Last Updated on May 8, 2015 by Morris Green
Robert Downey Jr. – the man behind film favorites like Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, and Hank Palmer – is the highest-paid actor in the world. Vanity Fair has run a handful of articles covering his rise to superhero-like fame, and they sat down to talk with him about ‘beating one’s demons.’ Did you know this iconic star, a role model for millions, was once fighting a very public substance abuse battle?
Alcohol abuse. Substance abuse and addiction. They’re uncomfortable topics, whether we are, have been or are at risk. Addiction runs rampant in our society in both serious and not so serious lights. The unfortunate truth is that thousands of people in need of help don’t get it for one reason: the stigma surrounding alcohol and drug abuse. Frightened of judgment and unknown reactions, many try to tough out the perils of breaking addiction alone. And they fail; they fail and slip deeper into destructive habits until one day they’re facing prison, or worse, their funeral is being held.
It’s a refreshing breath of fresh air to see success stories. It’s inspiring and encouraging to read about real people who have fought the fight against substance addiction and abuse, and won. But it’s most exciting to see real people, real successful people tearing down the drape of stigma cloaking alcohol and substance abuse today.
RDJ Opens Up about His Destruction and Redemption
Rich Cohen of Vanity Fair sat down with Robert Downey Jr. shortly before the release of The Judge at the end of 2014. The Judge was a pretty big deal as it was “the debut feature from the production company Downey…started with his wife, Susan.”
Since 2008, when Iron Man took the box office by storm as an uncanny and monumental introduction into the Marvel Comics universe, RDJ has exploded on the Hollywood scene. He’s the real deal – a really big, highly sought-after, movie star. But not so long ago, this wildly followed and praised player of superhero sized roles wasn’t a star.
“He was a convict,” says Cohen, “or, to quote Hank Williams, a number, not a name. Inmate P50522. A cog in the penal system.”
It’s hard to believe the man we see plastered across television and film, staring back at us on branded T-shirts and jackets, and populating our kid’s action figure collection was once just a man – a man fighting the ups and downs of substance addiction. It was only after a series of arrests, of getting wasted, busted, and ditching rehab that he was sent to the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. Sound familiar?
It was rock bottom. But it wasn’t the end.
Perhaps the most appealing trait attracting us to this talented and outspoken man is this: Realism. He’s not afraid of change because he’s weathered his own. He’s not afraid to voice his opinions, regardless of how they change over time and with experience, because that’s reality. He’s not timid about blasting us with his past because that’s life, and we all have one.
Banishing Addiction – The Lessons Robert Downey Jr. Shares
“Job one is get out of that cave,” Downey told [Cohen]. “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. Or whatever. But I don’t even know if that was my experience. It’s funny: five years ago, I would’ve made it sound like I’m conscious of my own participation in seizing the similarities. But so many things have become less certain. I swear to God. I am not my story.”
Lesson One: We look to public figures as examples and role models, and we pick and choose them based on our stage in life. When we’re in denial, we gravitate toward those “larger than life” people who did the same; it justifies our behavior. If we’re fighting a battle with addiction, we latch on to loud public figures who have fought the same battle, and won. The first step to banishing alcohol and substance abuse is you. You control your fate, not the drugs, or the alcohol.
Addiction is genetic. It’s a topic as passionately debated as any other. In his interview with Vanity Fair, RDJ tells Cohen he likely inherited his addiction, which led to a discussion of his 20-year-old son who was recently charged with felony drug possession:
“He’s his mother’s son and my son, and he’s come up the chasm much quicker than we did,” says Downey. “But that’s typical in the Information Age; things get accelerated. You’re confronted with histories and predispositions and influences and feelings and unspoken traumas or needs that weren’t met, and all of a sudden you’re three miles into the woods. Can you help someone get out of those woods? Yes, you can. By not getting lost looking for them.”
Lesson Two: Do not let the idea of inheriting addiction stop you from getting help and fighting hard. Banishing alcohol and substance addiction doesn’t happen overnight, and overcoming it takes help. There ARE people ready to help, from family and friends to qualified professionals. However, it’s up to you to take the help.
What Will Your Success Be?
Robert Downey Jr. went from prison inmate to the highest-paid and most sought-after actor…in the world. He’s happily married, which doesn’t often happen for movie stars, and he’s a proud father to three – two sons and (most recently) a daughter. He’s running his own film production company with his wife, and together they are bringing audiences some of the most coveted films of our time. This is a sampling of his success since banishing substance abuse and addiction.
What will your success story be? Think about it. Hard. And then strive for it with everything you have because changing your life, winning your battle, is a fate that rests in your hands.
Have you already achieved success? What’s your story? Share it with us, so we can spotlight your success and inspire others with your story.