Robert Downey Jr. Is Officially an Oscar Winner

robert downey jr holds an oscar in one hand as he flashes two peace signs
Robert Downey Jr.Getty Images
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1965-present

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Who Is Robert Downey Jr.?

Actor Robert Downey Jr. is best known for his portrayal of Tony Stark, a.k.a superhero Iron Man, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film franchise and roles in movies like Chaplin, Tropic Thunder. Downey made his first movie appearances and was a cast member on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, but his growing success was marred by years of struggles with drug abuse. Eventually turning his life around, he earned a resurgence of critical and widespread acclaim and is now considered one of Hollywood’s A-list actors. Downey most recently gave an Oscar-winning performance as Lewis Strauss in the 2023 biopic Oppenheimer.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Robert John Downey Jr.
BORN: April 4, 1965
BIRTHPLACE: New York City
SPOUSES: Deborah Falconer (1992-2004) and Susan Levin (2005-present)
CHILDREN: Indio, Exton, and Avri
ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Aries

Childhood

Famed actor Robert Downey Jr. was born on April 4, 1965, in New York City, the son of the avant-garde filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., best known for the 1969 film Putney Swope. Downey began acting as a young child. His mother, Elsie, was an actress who instilled in her son a love of performing. Raised in Greenwich Village with his older sister, Alison, Downey made his film debut playing a puppy in his father’s film Pound (1970), in which actors played dogs. He would go on to have small parts in several more of his father’s films.

Downey’s parents divorced when he was 13, and the young actor ended up living in Los Angeles with his father. At 16, however, he dropped out of high school and was on the move again, relocating to New York to live with his mother.

Early Movies and SNL

Downey made his earliest feature film appearances in such films as Baby, It’s You (1983), Firstborn (1984), Weird Science (1985) and Back to School (1986). From 1985 to ’86, he was a regular cast member of Saturday Night Live, NBC’s popular sketch-comedy program.

The Pick-up Artist and Less Than Zero

Downey’s first leading role on the big screen was as a charming womanizer in The Pick-up Artist (1987), a romantic comedy co-starring Molly Ringwald written and directed by James Toback. His breakthrough performance came in 1987 with Less Than Zero (1987), where he co-starred with Andrew McCarthy. Downey played the party-loving, cocaine-addicted Julian Wells in the film.

Movies of Critical Acclaim

By the early 1990s, Downey had established a reputation as a critically acclaimed A-List actor. He earned praise for his comic turn as a shifty soap opera producer in Soapdish (1991), co-starring Sally Field, Kevin Kline, and Whoopi Goldberg. More adoration followed when Downey landed a featured role in Short Cuts (1993), the critically lauded ensemble film by Robert Altman.

Chaplin

robert downey jr in a charlie chaplin costume rolling his hat along his right arm
Robert Downey Jr. plays with his hat in a scene from the 1992 film Chaplin.Getty Images

A particular high point in Downey’s career came in 1993 when he was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Actor) for his performance in Chaplin (1992), directed by Richard Attenborough. In the highly acclaimed film, which didn’t go over nearly as well with audiences as with critics, Downey nimbly portrayed the legendary Charlie Chaplin from ages 19 to 83. The role displayed his dramatic range and his considerable talent for physical comedy. By this time, the 27-year-old Downey had come to be seen as one of the most gifted actors of his generation, but he had also earned a reputation as a troubled and controversial figure in Hollywood.

Natural Born Killers and Richard III

In the wake of his critical success with Chaplin, Downey anchored a documentary about the 1992 presidential election, The Last Party. In 1994, he appeared in the romantic comedy Only You, and in Oliver Stone’s acclaimed but controversial Natural Born Killers. The following year, the actor starred in the period film Restoration alongside Meg Ryan and Sam Neill; an updated film version of Richard III, co-starring Ian McKellen and Annette Bening; and the Jodie Foster-directed Home for the Holidays, also starring Holly Hunter.

Substance Abuse Problems

While Downey’s acting prospects appeared on track, his personal life would be in turmoil for the next few years. Downey was introduced to drugs at the age of 8 by his father and developed a full-fledged addiction as he headed into his 20s.

“Until (Less Than Zero), I took my drugs after work and on the weekends,” he later explained. “Maybe I’d turn up hungover on the set, but no more so than the stuntman. That changed on Less Than Zero... The character was an exaggeration of myself. Then things changed, and, in some ways, I became an exaggeration of the character. That lasted far longer than it needed to last.”

A stint in drug rehabilitation followed shortly afterward, but Downey’s struggles with drugs and alcohol would persist for years. In June 1996, the actor was stopped by police after driving naked in his Porsche on Sunset Boulevard and found not only to be without clothes but in possession of cocaine, heroin, and a.357 Magnum. Less than a month later, and just a few hours before he was slated to be charged, Downey ran afoul of the law again after he was found passed out in a neighbor's house.

For the next several years, Downey’s life was a haze of headline-generating, dependency-induced mistakes and their consequences. There was a 12-month stay in prison and another visit to drug rehab. In November 2000, Downey was again arrested, this time in a Palm Springs hotel room, where he was discovered with cocaine and in a Wonder Woman costume. He was charged with felony drug possession.

Downey’s trial, initially set for late January, was delayed for several months while his lawyers negotiated with prosecutors. In March 2001, the two sides failed to reach a plea bargain, and the case was set for a preliminary hearing at the end of April. On April 24, 2001, Downey was arrested for allegedly being under the influence of an undisclosed “stimulant.”

Move to Television with Ally McBeal

Despite his turmoil in the early 2000s, Downey continued working. He gave a memorable performance in Wonder Boys (2000) and had roles in several other films, including Auto Motives and Lethargy. Additionally, Downey moved to the small screen in 2000, becoming a regular cast member of the popular show Ally McBeal, starring Calista Flockhart. Downey once again reminded fans and critics of his talent, likability, and versatility with this new role. He went on to pick up a 2001 Golden Globe Award and won a Screen Actors Guild Award soon after.

But Downey’s increasingly complicated personal life pressed his employer's patience. After that second arrest in April 2001, Downey's tenure on Ally McBeal ended; producers had decided to wrap production of the final episodes of the season without the actor. Around this same time, lawyers reached an agreement with prosecutors that required Downey to plead no contest to cocaine-related charges. He was sentenced to three years’ probation—a ruling that allowed him to continue live-in drug treatment instead of returning to prison.

Box Office Hits

Working his way back to prominence, Downey in 2003 starred opposite Halle Berry in Gothika, which fared better at the box office than it did with the critics. He continued to dedicate himself to his craft, playing a supporting role in the critically acclaimed Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) and the lead in the independent drama A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006), which he also co-produced. In Zodiac (2007), Downey plays a journalist who gets wrapped up in the hunt for the infamous Zodiac Killer.

Tropic Thunder

Taking a huge risk, Downey starred in the comedy Tropic Thunder (2008) with Ben Stiller and Jack Black; he played a white actor pretending to be a Black actor in this war movie spoof. His efforts received primarily positive reviews, with Variety magazine’s Todd McCarthy stating that “the audacity of Downey’s performance” was one of “the best reasons to see the film.” Downey garnered numerous accolades for his performance in Tropic Thunder, including Oscar (Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role), Golden Globe (Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture), and Screen Actors Guild (Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role) nominations.

Iron Man and The Avengers Franchise

robert downey jr
Robert Downey Jr. first had a starring role as Tony Stark in the 2008 film Iron Man.(Photo: Marvel Studios)

That same year, Downey established himself as a box office star by playing wealthy industrialist-turned-crime fighter Tony Stark in the smash hit Iron Man, based on the Marvel Comics superhero. The film grossed more than $318 million domestically, leading to the release of sequels in 2010 and 2013.

Stark would also become one of the central characters in the series of Marvel Cinematic Universe films that followed, headlined by The Avengers in 2012 and its three sequels later in the decade. The movies featured a bevy of Hollywood talent as iconic Marvel heroes, including Chris Evans (Captain America), Don Cheadle (Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), among others.

Downey would reprise his Stark/Iron Man dual role for Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015); Captain America: Civil War (2016); Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017); Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

The Soloist and Sherlock Holmes

Downey went on to share top billing with Jamie Foxx in The Soloist (2009), which tells the story of the friendship between a Los Angeles journalist (Downey) and a homeless Juilliard-trained musician (Foxx). The film registered a respectable showing at the box office and earned praise from critics, who lauded Downey and Foxx for their performances.

Demonstrating he isn’t afraid of blockbusters (or English accents), Downey co-starred in the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes in 2009 alongside Jude Law as Dr. John Watson. The duo teamed up again for the 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Downey also offered a turn as sharp city lawyer Hank Palmer, opposite Robert Duvall, in the drama The Judge (2014).

Dolittle

After a half-decade of appearing solely in Marvel-branded features, Downey reemerged as host of the YouTube series The Age of AI beginning in late 2019. In January 2020, he starred as a veterinarian who talks to animals in Dolittle, based on the classic children’s book series by British author Hugh Lofting.

Awards for Oppenheimer

Downey took a short hiatus from the big screen following Dolittle and focused on his work as a producer. In 2022, he appeared in and served as an executive producer for Sr., a documentary film about the life and career of his father.

However, Downey Jr. would draw critical acclaim for his next big performance in 2023, portraying Lewis Strauss in the blockbuster biopic Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan. Although Nolan had not worked closely with the actor in the past, he contacted Downey directly regarding the role and invited him to read the screenplay for the movie—about American scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in the development of the atomic bomb. “I felt like (Downey) just was in a place where he would be ready to come and try something completely different. And as a director, if you can convince one of the great actors of his generation to come and challenge himself in a completely different way, you just know you’re going to get something special,” Nolan told Vanity Fair.

Oppenheimer, also starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, and Matt Damon, became the third-highest-grossing movie of the year globally and was universally praised. In 2024, Downey won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor along with comparable awards at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Wife and Children

robert downey jr and wife susan smiling for photos at an award show
Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan attend the 2024 BAFTA Film Awards in London.Getty Images

In contrast to his prior history with the law, Downey has a much more stable home life these days. He met producer Susan Levin on the set of Gothika in 2003, and the two were engaged in November of that year. They married in August 2005 and have two children: son Exton, born in February 2012, and daughter Avri, born in November 2014.

In June 2010, Downey and Levin began their Team Downey production company, producing films and TV shows such as The Judge (2014), Dolittle (2020), and the Netflix fantasy series Sweet Tooth. “We don’t like going too long without having an extremely difficult project together, whether it’s a movie or a kid,” Downey said jokingly in 2020.

Downey also has his eldest son, Indio (born September 1993), from his prior relationship with singer and actor Deborah Falconer, whom he married in 1992. The couple separated in 1996 and finalized their divorce in 2004.

Downey’s friend and fellow actor Anthony Michael Hall is Indio’s godfather.

Path to Sobriety

Downey began to seek serious treatment for his drug addiction around 2003 and has maintained his sobriety amid his career resurgence.

One of the people to play a key role in the actor’s turnaround was Mel Gibson, with whom Downey co-starred in Air America (1990). Gibson stuck by his friend’s side, even as Downey’s life was completely unraveling. When Downey was unable to get something as routine as an insurance bond due to his past troubles with the law, Gibson found him work, casting him in the 2003 film The Singing Detective. The two actors remain close friends today.

In December 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Downey for the 1996 drug conviction that sent him to prison for a year.

Height

According to his IMDb profile, Downey is 5 feet, 8 inches inches tall.

Net Worth

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Downey’s total value is around $300 million. Much of his fortune stems from his MCU appearances as Stark. The actor made $75 million from Avengers: Endgame alone thanks to the film’s box office performance.

Quotes

  • I think part of my destiny has to be realizing that I’m not the poster boy for drug abuse. I’m just this guy who has a really strong sense of wanting home and wanting foundation and having not had it, I now choose to create it.

  • I don’t drink these days. I am allergic to alcohol and narcotics. I break out in handcuffs.

  • Until [“Less Than Zero”], I took my drugs after work and on the weekends. Maybe I'd turn up hungover on the set, but no more so than the stuntman... The character was an exaggeration of myself. Then things changed, and, in some ways, I became an exaggeration of the character. That lasted far longer than it needed to last.

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