.

When asked about his success with sobriety, Downey says, “Job one is get out of that cave.” When it comes to those who get clean but can’t stay sober, the actor highlights the importance of overcoming denial and understanding the serious impacts a life of substance abuse can have on a person and their family.

With a signature touch of sarcasm, Downey remarks, “Come through the crucible forged into a stronger metal. Or whatever.” But his indifference during interviews doesn’t overshadow his success with sobriety.

A Hero’s Ending

After his rehab stay in 2003, Downey was sober and ready to get back into acting. Unfortunately, filmmakers were unwilling to take the risk. With help from industry legend Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr.’s past was forgotten with a leading role in The Singing Detective.

Downey was unstoppable after this introductory role. Gothika and Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang followed, and soon his status as an Oscar-nominated actor was restored. However, RDJ’s Hollywood domination was solidified when he landed the lead role in the 2008 film Iron Man.

Downey has since reprised this role in nearly a dozen films, including The Avengers and several Iron Man sequels. In addition to being Marvel’s leading man, RDJ’s resume includes other blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes and Tropic Thunder, for which he nabbed his second Oscar nomination. Though once seen as little more than an actor whose career was cut short due to substance abuse, Robert Downey Jr. is now one of Hollywood’s greatest comeback stories.

RDJ’s success is one that continues to inspire recovering addicts across the globe. His status today is a reminder to all that no matter how bleak the situation may seem, there is always a chance to come out on top.

Ready to start writing your own success story? Contact Sunlight Recovery today and take the first step.