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PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Robert Downey Jr.'s Life of Talent and Trouble

Aired June 2, 2001 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHARON COLLINS, NARRATOR (voice-over): He's one of Hollywood's A-list actors.

JAMES TOBACK, DIRECTOR: He is immensely appealing and a great entertainer.

HOWARD FINE, ACTING COACH: He's got a vulnerability that makes you like him, that makes you root for him.

ANNOUNCER: An Academy Award nominee, a Golden Globe winner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS)

ROBERT DOWNEY JR., ACTOR: I just want to share this with my fellow parolees -- I mean, nominees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But he battles a drug addiction he cannot or will not shake.

MICHAEL FLEEMAN, CORRESPONDENT, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: He has been to jail, he has been to prison. How many second, third, fourth, fifth chances is Robert Downey going to get?

ANNOUNCER: The story of Robert Downey Jr., now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan.

His life is one of extremes -- a popular, handsome actor with a long list of awards, and a long rap sheet. Robert Downey Jr., is currently in an undisclosed drug treatment center in the Los Angeles area. He checked himself in following his latest drug-related bust in April.

Now the story of the man who seemed to have had it all and is at great risk of losing it all.

Here's Sharon Collins.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Robert Downey Jr., is one of Hollywood's most recognizable and bankable stars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CHAPLIN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Onto the stage, right now. Gentlemen!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Academy Award nominee for his star turn in "Chaplin"...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: And the Golden Globe goes to Robert Downey Jr., "Ally McBeal."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: ... Golden Globe winner for his role in TV's "Ally McBeal."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALLY MCBEAL")

DOWNEY: I scheduled it for your place...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Ratings for the series increased 11 percent after Downey joined the cast. Yet for all his on-screen success, Downey's life offscreen has become the stuff of bad drama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOWNEY: It's like I have a shotgun in my mouth and I've got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Since 1996, the 36-year-old Downey has starred in as many courtrooms, it seems, as in movies. Gripped by a drug addiction he cannot...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All rise, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: ... or will not shake.

MICHAEL FLEEMAN, CORRESPONDENT, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: What's the big issue, you know? When are you going to say enough is enough? He has been to jail, he has been to prison, he might be headed back to jail or prison. How many second, third, fourth, fifth chances is Robert Downey going to get?

MICHAEL CHIKLIS, ACTOR: This final time that he got arrested here in the alley, it just made me go, Wow, you know, this is no pretense, this is no joke. This is not a guy, you know, screaming for attention. This is a guy who cannot help himself, he cannot stop. And I don't think anybody in the town wants to read that headline that he's died.

And he's going that way.

JAMES TOBACK, DIRECTOR: I think the best thing would be if he was just free to pursue his life as an artist, and if he has some habits that other people don't approve of, that's their problem. And if he hurts himself in some way, that's up to him.

COLLINS: But is it? His most recent arrest on April 24 outside a $45-a-night California motel, not only tanked Downey's career comeback but sent co-workers into panic mode. "Ally McBeal"'s executives ordered last-minute rewrites and reshoots to remove Downey from the series.

Before his abrupt departure, Downey did receive critical praise from the industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS)

DOWNEY: I just want to share this with my fellow parolees -- I mean, nominees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Clues to Downey's persistent battle with substance abuse may be found in his early years. Born in the Bohemian neighborhood of New York City, Greenwich Village, 1965, a time of free expression and experimentation. His father, Robert Downey Sr., was an underground film director, his mother, an actress. And from very early on, the younger of two siblings lived an actor's life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "POUND")

DOWNEY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) going to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: This is Robert Downey Jr., making his film debut at age 5. He played a puppy in his father's 1970 movie, "Pound," in which the actors played dogs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1992)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have a choice in doing anything else besides going into acting?

DOWNEY: No, and I think it was supposed to be that way. I think that the very dynamics of what family I was born into played into what I was supposed to do. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "POUND")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The lights go out, the wind is blowing...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, he was right there on the edge as an actor even as a little boy. This is what his acting began as. You know, he wasn't doing, like, little commercials or whatever. He was on the cutting edge of filmmaking from a very young age.

COLLINS: A year later, after finishing the movie "Pound," Robert turned 6. It was at this tender age that he was given his first taste of marijuana -- by his father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1997)

ROBERT DOWNEY SR., FILMMAKER: I never knew back then that these drugs were dangerous, as we all know now. I have nothing more to say. Sure, I regret it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the early '70s, late '60s, early '70s. He is surrounded by artists, he is surrounded by drugs, he is surrounded by the counterculture. This is the kind of home that he grew up in.

COLLINS: The home he grew up in would not stay intact. By 1978, his mother and father divorced, forcing the 13-year-old to move cross- country to Los Angeles to live with his director father.

Robert went to school at Santa Monica High with celebrity names like Penn, Lowe, and Estevez. The young actors all walked the same hallways as Downey. He wanted what they had -- early fame.

HOWARD FINE, ACTING COACH: He started at an early age, and he came up as a member of the -- what we called then the Brat Pack and really separated himself because of his range of talent and depth and vulnerability.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's surrounded by industry people, actors, and these actors and these sons and daughters of actors recognized his talent. So he was talented among the talented.

COLLINS: But in 1982, after just two years at Santa Monica High School, Robert Downey Jr., dropped out. He decided to pursue an acting career full time. His drug use would follow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOWNEY: Well, for me, you know, growing up in school was just, you know, smoking pot all the time, you know, and then went to Samo (ph) High, loved -- the friends -- drugs in my family, drugs in a lot of my friends' families, you know, drugs in the '70s in general, at least from where I was at, and I started really young, you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: This is Downey 10 years later in a documentary, "The Last Party." Candid talk, recalling what his childhood years were truly like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE LAST PARTY")

DOWNEY: My dad was an underground filmmaker, my mother was an actress.

ROBERT DOWNEY SR.: I'm just happy he's here, that's all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you ever worried that he wasn't going to be here?

ROBERT DOWNEY SR.: Many times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: When the story of Robert Downey Jr., continues, the role of a lifetime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CHAPLIN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What do we do, Charlie?

DOWNEY: Smile.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Ahead, a pivotal role for Robert Downey Jr.

But first we take a look at other celebrity names in this edition of "Passages."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): Fans of Eric Clapton: catch him in concert while you can. The legendary singer-guitarist says his current "Reptile" tour is his last. But Clapton is not putting his guitar in storage. He still plans to record and has a couple of projects in the works.

He liked the shaver so much, he bought the company.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)

VICTOR KIAM, PRESIDENT, REMINGTON PRODUCTS, INC.: You've never seen a shaver like this before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Victor Kiam, Jr., who bought Remington products and became its leading pitchman, died last week. He was 74. The charismatic Kiam was a born salesman with a talent for turning around failing companies. About the only time he lost his winning touch was when he bought the New England Patriots.

Britney, Faith, and Pope John Paul II? Yes, a pontiff pop supergroup is coming together to record a CD of spoken prayers. The disk will accompany a series of prayer books written by His Holiness, along with Spears and Hill, 'N Sync and members of Aerosmith pitch in on the recording. It's due out in time for the Christmas holiday.

No need to wait for Christmas for more celebrity news. Just pick up a copy of this week's "People" magazine.

We'll be right back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): At age 16, Robert Downey Jr., was a high school dropout looking for a job. He decided to return to New York to live with his mother. He remained focused on a career in acting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1990)

DOWNEY: I consider myself someone who needs to express himself creatively, and acting seems to be the most lucrative and attention- getting way of working it out right now. So, you know, let's see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Back in New York, Robert Downey quickly found work and a girlfriend. In 1983, on the set of "Firstborn," he met a striking 18-year-old girl. Her name, Sarah Jessica Parker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FIRSTBORN")

DOWNEY: Hey, come on, Jake. An accident, Jake. An accident.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: They had a lot in common. Besides their lines together, they were both the same age and both new to acting. A romance sparked between the young couple off the set.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They lived together for several years in New York. He was a young struggling actor, she was a young struggling actress, and he said, amazingly, you know, they were able to get along despite his problems. He was using drugs at the time. I mean, he was still part of the party scene and everything. COLLINS: But after making just one movie, Downey made a jump to the small screen and to comedy. In 1985, he joined NBC's "Saturday Night Live," the popular comedy sketch series. He was a regular cast member for one season.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

DOWNEY: Hey, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a shotgun for my buddy here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Downey returned to films the following year, taking on a dramatic role in the 1987 movie "Less Than Zero."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LESS THAN ZERO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And you did it. You did it to yourself, and you know it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: He played the troubled Julian, an out-of-control addict who fights to kick his drug habit.

FINE: How much of his personal life did he bring to that character? Probably quite a bit, you know. You root for him. It's the clown who suffers, and under the smile there's a pain, and you get that from him. So he's got a vulnerability that makes you like him, that makes you root for him.

COLLINS: Offscreen, Downey had developed his own serious cocaine problem. Shortly after completing the movie, he entered a rehab facility for substance abuse. In addition to his drug addiction, Downey had to deal with the on again-off again relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker. But as his personal life was in limbo, his career was coming together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE PICKUP ARTIST")

DOWNEY: Hi. My name's Jack Jericho.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Later that year, Downey landed his first leading role, playing a charming womanizer in "The Pickup Artist," directed by James Toback.

JAMES TOBACK, DIRECTOR: And he walked into my office at Fox on 57th Street and literally a minute after we started talking, I said, "By the way, you want to play the lead in this movie?" And he said, "Sure."

He made you like him immensely without trying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SOAP DISH")

DOWNEY: So he wasn't killed, he was maimed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: He received praise for his role as the manic soap-opera producer in "Soap Dish."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SOAP DISH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You do want me, don't you, David?

DOWNEY: In the weirdest way.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this close.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: As "Soap Dish" wrapped, so did his seven-year relationship with Sara Jessica Parker. He soon fell in love again, this time with model Deborah Falconer. The two married in May 1992 and had a son, Indio, a year later.

At age 27, with stability in his personal life, Robert Downey Jr., prepared for the role that propelled him to Hollywood's A-list, "Chaplin."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CHAPLIN")

DAN AKROYD, ACTOR: The guy I hired did the best comedy drunk I ever saw, but he was old. I don't pay 100 a week to juveniles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1992)

DOWNEY: He was supported by, you know, by something beyond. It's almost like, how do you play a better person than yourself? Not better, but let's just say a -- you know, someone who is -- who walked the walk for his whole life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, DIRECTOR: We now have the opportunity of what Charlie introduced to little children...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Director Richard Attenborough hired Downey for the role.

ATTENBOROUGH: You had to have somebody who had this passion, this driving passion to do what he wanted to do, and you had to believe there was a mind behind the eyes. The camera, when it comes in close and it's in here, you can't deceive the camera. COLLINS: Robert Downey Jr., was at the pinnacle of his career. He received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in "Chaplin." But away from the cheers and the cameras, he continued to be drawn to life in the fast lane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read this article where you were quoted as being this bad boy of Hollywood and party-goer and this whole -- where is this guy?

DOWNEY: Oh, he's around, you know, and he'd be happy to jump back in at any time. I would just say that, you know, how long can danger work, you know? It ain't over till it's over. I hope it's over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: But, in fact, it wasn't.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you feeling, Robert?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: When we return to the story of Robert Downey Jr., drugs land the troubled actor in prison, and he reaches out to a psychiatrist for help.

DR. MANIJEH NIKAKHTAR, PSYCHIATRIST: I said that all the -- I believe that you have bipolar disorder. He said, Yes, I do have bipolar disorder. There are period of times that I just -- I am so hyper, and I spend a lot of money, I'm irritable, and there are period of times that I go down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Robert Downey Jr., tries to come clean. That's coming up.

But now an update on one of his former colleagues. Here's our weekly feature, "Where Are They Now?"

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): In the 1980s, Anthony Michael Hall personified bumbling adolescence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE BREAKFAST CLUB")

ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL, ACTOR: Well, you know, the school comes equipped with fire exits at either end of the library.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: In movies like "The Breakfast Club." In 1985, the 17-year-old actor joined Robert Downey Jr., on the cast of "Saturday Night Live." He too left the show after one season.

So where is Anthony Michael Hall today? Michael Hall, as he now prefers to be called, is still playing the field. His most recent project, HBO's "61." He also plays guitar, sings, and writes songs for his rock band, Hall of Mirrors.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will be right back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN PENN, ACTOR: His particular case concerns me a great deal, because he's somebody I know personally, care a great deal about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told you if you violated this grant of probation you'd go back to jail, and that's where you're going.

PENN: I think he is a poster boy for the fact that prison doesn't cure it.

ROBERT SHAPIRO, ATTORNEY: I am shocked and saddened by the sentence today. I think it is wrong. I do not think it meets the ends of justice. It does not serve the community. It certainly does not serve Mr. Downey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you characterize the mood and the state of Mr. Downey right now?

DANIEL BROOKMAN, ATTORNEY: Mr. Downey is very optimistic. He's upbeat about this. He's committed to moving on with his life.

COLLINS (voice-over): A life which, in recent years, has been plagued with deep personal problems. His 7-year-old son, Indio, born in 1993, is now the centerpiece of a bitter divorce between Downey and his estranged wife, Deborah Falconer. The two separated in 1996.

Friend and director James Toback.

TOBACK: The relationship I saw with him and Indio is as good a father-son relationship of -- as I've ever seen. I mean, they have a great rapport, and he treats his son with respect.

Robert Downey is not ignorant of his life, of his habits, of who he is or what he is. No one can tell him stuff he doesn't know. It's a choice that he's making and that he's free to make and should be free to make, except as the law steps in and says, No.

COLLINS: The law has certainly been Downey's shadow. Nineteen ninety-six, the actor violated his probation when he fled from a detox center, his rehab stemming from several drug and weapons arrests. But a judge sent him back.

A year later he skipped a court-ordered drug test and spent the next four months in the L.A. county jail. In 1999, Downey skipped another drug test and was sent back to rehab. But this time, a judge gave Downey hard time, state prison, for nearly one year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I believe that concludes the proceedings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NIKAKHTAR: For past several years, he's just going through the revolving door of rehab program and being arrested, which is too sad, such a bright person. And he's not a criminal. He is a victim of the drugs.

COLLINS: Downey wrote to Dr. Nikakhtar from prison, not as a patient, but to request information about her methods of treatment. Nikakhtar never became Downey's doctor, but she believes, after three months in her care, he would have been clean.

NIKAKHTAR: Nobody use drugs just for sake of using drugs. Nobody's using drugs to be arrested, or saying that -- being proud that I am using drugs. They usually hide using drugs. They feel bad about using drugs. But why do they use drugs? It's not a good piece of chocolate or pastry that tastes good. They use it to change their feelings. They're self-medicating.

COLLINS: Just four months after his release from state prison, Downey was back in front of a judge yet again, busted last Thanksgiving weekend in Palm Springs for allegedly possessing cocaine and being under the influence of drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It gets very complicated after he gets to Palm Springs. Strip clubs are involved, strippers are involved. Next thing we know, there's a 911 call saying there's a guy with drugs and guns at the Merv Griffin Resort, you better, you know, check it out.

They show up, they knock on the door. He opens it up, he lets the cops in, and they find the drugs.

COLLINS: In May, Downey pleaded not guilty to the lesser of three charges. A conviction could carry a prison term of up to four years.

Despite all his legal problems, despite his repeated pattern of relapsing into drug use, Hollywood keeps taking Downey back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this town a forgiving sort of town, like, will people continue to want to...

CHIKLIS: I wouldn't use the word forgiving as much as forgetful. Hollywood's got a real short memory, you know. Well, because, you know, to a degree, it lives up to its cliche, it's vacuous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Hollywood an enabler in all this, by giving him jobs, by telling him he's great and everything is fine and not using tough love? On the other hand, the guy's got to make a living. Maybe it's better that he's back doing what he does best, which is acting, and making some money, and getting back into a groove.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALLY MCBEAL")

DOWNEY: Hey, how's it going?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The interesting thing is that he never really had a problem in terms of his career and the drugs. It was always between jobs that he would have the problem. This "Ally McBeal" thing was the first time that it let it affect his work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ALLY MCBEAL")

CALISTA FLOCKHART, ACTRESS: Hey.

DOWNEY: Hey. Ally, it's nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: The executives of "Ally McBeal" dismissed Downey the day after his latest arrest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What were they going to do? They had no choice but to try to change things around and continue without him. I mean, they just -- they couldn't put it off. They had to complete the season.

COLLINS: On April 24, Robert Downey was arrested in this alley outside a Culver City, California, motel, allegedly under the influence of a controlled substance. A voluntary urine test found cocaine in his system.

Downey immediately checked himself into a rehab center, a place with which he's become all too familiar.

CHIKLIS: I think that there is a point of no return for some people. I think that sometimes people go so far and do so many things that they just feel like they can't come out. But in the case of Robert, I really don't think so. I think this guy probably has a lot of self-hate about a lot of the things that he's done, but forgiveness is a huge thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: For more on Robert Downey Jr., please surf over to our Web site, the address, cnn.com/people.

Next week, he is the greatest golfer of his generation, maybe the greatest of all time. A look at Tiger Woods on the eve of the U.S. Open. That's it for now. I'm Daryn Kagan. For all of us here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, thanks for watching.

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