Robert Downey, Jr. - Actor

Self-Medication Personified

Robert Downey, Jr.
Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

Born in April 1965, the son of a filmmaker and an actress, Robert Downey, Jr. appeared in his first film at the age of five and his second at seven. He began working steadily at the age of 18, having dropped out of high school to concentrate on acting. By 22 he had a year of Saturday Night Live under his belt - and a serious drug problem. According to, Robert's experience with illegal drugs had started when he was only eight years old - given to him by his father, "among others."

He first went through drug rehab in 1987, and his work for the next few years has been called sub-par, but in the early and middle 1990s he turned in several critically acclaimed performances, including the title role in Chaplin, for which he earned an Oscar nomination. However, in 1996, he was arrested three times on drug and weapons charges and sentenced to three years' probation.

For the next four years, Downey was in and out of prison and rehab as if stuck in a revolving door. In spite of this and continuing use of drugs including crack cocaine and heroin, he appeared in seven films during this period. After being released from jail in 2000, he undertook an award-winning role on the TV series Ally McBeal while living in a residential treatment facility.

Yet only a few months later came another arrest for felony drug possession, and six months later, before the first case came to trial, yet another arrest.

Once again he was sentenced to probation and continued residential drug treatment. It was at this time, says John McManamy, that Robert's stepmother told People magazine that Robert had been diagnosed bipolar a few years earlier. In the same article, psychiatrist Dr. Manijeh Nikakhtar said that after reviewing his previous psychiatric evaluations at his request, she asked him if he thought he was bipolar, and he said that he did.

(Note: Downey has since denied making this statement.)

In spite of the fact that treatment had failed so often before, an October 2003 article reported that as of that date, it had been two years since he'd "had any kind of public incident," and his press since then has been all good as well. Indeed, his career has surged since that time, with a number of successful films and more movies in the making.

There are a few questions to which we could not find the answers. First, is there a family history of mental illness or alcoholism? All we can determine is that Robert's father apparently also used drugs and that his older sister also had, for a period of time, a drug problem of her own. Second, has he been officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder? And finally, is he now medicated? What kind of treatment is he receiving? All we found was a blog saying Robert helps maintain a stable state by practicing Kung Fu and ritually burning sage. If only it were really that easy!

Update: In an Esquire interview in 2007, Downey asked to address the bipolar issue. He said, "I'm not (bipolar)... I'm not fuckin' depressed or manic. I've been told I was an axis 2.94 disorder, but the guy I was seeing didn't know I was smokin' crack in his bathroom.

You can't make a diagnosis until somebody's fuckin' sober." Note: As far as I can determine, there is no such thing as an "axis 2.94 disorder."

Additional Resources

IMDb - Robert Downey, Jr. Filmography
Raab, Scott. May God Bless and Keep Robert Downey Jr. Esquire. Feb 21, 2007.

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