I…am…Iron Man. This declaration is true for just one man on the planet: Robert Downey Jr. Fine, Ozzy & Black Sabbath might have something to say about that, but you get the point. He is, for many millions, a superhero: young filmgoers riding the Avengers twenty-two movie wave may be surprised to know that the Robert Downey Jr. backstory includes as many extreme ups and downs as Tony Stark. And like Iron Man, the actor’s life has been an odyssey that’s taken him “through the crucible forged into a stronger metal.”
A little history: in the 1980s and 1990s, Robert Downey Jr. cast an edgy shadow in Tinseltown, impressing critics with his portrayal of a coke-fueled Beverly Hills youth in Less Than Zero and later as Chaplin, for which he received an Oscar nomination. Life imitated art as Downey Jr. eventually used his way into California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison after being convicted of possession of a controlled substance, carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle with a prior conviction, driving under the influence and use of a controlled substance in 1996. Downey spent over a year in prison, two years on parole and nearly three years on probation.
Downey continued his high speed chase in the fast lane of substance use until a bad hamburger inspired a change of direction: In 2003, he pulled through a Burger King drive through, his car loaded with “tons of f—ing dope.” The actor reckoned he’d indulge his fast food fetish with a burger and soda pop, but something was amiss: “It was such a disgusting burger I ordered. I had that, and this big soda, I thought something really bad was going to happen.” Inspired by a sudden rush of concern for his well-being, Downey deposited his drugs into the ocean and resolved to wash away all substance use from that moment forward. Interestingly, this burger inspired a key scene from Iron Man…a cool connection to the actor’s real life epiphany.
With a snap of his fingers (that was for you, Avenger fans), Robert Downey Jr. rode the waves to a healthier life, which includes Qigong, Kung Fu and less cheeseburgers. Relentlessly human to the core, Downey reports that he continues to struggle with avoiding binge eating and cigarettes, but his commitment to recovery is centered on family: Downey is resolutely aware of the impact his actions have upon his children: “Job one is get out of that cave. A lot of people do get out but don’t change. So, the thing is to get out and recognize the significance of that aggressive denial of your fate, come through the crucible forged into a stronger metal.”
As Tony Stark and Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. remains true to his heroic, yet fallible journey through life. Heroes aren’t heroic for their skills or their powers: it’s the way one overcomes obstacles and recovers to reveal their true character. We all have our part to play.
More importantly, Robert Downey Jr. has revealed a timeless truth about our roles in life, one wrought in iron: “I’ve gone from being convinced that I am the sole integer in the approbation of a phenomenon to realizing that…O.K., life is doing something here that included me but did not require me. But, yes, that role means a lot.” And our role in life means a lot, no matter what stage of recovery, rebirth or renewal we have recently entered. Relapse or setbacks are sometimes inevitable (another one for you, Endgame fanatics), but remember the words of Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man: “It’s not about how much we lost, it’s about how much we have left.” Amen.
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