If you asked anyone in 1998 where Robert Downey Jr. would be in ten years, you’d have heard “prison” or “dead” before “in one the biggest movies of the summer.” After all, that was the year that Downey, bleary-eyed and rocking orange prison threads, told a Los Angeles County judge his addictions were like “a loaded gun in my mouth … and I like the taste of gun-metal.”
Though Downey had been hooked on alcohol and drugs since the age of nine (thank his party-hearty director father), it wasn’t until 1996 that the Oscar-nominated actor hit the headlines with a series of bizarro arrests. One of the more notorious escapades involved Downey breaking into a neighbor’s empty house and passing out in a child’s bedroom. Another found him naked and speeding down Sunset Boulevard. Happy times!
Somehow Hollywood didn’t lose total faith in Downey, even when the actor, on parole and awaiting trial, was found confused and barefoot in Culver City, rather than learning his lines for a guest spot on Ally McBeal, whose producers promptly fired him. It wasn’t until two years later (with producer Mel Gibson paying his insurance bond) that he returned to action with The Singing Detective. After Downey appeared in a string of supporting roles, director Jon Favreau fought to have him play the titular hero in Iron Man, which grossed more than $300 million at the box office this year. Almost as surprising, button-downed Time magazine named the former junkie one of 2008′s most influential people.