Robert Downey Jr. Reflects on His Past Drug Use and How His Son Indio Downey Inherited His Addictions

"I am not my story," the actor tells Vanity Fair

By Zach Johnson Sep 09, 2014 11:30 AMTags
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People love a comeback story, but Robert Downey Jr. is much more than that.

The actor covers Vanity Fair's October 2014 issue and opens up about his past struggles with drugs. Downey began getting high as a kid and continued to do so after making it big in Hollywood. In 1996, when he was stopped for speeding, police searched his car and found heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, in addition to an unloaded .357 Magnum under the passenger seat. Downey was sent to rehab—and broke out—before being sent to a more secure facility, where he escaped yet again. In 1999, he begged a judge not to send him to jail. He was sentence to spend 36 months, but served time just under a year.

In 2000, police responded to an anonymous call and searched Downey's hotel room, where they found cocaine and methamphetamine. The next year, while on parole, the barefoot actor wandered through the streets, was subsequently arrested and checked into rehab. He was fired from Fox's Ally McBeal.

"For some folks it's just a function of age," Downey, 49, says of overcoming personal demons. "It's perfectly normal for people to be obsessive about something for a period of time, then leave it alone."

Talking about his time in rehab and California State Prison, plus the process of resuming his old life, Downey recalls, "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. 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," he says. "I swear to God. I am not my story."

The Judge star says it's likely he inherited his addiction issues, as did his elder son, Indio Downey, a 20-year-old musician 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," Downey explains. "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." After a pause, Downey adds, "Pick a dysfunction and it's a family problem."

Regarding his own upbringing in New York City, Downey says, "I've heard of people that had impossible-to-defend childhoods, and I say, 'You had an interesting childhood.' And occasionally it's the folks who have had the most quote-unquote interesting childhoods and the most here-come-the-sirens idiosyncratic dispositions who push [the boundaries]. It's amazing how many world leaders and icons were psychotic, or had breakdowns or whatever."

Downey also says he's "really looking forward" to the arrival of his baby girl, who'll join 2-year-old brother Exton. "If I'm gonna have two of 'em in car seats," he tells Vanity Fair, "then I gotta be ready."