Hailed by many critics as one of the most brilliant and versatile actors of his generation, Robert Downey Jr. chalked up a formidable onscreen track record that quickly launched the young thesp into the stratosphere. Although, for a time, Downey's stormy offscreen life and personal problems threatened to challenge his public image, he quickly bounced back and overcame these setbacks, with a continued array of impressive roles on the big and small screens that never sacrificed his audience appeal or affability.
The son of underground filmmaker Robert Downey, Downey Jr. was born in New York City on April 4, 1965. He made his first onscreen appearance at the age of five, as a puppy in his father's film Pound (1970). Between 1972 and 1990, he made cameo appearances in five more of his father's films. The actor's first significant role, in 1983's Baby, It's You, largely ended up on the cutting-room floor; it wasn't until two years later that he began landing more substantial parts, first as a one-season cast member on Saturday Night Live and then in the comedy Weird Science. In 1987, he landed plum roles in two films that capitalized on the Brat Pack phenomenon, James Toback's The Pick-Up Artist, (opposite Molly Ringwald), and Less Than Zero, for which he won acclaim playing cocaine addict Julian Wells.
Through it all, Downey cultivated an enviable instinct for role (and script) selection. His turns in Emile Ardolino's classy reincarnation fantasy Chances Are (1989), Michael Hoffman's Soapdish (1992), Robert Altman's Short Cuts (as the Iago-like Hollywood makeup artist Bill Bush), and Richard Loncraine's Richard III (1995) wowed viewers around the world, and often, on those rare occasions when Downey did choose substandard material, such as the lead in Richard Attenborough's deeply flawed Chaplin (1992), or an Australian media parasite in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994), his performance redeemed it. In fact, critics deemed Downey's portrayal as one of the only worthwhile elements in the Chaplin biopic, and it earned the thesp a Best Actor Oscar nomination, as well as Golden Globe and British Academy Award noms.
Around this time, Downey's personal life took a turn for the worse. In June 1996, the LAPD arrested the actor (who had already spent time in three rehabilitation facilities between 1987 and 1996) on counts including drug use, driving under the influence, possession of a concealed weapon, and possession of illegal substances, a development which struck many as ironic, given his star-making performance years prior in Less than Zero. A month after this arrest, police found Downey Jr. unconscious on a neighbor's lawn, under the influence of a controlled substance, and authorities again incarcerated him, taking him -- this time -- to a rehab center. A third arrest soon followed, as did another stint in rehab. His stay in rehab didn't last long, as he walked out, thereby violating the conditions of his bail. More arrests and complications followed -- in fact, the actor had to be released from rehab to make James Toback's Two Girls and a Guy -- but he still landed a few screen appearances and won praise for his work in Mike Figgis' One Night Stand (1997) and Altman's otherwise-disappointing Gingerbread Man (1998). In addition, he starred in one of his father's films, the offbeat Hugo Pool (1997). In 1999, he had three films out in theaters: Friends and Lovers, Bowfinger, and In Dreams. He delivered a particularly chilling performance in the latter, as longhaired psychopathic child murderer Vivian Thompson, that arguably ranked with his finest work. But Downey's problems caught up with him again that same year, when he was re-arrested and sentenced to 12 months in a state penitentiary.
These complications led to the actor's removal from the cast of the summer 2001 Julia Roberts/Billy Crystal comedy America's Sweethearts and his removal from a stage production of long