Robert John Downey, Jr. is an Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning American actor and musician. He became known during the late 1980s and early 1990s after a series of well-reviewed performances in Hollywood films. During a period of drug addiction in the late 1990s, Downey continued his acting career, appearing on the television series Ally McBeal. More recent films include a number of supporting and lead roles, in Good Night, and Good Luck, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac, A Scanner Darkly and Iron Man.
Downey was born in New York City the younger of two children. His father, Robert Downey Sr., is an actor, writer, producer, cinematographer, and director of underground films, and his mother, Elsie (née Ford), is also an actress and appeared in his father's films. Downey's father is of Irish and Jewish ancestry and his mother is of German and Scottish descent. His father was born "Robert Elias", but changed his name when he was a minor and wanted to enlist in the Army.
During his childhood, Downey had minor roles in his father films, making his debut at age 5 as a puppy in the absurdist comedy Pound (1970), and then at age 7 he was murdered by God in the surrealist Greaser's Palace (1972). He grew up in Greenwich Village and, as a teen, attended the Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center in upstate New York. When his parents divorced in 1978, Downey moved to California with his father, but in 1982 he dropped out of Santa Monica High School and moved back to New York to pursue an acting career full time.
At the age of twenty, he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, but was a cast member for only one season. His SNL recurring characters included Jimmy Chance, a hipster movie critic (paired with Nora Dunn's Ashley Ashley) and Rudy Randolph III: Son of Randy Quaid's Rudy Randolph Jr. He did a number of celebrity impersonations, including Elvis Presley, George Michael, John Cougar Mellencamp, Sean Penn, Paul Simon, and John Oates from Hall and Oates (Darryl Hall was played by Anthony Michael Hall).
His first lead role was next to Molly Ringwald in The Pick-up Artist in 1987. The same year, he portrayed a drug-addicted rich boy in Less Than Zero. In 1992, he starred as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, a role which garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. His other films in the 1990s included Heart and Souls, Only You, Natural Born Killers, and Restoration.
From 1996 until 2001 Downey was arrested numerous times on drug-related charges and went several times through drug treatment programs unsuccessfully.
In April 1996 Downey was arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine and an unloaded .357-caliber Magnum, while he was speeding down Sunset Boulevard. A month later, when on parole, he trespassed into a neighbor's home while under the influence of a controlled substance, falling asleep in one of the beds. He was sentenced to three years of probation and required to undergo mandatory drug testing. In 1997 he missed one of the court-ordered drug tests and had to spend four months in the Los Angeles County jail. The same happened in 1999, only this time he had to spend nearly a year in a state prison in Corcoran, California when he was released on $5,000 bail. For his 1999 defense, Downey's lawyer assembled the same team of lawyers that successfully defended O. J. Simpson during his criminal trial for murder.
A week after being released in 2000, Downey joined the cast of the hit television series Ally McBeal, playing the new love interest of Calista Flockhart's title character. The following year he was nominated for an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a mini-series or TV Film. He also appeared as a writer and singer on Vonda Shephard's Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life album and sang in a duet with Sting in an episode of the series (a version of The Police's 1983 hit "Every Breath You Take"). Before the end of his first season on Ally McBeal, Downey was arrested during Thanksgiving 2000, when his room at Merv Griffin's Hotel and Givenchy Spa in Palm Springs, California was searched by the police who were responding to an anonymous 911 call. Downey was under the influence of a controlled substance and in possession of cocaine and Valium. Despite the fact that if convicted he could face a prison sentence of up to four years and eight months, he signed on to appear in at least eight more Ally Mcbeal episodes. In April 2001, while he was on parole, a Los Angeles police officer found him wandering barefoot in Culver City, near southwest Los Angeles. He was arrested for suspicion of being under the influence of drugs but was released a few hours later, even though tests showed he had cocaine in his system. After this last arrest producer David E. Kelley and other Ally Mcbeal executives ordered last-minute re-writes and re-shoots, and dismissed Downey from the show, whereas Downey's character had resuscitated Ally Mcbeal's ratings. The Culver City arrest also cost him a role in the high-profile film America's Sweethearts. In July 2001, he pleaded no contest to the Palm Springs charges, avoiding jail time. He was instead sent into drug rehabilitation and put on a three-year probation, benefiting from the California Proposition 36, which had been passed the year before and aims to help non-violent drug offenders overcome their addictions instead of sending them to jail.
Downey's first acting job after being ordered into a drug treatment program in July 2001 was a month later, when Sam Taylor-Wood suggested to Elton John the idea of having an actor lip-syncing to the song in the video for the single "I Want Love". John thought Downey would be perfect, and the video ended up being a one-shot video centred on Downey. Downey was able to return to the big screen only after Mel Gibson, who had been a close friend to Downey since both had co-starred in Air America, paid Downey's insurance bond for the 2004 film The Singing Detective. On November 23, 2004, Downey released his debut musical album, The Futurist, on Sony Classical, for which he designed the cover art. That year he was also named "Man of the Year" by Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals. He returned to mainstream films in the mid 2000s, with Gothika, for which Joel Silver withheld 40 percent of his salary until after production wrapped, as insurance against his addictive behavior; similar clauses have become standard in his contracts since then. He appeared on Family Guy, voicing Lois Griffin's long lost, mentally disturbed brother Patrick Pewterschmidt. He had three roles in 2005 and seven roles in 2006. Among them were Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Shaggy Dog, A Scanner Darkly, Zodiac and Fur. One of his most recent starring roles is as Principal Gardner in the teen comedy Charlie Bartlett, released in February 2008.
In 2006 Downey was surprisingly cast for the title character in the film Iron Man, with director Jon Favreau. For the role Downey had to gain more than 20 pounds of muscle in five months so as to look like he "had the power to forge iron". The film was globally released between April 30 and May 3, 2008 grossing over $100 million in the United States and Canada, and receiving rave reviews which cite Downey's performance as a highlight of the film. As a result, both Downey and Favreau have already stated their interest in making Iron Man a trilogy. He will also make a small appearance as Iron Man's Tony Stark in the upcoming film The Incredible Hulk as a part of Marvel Studios' attempt to depict the same Marvel Universe on film. Interestingly, Robert Downey Jr. himself was referenced by the comic book character Nick Fury in the Ultimates (the Ultimate-universe counterpart of the Avengers), long before he was cast as Tony Stark.
Downey wears controversial blackface makeup for new film, Tropic Thunder, starring with Ben Stiller and Jack Black. He is "virtually unrecognizable with afro hair and brown skin." Reports of the movie screenings from African-Americans have had positive responses.
Downey started dating actress Sarah Jessica Parker after meeting on the set of Firstborn. They separated in 1991, according to Downey, because of his drug and alcohol abuse. He then dated Marisa Tomei, with whom he appeared together in Only You and Chaplin, in the early 1990s. He married actress Deborah Falconer on May 29, 1992, and had a son with her named Indio Falconer Downey, born on September 7, 1993 in Los Angeles County, California. Downey and Falconer divorced on April 26, 2004. In 2004 he met on the set of Gothika producer Susan Levin, who runs Joel Silver's movie company. The two started dating and married on August 27, 2005 in a Jewish ceremony at Amagansett, New York.