Hollywood’s Comeback Kid

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A screenwriter couldn’t have scripted it any better.

A once promising Hollywood actor, his professional and personal life derailed by drugs, caught in a seemingly perpetual cycle of arrests, rehab, prison, and relapse, somehow finds the strength and will to defeat his demons and painstakingly reclaim his life- ultimately clawing his way back to the top (with a little help and faith from his friends) to become one of the most revered, beloved (and highly paid) stars of our time.

No, I’m not talking about Charlie Sheen (although when you think about it, he is having a similar career trajectory to the actor I’m referring to). I’m talking about the final nominee for the People’s Choice Awards 2013 Favorite Movie Actor, Mr. Robert Downey, Jr.

To really appreciate the inspirational awesomeness of Robert ‘Iron Man’ Downey, Jr., you have to appreciate where the man has been. His early career as an honorary member of the Brat Pack (a clique of young actors that you may know by the names Ringwald, Sheedy, Lowe, Estevez, and McCarthy that comprised the casts of 90% of the 80s coming of age movies) made him a well known staple to my generation of X’ers, but it was his breakout star turn as drug addicted, spiraling rich boy Julian Wells in 1987’s Less Than Zero that put him on the map for fans and critics alike. (Seriously, check out this movie if you haven’t already.) You knew this guy was going to be a star with a capital ‘S’. You also knew from Downey, Jr.’s openness about his own problems with drugs that the role of Julian mirrored his life a little too closely and could in fact be a grim foreshadowing of Downey, Jr’s ultimate fate: a one of a kind talent who burned too hot and too fast to last.

Sure enough, the problems began. Even as Downey, Jr. would give amazing, mesmerizing, all-in performances in movies such as Chaplin, Soapdish, Richard III, and Chances Are, he’d also be in trouble with the law for any number of drug related issues or with employers for his increasing unreliability on any given project. When news broke that, while under the influence, Downey, Jr. had broken into a neighbor’s home and fallen asleep in their bed, the feeling was that he was so out of control that the next time you heard anything about him, it’d be news that he was dead. Instead of reports of his demise, however, Downey, Jr. was arrested and sentenced to prison, which you would think would be his hitting rock bottom. But nope- after a year in prison, followed by an early release he was given a second chance at good work and was signed on to Ally McBeal, after which Downey, Jr. got busted again with drugs. His short comeback ended with his being dropped from Ally McBeal, getting put back on probation, and becoming unemployable. He’d become too big a risk for any production to take him on since he couldn’t be counted on to finish a project.

Now, Downey, Jr. had hit rock bottom. But instead of wallowing and giving up, he became author of his own recovery and got clean. He began working again due to the faith and deep pocketbooks of his friends who invested their own money to insure him for work on such films as The Singing Detective. If putting up hundreds of thousands of dollars to help out a down on his luck buddy is not friendship, I don’t know what is. And Downey, Jr. repaid that loyalty by doing what he does best- acting his butt off. Slowly but surely he proved himself to doubters and wary believers by not just showing up to work in body, but in spirit as well. He inched his way back to solid, good, even great mainstream movies like GothikaGood Night, and Good Luck., A Scanner Darkly, and Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.

But the question still lingering was: could Downey, Jr. get to where he’s been prophesied to become all those years ago, early in his career- the successful, box office drawing leading man? It seemed too much to hope for, to believe in, to push for. Shouldn’t he just have been grateful to be working again?

The answer, once again, came with a little help and deep pockets of a friend – director Jon Favreau – who put up his own money to insure Downey, Jr. on the film that would complete Downey, Jr.’s amazing, improbable comeback and launch him to the level of stardom he’d been destined to attain from the start. Just as the role of Julian in Less Than Zero had epitomized Downey, Jr.’s life at the time, the role of Tony Stark, a witty, slick, arrogant, egotistical, frenetic genius who had the heart of a hero (but could be his own worst enemy) fit Downey, Jr. like a glove. He had lived this man’s life and knew him inside and out- and it showed in his performance. Iron Man became a surprise blockbuster success that not only heralded in the new Marvel dominant (as opposed to DC) age of comic book action movie, but also marked a new age for Robert Downey, Jr.: Global Box Office Superstar.

Between his Iron Man, The Avengers, and Sherlock Holmes franchises, Downey, Jr. is enjoying the most success he’s ever had in his career. What makes it even sweeter is that it couldn’t have happened to a more open, honest, humble, hard working, talented, deserving  guy. Sure, the ego and twinkly arrogance peeps through every now and again to one’s exasperated amusement (who isn’t a bit of an egoist in Hollywood?), but so does the acknowledgement that he’s a very lucky man who has made a lot of mistakes, paid for them, and worked toward correcting them and bettering himself. If anyone deserves a happy Hollywood ending of fame and success it’s a true comeback kid like Robert Downey, Jr.

Before you head back to voting for your favorite 2013 People’s Choice nominees, voice your choice in today’s featured poll and tell us which of Robert Downey, Jr.’s hit franchises is your favorite?

The Avengers

Iron Man

Sherlock Holmes

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