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Robert Downey Jr - Biography

American actor Robert has starred in a plethora of action films including the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. smiling in a suit
Phoebe Tatham
Content Writer
Updated: 6 July 2023
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Who is Robert Downey Jr?

"I know very little about acting. I'm just an incredibly gifted faker," Robert Downey Jr once insisted. Whatever his method, it's served him well during a successful career which has spanned four decades and produced a Golden Globe, a SAG trophy and two Oscar nominations. Not bad for a faker.

Robert Downey Jr was born on April 4, 1965, in New York, to Robert Sr, an independent filmmaker, and Elsie, an actress. His childhood was colourful. "Dad was doing these crazy films. Mom would pick me up at school wearing this big quilted cape," he remembers. "I felt like I was in a JD Salinger story." 

Robert Sr cast his son as a puppy in his feature film The Pound, and Robert caught the acting bug. Three years after dropping out of high school aged 17 he was starring on popular US sketch comedy programme Saturday Night Live and had a string of Eighties film credits including teen comedy Weird Science and Less Than Zero, which got him noticed by film critics.

His Career

From there he progressed to bigger projects such as Air America with established stars like Mel Gibson and Soap Dish with Whoopi Goldberg. Then in 1992 his Hollywood status was confirmed when he landed his first Oscar nomination for his masterful portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin.

TV fans will be familiar with Robert for his stint as a lawyer on Ally McBeal. He was popular with viewers and TV pundits alike, garnering a SAG Award and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Calista Flockhart's on-screen love interest Larry. While he's battled substance abuse for most of his career, spending lengthy stretches in treatment and detention centres, Robert has been sober since 2003, thanks to his family, therapy, yoga, meditation and the practice of wing chun kung fu. 

He's also found support in the form of Hollywood pals including Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, with whom he bonded quickly. "In a relatively short time he was a better friend than some people I'd known for ages," says Robert. As he began to overcome his demons in the 2000s Robert came back from years in the wilderness after Mel paid the insurance bond which would allow him to star in 2003's The Singing Detective

This paved the way for a career comeback and a string of successful roles, including Gothika and the hugely successful action flick Iron Man in 2008. It was his comic turn in Tropic Thunder, though, which sealed his return - landing him his second Academy Award nod in 2009. 

His Dating History

On the relationship front, he lived with actress Sarah Jessica Parker for seven years in the Eighties before wedding model and aspiring singer Deborah Falconer in 1992. 

Their son Indio arrived a year later, but it was not meant to be, and they split in 1996. In 2003 Robert became engaged to Gothika producer Susan Levin, whom he met on set. The two wed in the Long Island town of Amagansett before a star-studded selection of friends and loved ones, including Keanu Reeves, Sting and Ellen Barkin, in August 2005.

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