Inside Robert Downey Jr’s ‘terrible childhood’ which he credited to his Oscars win

In a poignant moment at the 2024 Oscars, Robert Downey Jr. reflected on his tumultuous journey while accepting the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer.

The victory marked a significant milestone for the 58-year-old actor, celebrated for his extensive career spanning over five decades. 

Standing before his peers, Robert’s acceptance speech was both humorous and deeply personal, as he quipped, “I’d like to thank my terrible childhood and the Academy – in that order.”

Robert Downey Jr. accepts the Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Oppenheimer© Kevin Winter
Robert Downey Jr. accepts the Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Oppenheimer

Robert also paid a heartfelt tribute to his wife, Susan, acknowledging her vital role in his recovery and transformation, stating she “loved him back to life.” 

His acknowledgment came after a night that saw host Jimmy Kimmel daringly address Robert’s past struggles with substance abuse in the opening monologue. 

Actor Robert Downey, Jr. (L) and his father Robert Downey (R) © STAN HONDA
Actor Robert Downey, Jr. (L) and his father Robert Downey (R)

Jimmy’s attempt at humor, targeting Robert’s former drug use and even jesting about his manhood, met with mixed reactions from the audience and fans alike.

However, Robert’s past is no secret, characterized by early exposure to drugs and a series of personal and legal challenges. 

His father, Robert Downey Sr., a figure in the counterculture film movement, introduced him to marijuana at just six years old. 

Robert Downey Jr was given drugs aged six© Eric Charbonneau
Robert Downey Jr was given drugs aged six

“My dad and I would do drugs together,” he revealed in past interviews, describing it as a misguided form of bonding. 

His father, Robert Downey Sr., later expressed regret for those decisions, acknowledging in a Vanity Fair interview, “I made a terrible, stupid mistake… Giving a little kid a toke of grass just to be funny.”

This early encounter set Robert on a path marked by addiction, affecting his personal life and career. Raised in an environment where drug use was normalized, Robert’s descent into substance abuse seemed almost inevitable.

Robert Downey Jr in a mug shot taken at the California Department of Corrections, US, 25th September 1999.© Kypros
Robert Downey Jr in a mug shot taken at the California Department of Corrections, US, 25th September 1999.

Despite the familial love and creativity that surrounded him, the lack of commercial success and constant financial strain took its toll. Robert’s acting career began early, with roles in his father’s avant-garde films, exposing him to adult themes and situations from a young age.

The instability of his upbringing, coupled with his parents’ eventual divorce, exacerbated Robert’s substance abuse. By his teenage years, he was deeply entrenched in the Hollywood party scene, surrounded by peers who were already established actors.

His addiction spiraled out of control, leading to a series of arrests and stints in rehab. Despite the challenges, Robert’s talent remained undeniable. 

Robert Downey, Jr. walks to a bus after his hearing in Malibu CA, August 5, 1999. The actor was sentenced to 3 years in prison for violating his probation.© James Peterson
Robert Downey, Jr. walks to a bus after his hearing in Malibu CA, August 5, 1999. The actor was sentenced to 3 years in prison for violating his probation.

He delivered critically acclaimed performances in films like Less Than Zero, Chaplin, and Air America. 

However, his personal life suffered, culminating in a divorce and multiple legal issues. It wasn’t until meeting producer Susan Levin that Robert found the stability and support he needed to overcome his addiction.

Susan's influence, along with therapy, meditation, and martial arts, helped Robert rebuild his life and career.© Steve Granitz
Susan’s influence, along with therapy, meditation, and martial arts, helped Robert rebuild his life and career.

Susan’s influence, along with therapy, meditation, and martial arts, helped Robert rebuild his life and career. Today, he credits her with his recovery, often jokingly referring to her as the person who “loved a snarling rescue pet back to life.”

Susan has been married to Robert for 22 years and the pair are just as in love now as they were when they first met. The couple met on the set of Gothika. Susan – a film producer – recalled the first time she met her husband during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. 

Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr. attend the 2024 EE BAFTA Film Awards at The Royal Festival Hall on February 18, 2024 in London, England© Getty Images
Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr.

She said: “We were up in Montreal prepping for Gothika, and we had lunch with the director and Halle Berry. Everybody else ordered Japanese, but Robert told us how oatmeal was the ‘superfood.’ He brought his own packets of oatmeal to have at lunch. And he had this box of various herbs and stuff. 

And then he started doing these yoga moves. I mean, he was interesting but weird.” The pair got married in 2005 and went on to welcome two children – Exton, born in 2012, and Avri, born in 2014.

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