Downey, Robert, Jr.


Downey, Robert, Jr.
▪ 2009
Robert John Downey, Jr. 
born April 4, 1965, New York, N.Y.

      Though Robert Downey, Jr., had long been considered one of Hollywood's most gifted and versatile actors, it was not until 2008 that he became a box-office juggernaut, with starring roles in two summer blockbusters. In Iron Man he won acclaim for his charismatic portrayal of the eponymous comic-book superhero. In the satiric comedy Tropic Thunder he turned heads as a self-important movie star who dons blackface to land the role of an African American soldier in the Vietnam War. Both films garnered more than $100 million in domestic receipts.

      Downey was raised in an artistic household in New York City's Greenwich Village; his father was a noted underground filmmaker who gave the five-year-old Downey his first part. After dropping out of high school in California, Downey returned to New York City to pursue an acting career. Supporting roles in several movies, including the cult hit Weird Science (1985), led to a stint (1985–86) on the television comedy skit show Saturday Night Live. With his boyish looks and raffish charm, Downey then scored the lead in the romantic comedy The Pick-up Artist (1987) and broke out further with his visceral performance as a cocaine addict in Less than Zero (1987).

      Steady work followed, but much of it went unnoticed until his appearance in 1992 as the title character in Richard Attenborough's Chaplin biopic, which earned him numerous plaudits and an Academy Award nomination for best actor. By this time, however, Downey had developed a substance-abuse problem, and, despite impressive turns in films ranging from the violent media satire Natural Born Killers (1994) to the costume drama Restoration (1995), his frequent skirmishes with the law and his public struggle with drug addiction often overshadowed his on-screen successes. He reached a low point in 1999, when he was sentenced to three years in prison for having violated parole from an earlier arrest.

      The following year, after being granted an early release, Downey was cast in a recurring role on the TV series Ally McBeal, and the Golden Globe Award he subsequently won for the performance seemed to mark the start of a comeback. In 2003, following a series of relapses that threatened to derail his career for good, he turned sober. He thrust himself into his work thereafter, appearing in 13 feature films over the next five years, including The Singing Detective (2003), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and Zodiac (2007). Among Downey's most anticipated upcoming projects was the portrayal of real-life Los Angeles journalist Steve Lopez in The Soloist, a film based on Lopez's book describing his efforts to help a schizophrenic homeless man realize his musical dreams. Downey was also cast as the lead in a new Sherlock Holmes movie. Given Downey's talent for reinvention, few doubted that he would rise to such challenges.

John M. Cunningham

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▪ American actor
in full  Robert John Downey, Jr. 
born April 4, 1965, New York, N.Y., U.S.

      American actor who was considered one of Hollywood's most gifted and versatile actors.

      Downey was raised in an artistic household in New York City's Greenwich Village; his father was a noted underground filmmaker who gave the five-year-old Downey his first part. After dropping out of high school in California, Downey returned to New York City to pursue an acting career. Supporting roles in several movies, including the cult hit Weird Science (1985), led to a stint (1985–86) on the television comedy skit show Saturday Night Live. (Saturday Night Live) With his boyish looks and raffish charm, Downey then scored the lead in the romantic comedy The Pick-up Artist (1987) and broke out further with his visceral performance as a cocaine addict in Less Than Zero (1987).

      Steady work followed, but much of it went unnoticed until Downey's appearance in 1992 as the title character in Richard Attenborough's Chaplin biopic, which earned him numerous plaudits and an Academy Award nomination for best actor. By this time, however, Downey had developed a substance-abuse problem, and, despite impressive turns in films ranging from the violent media satire Natural Born Killers (1994) to the costume drama Restoration (1995), his frequent skirmishes with the law and his public struggle with drug addiction often overshadowed his on-screen successes. He reached a low point in 1999, when he was sentenced to three years in prison for having violated parole from an earlier arrest.

      In 2000, after being granted an early release, Downey was cast in a recurring role on the television series Ally McBeal, and he won a Golden Globe Award for his work on the show. His drug problems continued, however, and he was arrested several times. In 2003 Downey seemed to turn his life and career around, and he thrust himself into his work, appearing in 13 feature films over the next five years, including The Singing Detective (2003), Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and Zodiac (2007). In 2008 he won acclaim for his roles in two summer blockbusters: in Iron Man he portrayed the eponymous comic-book superhero, and in the satiric comedy Tropic Thunder he starred as a self-important movie star who dons blackface to land the role of an African American soldier in the Vietnam War; for the latter role Downey received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

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Universalium. 2010.

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