How Robert Downey Jr. Became the Iron Man of Summer
Robert Downey Jr.'s road to superhero stardom has been a rocky one. (Photo: Dave M. Benett/Getty)
Robert Downey Jr. has mastered summer. Or maybe it should be said he's remastered it.
It was 10 summers ago that the actor, once invariably referred to as the "troubled actor," couldn't get insured to star in Woody Allen's "Melinda & Melinda." Today, he's the star of his second consecutive No. 1 summertime box-office hit.
A look at how Downey got from there to "Iron Man 3":
2003: He's not at the bottom — the bottom would be in 1999, when he's sent to prison for drug and weapons violations, or in 2001 when he's fired from "Ally McBeal" after yet another drug-related arrest — but, career-wise, he's pretty close. In order to get hired on "The Singing Detective," the art-house crime musical, he needs friend Mel Gibson to play his producer card. In order to get hired on "Gothika," the Halle Berry thriller, he agrees to having nearly half his pay withheld until the film wraps. And then there's "Melinda & Melinda," from which he gets hired and un-hired.
"It's hard to get out of the barrel," Downey would tell London's Telegraph. "It's slippery around the edges and people are happy to see you fall back in."
RDJ would later trade small screen parts on shows like "Ally McBeal" for something much bigger. (Photo: Everett)
Downey credits two things from that year with helping him keep his grip: the "Gothika" producer, then known as Susan Levin, whom he'll marry in 2005 — and ... Burger King.
Per a story said to have been originally recounted in Britain's Empire magazine, Downey was driving with "tons of f---ing dope" when he stopped for a fast-food hamburger.
"It was such a disgusting burger I ordered ... and I thought something really bad was going to happen," Downey said.
And so he threw the hamburger and the drugs away. And nothing really bad happened.
2004: Downey releases an album, "The Futurist," which gets him on "Oprah," which gets his redemptive arc in swing, which Downey totally gets: "No way would I ever get to express myself musically if I wasn't an actor of ill repute," he tells the New York Times.
2005: Downey is "riding high on the comeback trail," the headline says, and it's true. He's starring in a studio movie again, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." The action comedy fizzles at the box office, but Downey, who earned an Oscar nomination for 1992's "Chaplin," is back in the awards-season game with a supporting role in George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck."