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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profiles of Michael Caine, Robert Downey Jr.

Aired February 15, 2003 - 17:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: His quiet confidence in "The Quiet American" may lead to more Oscar gold.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CAINE, ACTOR: It's the best part I've had in years. At my age, you don't get great parts like that very often.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From poverty to international stardom. It's been quite a journey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAINE: And she said, Your father has gone. Now you two have got to look after me. And that formed my character the rest of my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Four decades and 80 movies later, he's as versatile and in demand as ever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYDNEY POLLACK, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "THE QUIET AMERICAN": He's really and truly at the top of his game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Michael Caine on film, fame and what it's all about.

Then: He's one of Hollywood's A-list actors, an Oscar nominee, a Golden Globe winner, barely out of diapers when he made his big-screen debut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES TOBACK, DIRECTOR: He made you like him immensely without trying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But his ability was always overshadowed by his addiction to drugs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many second, third, fourth, fifth chances is Robert Downey going to get?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now he's trying to get on with his career in his first feature film in three years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT DOWNEY, JR., ACTOR: I think it's miraculous that anybody survives themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The troubled life of Robert Downey, Jr.

Their stories now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.

Michael Caine is making a lot of noise these days with his new film, "The Quiet American." His performance is winning rave reviews, and he's just been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. At an age when most film stars begin to fade, Caine just keeps on acting, one movie after another. But Caine's success has been tempered by decades of hardship, heartache and hard work. Thomas Roberts has our profile.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THOMAS ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Caine is the world's most famous Cockney, and proud of it.

CAINE: I remember people trying to discourage me because of my background and my voice and my education from trying to do anything. And I thought, well, if I ever get anywhere, I don't want to hide it.

ROBERTS: He's Alfie. He's Harry Palmer. He's Austin Powers's dad. One man, a whole lot of movies.

SYDNEY POLLACK, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "THE QUIET AMERICAN": Michael Caine is difficult to categorize because he's essentially a character actor who's been elevated to a real leading man, although he does not have conventional leading man's looks.

ROBERTS: Versatile and prolific, Michael Caine is, above all, a movie star, critically acclaimed, internationally recognized.

BRENDAN FRASER, ACTOR, "THE QUIET AMERICAN": He's world-famous. He's had a career that's spanned over 50 years, and that is remarkable.

ROBERTS: The Oscar winner has appeared in more than 80 films, from "Zulu" to "The Cider House Rules." And even though Caine is nearing his 70th birthday, he shows no sign of wearing out his welcome.

LEAH ROZEN, MOVIE CRITIC, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: When he comes out on that screen, you have no idea. Is this a good guy, is this a bad guy? Is this a funny guy, is this a really nasty criminal boss? You don't know. You have no fixed image. And I think that's the key to Michael Caine.

ROBERTS: No one is who they seem to be in Caine's latest film, "The Quiet American." It's a story of love, betrayal and murder set against the backdrop of Vietnam in 1952. Caine plays a veteran British journalist who befriends an idealistic but mysterious young American in the form of Brendan Fraser. The questions raised by "The Quiet American" about U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and the Vietnam war delayed the picture's release for more than a year after September 11. But Caine was very loyal to the project and championed its eventual debut.

CAINE: I called Harvey Weinstein at Miramax and asked him very nicely to sort of put it out, and he did, in the hope that I might get nominated for something because I was very proud of my performance. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) doesn't necessarily mean it's any good or anybody else thinks it's very good. For me, it's the best part I've had in years. And at my age, you don't get great parts like that very often.

ROBERTS: Despite all his success, Michael Caine still seems amazed at all his good fortune, still can't believe that he's realized what at the beginning of his life must have seemed an impossible dream. It's been a long journey from a childhood of poverty and a dark family secret.

Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, Jr., in 1933, in London's impoverished East End. He was born within earshot of the Bow bells of Saint Mary's, which, according to British lore, made young Micklewhite a true Londoner, a Cockney.

CAINE: I came from a family which was very poor, and the only thing we didn't have was money. I was never hungry. I was never dirty. I was never unloved. I was never hated. I was never abused -- none of those things which poor people are supposed to be responsible for.

ROBERTS: But life was a struggle for the Micklewhites. Maurice, Senior, was often unemployed, a casualty of the Depression. Ellen Micklewhite brought in what she could by scrubbing floors. And Maurice, Jr.? He found escape in the cinema.

CAINE: I'm afraid I used to play truant a lot. I used to see seven movies a week. I was completely obsessed with the cinema. And of course, still am. I wanted to be a cinema actor.

ROBERTS: But acting would have to wait. World War II brought the German Blitz to London. While Maurice, Sr., went off to fight at Dunkirk and later in Italy, his wife and two young sons fled to the countryside, a life-altering event.

CAINE: My father had gone, and what's going to happen? Maybe he'll die and get killed and -- you know, which is obviously very likely. And she looked at the two of us, and she said, Your father has gone. Now you two have got to look after me. And that formed my character for the rest of my life. I'm like a benign Godfather. Right. We'll take care of you, Mum.

ROBERTS: After the war, Maurice, Sr., returned home, and his family returned to London. He found steady work at the Billingsgate fish market and made it clear that he expected his firstborn to follow in his footsteps. But Maurice, Jr., had other plans.

Coming up: Maurice Micklewhite becomes Michael Caine and fights a war of his own in Korea.

CAINE: By the time I got there, we were fighting the Chinese. And the Chinese used to eat garlic. They ate garlic like -- like a snack. And you could always smell them coming at night. You could smell them. I couldn't eat garlic for years. You know, I'd smell garlic, it'd frighten the life out of me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): Michael Caine has always been obsessed with movies.

CAINE: I've seen probably every film that was ever made, quite frankly -- good, bad or indifferent, in the English language, and quite a lot in several other languages.

ROBERTS: Maurice Micklewhite, the man who would become Michael Caine, began acting in grammar school. He joined a youth club in the East End of London and took to the stage. He also got a job in the mailroom of a film company -- anything to be near the cinema. But duty and war would delay Micklewhite's aspirations. He was called into the national service, into the Korean conflict. It was Maurice Micklewhite's best role to date.

CAINE: I couldn't take to army discipline, but I was very smart. I acted as though I was taking to it.

ROBERTS: It was an abrupt transition that changed him. The Korean war brought the inconspicuous and reluctant Private Micklewhite to the front lines.

CAINE: That was like First World War, all trench warfare. Trench warfare in the daytime, bombardments, and the scary thing, patrols at night, where you control no-man's-land, you know? I don't want to control no-man's-land! Let no-man have it!

ROBERTS: The end of the Korean war delivered Maurice Micklewhite from military service and back to London, where the aspiring actor set out to become a professional. One of the first things to go was the family name. Maurice Micklewhite became Michael Caine after "The Caine Mutiny" starring his favorite actor of all time, Humphrey Bogart.

Caine also had to pay his dues.

CAINE: You know, you play the policeman that comes in at the end and arrests the villain in Agatha Christie, and the butler. I played lots of -- I'm very -- I'd make a very good butler, as a matter of fact.

ROBERTS: Michael Caine's success was anything but overnight. It was more than a decade in the making.

CAINE: I was 10 years in repertory theater, little, tiny parts in second feature films. Again, the policeman and the butler. I was repeating the same thing in the movies. I did 10 movies a year. I did 10 lines in 10 movies in one year, you know, and earned 10 pounds.

ROBERTS: Caine worked sporadically throughout the 1950s. It was a lean time, with few breaks and a good deal of heartache.

CAINE: I had a disastrous marriage. I had a great, great child. And my father died of cancer -- all of this while I was out of work.

ROBERTS: By 1960, Michael Caine was a father. He was divorced and he was broke. But success was just a movie away. "Zulu" put Michael Caine on the map.

CAINE: I made "Zulu," which was my first proper part in a real film, when I was 29. Your first movie, you never make any money. And so I was absolutely broke until I was 30. And then when I was 32, I bought my first car, which was a Rolls-Royce.

ROBERTS: "The Ipcress File" introduced secret agent Harry Palmer, the anti-James Bond. It was Caine's first movie with his name above the title, a name that would become known around the world thanks to Caine's next role in...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "ALFIE")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alfie!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROZEN: "Alfie" was the movie that made Michael Caine an international movie star. And what he brought to that was really Michael Caine exponentially increased. He took this Cockney. Michael Caine was a Cockney. The guy was a womanizer. Michael Caine always had an eye for the ladies.

CAINE: He had a tremendous sense of innocence. Although he was treating the women badly, it wasn't sadistic. But at the end of the film, he does look at the camera and says, Sometimes I look back -- I think it's, Sometimes I look back at my life, and I wonder...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "ALFIE")

CAINE: What's it all about? Know what I mean? (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAINE: And he realizes that what he's been doing hasn't been satisfying.

ROBERTS: Caine received his first Oscar nomination for "Alfie." He had arrived in London and Hollywood. The poor kid from south London found it all a little hard to take in.

CAINE: Shirley MacLaine gave a party, and the first person to come in was Gloria Swanson. And the second person was Frank Sinatra. I was the guest of honor. I didn't know what to say to anybody. I just stood there dumbfounded.

ROBERTS: But on screen, Michael Caine could hold his own with the very best. He earned his second Oscar nomination for "Sleuth" co- starring Sir Laurence Olivier. Professionally, Caine was on top of the world. Personally, he was enjoying his hard-won celebrity and his bachelorhood.

CAINE: I had no intention of getting married at all. I mean, one of my recurring nightmares was I'd wake up in the middle of the night sweating, in a wedding ceremony somewhere.

ROBERTS: Caine may not have been looking for love, but love was about to find him.

When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues: Michael Caine finds his soul mate and discovers a long lost brother.

CAINE: I obviously didn't know my mother had had an illegitimate child.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): "The Man Who Would Be King" continued a string of outstanding performances by Michael Caine. The epic adventure paired Caine with his long-time friend, Sean Connery.

ROZEN: He was a scoundrel, but he was a lovable scoundrel, along with Sean Connery. And they're just -- you know, what a great combination.

ROBERTS: "The Man Who Would Be King" also featured a cameo by the new love in Michael Caine's life, an exotic model named Shakira. She'd literally caught Caine's eye as he was watching a Maxwell House coffee ad on TV.

CAINE: I just saw her, and I thought, My God, that's the one. And I -- I got in touch with the advertising agency and found out who she was, and I found her and married her. And I've been married to her for 30 years yesterday.

ROBERTS: Caine finished the '70s with some less memorable appearances in such films as "The Swarm." But as he had done throughout his career, Caine would find redemption by taking risks.

CAINE: What's happened to me is that I've always not only gone out on a limb, I've had to go out on a limb to do pictures that are interesting to me.

ROBERTS: Caine took on a very challenging role in Brian DePalma's 1980 thriller "Dressed to Kill." Caine played a psychiatrist with a deadly passion for women's clothing.

ROZEN: You didn't know at first that he's the bad guy, so he had to sort of establish himself as someone you almost liked, and then the sort of weirdness had to creep in.

ROBERTS: Michael Caine's portrayal of a disheveled alcoholic teacher in "Educating Rita" brought him his third Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

ROZEN: "Educating Rita" was, in some ways, almost his comeback role as, Oh, he's really quite a bit older now. Oh, he can play character parts.

ROBERTS: Caine was again passed over at the Oscars, but he wouldn't have to wait long for another chance. "Hannah and Her Sisters" proved to be an artistic success and a sleeper hit.

CAINE: And the surprise of my life was to be nominated. When they rang me and said, You've been nominated, I said, How did this -- the film had been forgotten.

ROBERTS: Caine's surprise nomination for "Hannah and Her Sisters" led to his first Oscar win, for Best Supporting Actor. But Caine wasn't available to pick up his award. He was off making "Jaws IV: The Revenge."

ROZEN: When you look at the whole of Michael Caine's career, there are some really great films in there, and there are some true stinkers.

ROBERTS: Though Caine admits that he's made some bad movies, he also likes to add that he's made a lot of money at the same time.

CAINE: I remember my agents said, he said, Well, if you're going to be a hooker, charge a lot.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: By the end of the 1980s, Michael Caine was an Oscar winner. He was rich, but he was homesick. Caine, his wife, Shakira, and their daughter, Natasha, returned to London. The homecoming, however, was bittersweet.

CAINE: My mother died, but she was quite old then, and it was -- I mean, it's not one of those unexpected things, you know, where she was 89. She'd never been ill in her life, and she died in her sleep. So I thought that was fair enough.

ROBERTS: But Michael Caine's mother had taken a shocking secret to her grave. She had given birth to another son out of wedlock and kept him hidden. It wasn't until two years after her death that Caine learned he had an older half-brother and that he had spent most of his life in mental institutions.

CAINE: I obviously went and saw him, and then sort of started to improve his situation a little bit. And he used to talk to me, but I couldn't understand what he was saying. But he knew who I was because he had a television, and he had a picture of me on the wall that my mother had given him, of her with me, and then a picture of me in "Zulu." He died about 18 months after I found him.

ROBERTS: Michael Caine took some time away from his movie career in the early '90s. He wrote his autobiography, "What's It All About?" He also advised others with a how-to book on "Acting in Film." "An Actor's Take on Movie-Making" featured Caine's now famous advice that actors in dramatic roles should never blink.

CAINE: You don't blink in a serious situation or in a situation where you want to show a position of strength. You just hold someone, as I'm doing you now. And I can do this forever, you know what I mean?

ROBERTS: Michael Caine returned to prominence on the big screen in 1998 with "Little Voice." Caine gave a stand-out performance as Ray Say, a sleazy and desperate talent agent. Caine continued to impress audiences and critics alike with "The Cider House Rules." As Dr. Wilbur Larch, Caine donned an American accent for the first time. "The Cider House Rules" earned Michael Caine his fifth Oscar nomination and his second award for Best Supporting Actor.

In 2000, Caine was honored again, not for an individual film but for a lifetime of achievement. The Cockney actor born Maurice Micklewhite received a knighthood and became Sir Michael Caine. Today Sir Michael remains in high demand. He was Mike Myers's only choice to play the father of both Austin Powers and Dr. Evil in "Goldmember."

CAINE: Mike Myers wrote me a letter, which I saw him on television describing as the most ass-kissing letter he ever wrote anybody, to try and make me play the part. But also, I knew I was a sort of biological father. The minute I saw him as a spy in the '60s with glasses on, I knew he'd seen Harry Palmer in "The Ipcress File," which was true.

ROBERTS: Caine has returned to a more dramatic role in his latest film, "The Quiet American."

POLLACK: You know, every once in a while, you see a performance by an actor who's been at it for a long time, and suddenly, it's as though they've found a new gear. He's really and truly at the top of his game. ROBERTS: Michael Caine likes to say that he was 30 years a loser and 40 years a winner. He's known poverty and despair, but also fame and fortune. For Caine, that's what it's all about.

CAINE: I just came along, tried to amuse you for a few years, and that was it. That was all. And I consider myself blessed, having been a movie actor, which is what I always wanted to be. I just consider myself very lucky.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Michael Caine's new movie, "The Quiet American," is now open nationwide. If Caine takes home another Oscar, it would be his first for Best Actor.

ANNOUNCER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns: His struggle with addiction played out in public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT DOWNEY, JR., ACTOR: I'll remember this horrible time as the good old days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: He's got a new film. Does he have a new outlook? Robert Downey, Jr. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

With the film "Chicago" leading the Academy Awards with 13 nominations, the hottest thing in Hollywood right now has to be the old-fashioned musical. Actors, it seems, just have to dance and sing. Among them, Robert Downey, Jr., who's out of rehab, back on his feet and starring in "The Singing Detective." No doubt the once-troubled actor is hoping that the comeback of the musical will mark a comeback of his own. Here's Sharon Collins.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Downey, Jr., is one of Hollywood's most recognizable and bankable stars, Academy Award nominee for his star turn in "Chaplin," Golden Globe winner for his role in TV's "Alley McBeal." Now, after a three-year absence, he's making his return to the big screen in "The Singing Detective." Downey plays a bedridden author in the offbeat musical, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last month. The film's producer, Mel Gibson, took a chance on the troubled actor.

ROBERT DOWNEY, JR., ACTOR: Basically, he just said, Well, we won't -- we won't bond him. I'm just going to pretend I'm not worried. And then he pulled me aside and said, you know, I'm pretending I'm not worried. COLLINS: Gibson had reason for worry. It seems for all his on- screen success, Downey's life off screen has become the stuff of bad drama.

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.

COLLINS: But in 2002, Downey apparently made a dramatic change in his life.

DOWNEY: For once, I've kind of done all the work, and I could honestly say that it was time to move on. And I -- you know, obviously, I for once hadn't done something that made the judge angry. He didn't put me in jail. He took me off probation.

COLLINS: Last July, a California judge dismissed drug charges against Downey and ended his three-year probation after the actor successfully completed 12 months of treatment in a rehabilitation center.

PETER CASTRO, ASST. MANAGING EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: It was a live-in rehab for Robert Downey, Jr., and he did it for 12 months. And he did it effectively and he got through it successfully.

COLLINS: At the courthouse, Downey gave a new spin to his metaphor, saying, "It's like I lost my gun license, and I'm glad." After being pronounced clean and sober for more than a year, Downey is now rebuilding his life professionally. He says he is now facing his addiction head on.

DOWNEY: It's an issue and problem, but it is best dealt with helpful distractions. And then also the right amount of focus.

COLLINS: But rebuilding his personal life proves the greatest challenge ahead.

CASTRO: Rebuilding his relationship with his son, Indio, right now is still very, very difficult for him. He said so. It's been really hard. But they're making progress. I mean, this kid knows what his father has gone through and the demons that he has, and he -- you know, he hasn't been around for him. And obviously, there's a lot of resentment.

COLLINS: Since 1996, the 37-year-old Downey has starred in as many courtrooms, it seems, as movies, plagued by a vicious spiral of addiction and recovery. Robert Downey's colleagues are encouraged but cautious, fully aware that addiction is too often a recurring role. The Emmy-winning star of "The Shield," Michael Chiklis, is a recovering addict.

MICHAEL CHIKLIS, ACTOR: This is no joke. This is not a guy, you know, screaming for attention. This is a guy who cannot help himself. I don't think anybody in the town wants to read that headline that he's died.

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.

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)

MICHAEL FLEEMAN, CORRESPONDENT, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: 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 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.

ROBERT DOWNEY, SR., FATHER (1997): 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.

FLEEMAN: 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.

COLLINS: But in 1928, 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.

DOWNEY: For me, you know, growing up in school is just, you know, smoking pot all the time, you know? And then with then SaMo High, 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 it started really young, you know?

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

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.

COLLINS: When the story of Robert Downey, Jr., continues: His role as an addict becomes all too real.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(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.

DOWNEY (1990): 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.

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. A romance sparked between the young couple off the set.

FLEEMAN: 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. Downey returned to films the following year, taking on a dramatic role in the 1987 movie "Less Than Zero." He played the troubled Julian, an out-of-control addict who fights to kick his drug habit.

FLEEMAN: 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 the 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: Off screen, 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. Later that year, Downey landed his first leading role, playing a charming womanizer in "The Pick-Up Artist" directed by James Toback.

JAMES TOBACK, DIRECTOR: He walked into my office at Fox at 57th Street, and literally a minute after we started talking, I said, By the way, do you want to play the lead in this movie? And he said, Sure. He made you like him immensely without trying.

COLLINS: He received praise for his role as the manic soap opera producer in "Soap Dish." As "Soap Dish" wrapped, so did his seven- year relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker. He soon fell in love again, this time with model Deborah Falconer (ph). 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, 1992)

DOWNEY: He was supported by -- 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)

COLLINS: Director Richard Attenborough hired Downey for the role.

RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, DIRECTOR: 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: He 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.

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 until it's over. I hope it's over. COLLINS: But in fact, it wasn't. When we return to the story of Robert Downey, Jr., drugs land the troubled actor in prison.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Robert Downey, Jr., fights for his life and his career ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

But first, here's this week's "Passages."

ANNOUNCER: Color in your tattoos, get in the mosh pit and break out the fire helmets because the most popular festival concert tour of the '90s is back. Lollapalooza returns this summer after a six-year hiatus, hitting over 25 cities with bands like Incubus and Jane's Addiction. The concert, a brainchild Jane's front man, Perry Farrell, defined the grunge era.

Dude, you could be getting a cell. Actor Ben Curtis, known to most as Steve, the Dell computer guy, was arrested in New York for possession of marijuana. At his arraignment Monday, Curtis was released and was told the case would be dismissed if he stayed out of trouble for a year.

Forget "Chicago" and "Gangs of New York," the big movie award battle is between Britney and Madonna. The nominations for the 23rd annual Razzie awards, which honor the worst that Hollywood has to offer, came out this week. The Britney Spears film "Crossroads" led the way with eight nominations, followed closely by Madonna's "Swept Away" and "Star Wars II," which got seven each. The biggest slight, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" only got five nominations.

For more celebrity news, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week.

A look at Robert Downey, Jr., will continue after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

QUESTION: 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: A life which in recent years has been plagued with deep personal problems. His son, Indio, born in 1993, was the centerpiece of a bitter divorce between Downey and his estranged wife, Deborah Falconer. The two separated in 1996.

TOBACK: The relationship I saw with him and Indio is as good as a father/son relationship as I've ever seen. I mean, they have a great rapport, and he treats his son with respect. But 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. In 1996, the actor violated his probation when he fled from a detox center, his rehab, stemming from several drugs 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 LA 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.

Thanksgiving weekend, 2000, just four months after his release from state prison, Downey was busted again, this time in Palm Springs for cocaine possession and being under the influence of drugs. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. A July, 2001, court date was set. Downey remained free awaiting trial. Despite all his legal problems, despite his repeated pattern of relapsing into drug use, Hollywood kept taking Downey back.

CHIKLIS: Hollywood's got a real short memory, you know? Well, because, you know, to a degree, it -- it lives up to its cliche that it's vacuous.

FLEEMAN: 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.

COLLINS: April, 2001, Robert Downey was arrested yet again, this time in an alley outside a Culver City, California, motel, allegedly under the influence of a controlled substance. Results from a voluntary urine test found that Downey had cocaine in his system the night of his arrest. With a trial already pending, prosecutors chose not to file additional criminal charges, but the producers of "Alley McBeal" were not as forgiving. They released Downey from the show.

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.

COLLINS: July 13, Robert Downey, Jr.'s, day in court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Downey, I want to tell you this is not a gift.

COLLINS: Days before the trial, the California legislature passed Proposition 36, a law calling for treatment rather than jail time for nonviolent drug offenders. Downey got three years probation and was ordered to continue his treatment.

JAMES EPSTEIN, DOWNEY'S ATTORNEY: He's very motivated to overcome the problem he has, and we're all very encouraged.

COLLINS: Court officials were also encouraged. At the actor's hearing in July of 2002, positive probation reports ended his three- year probation.

CASTRO: It's impossible to tell with Robert Downey, Jr., if this is really the last time because he has disappointed us so many times. But that said, he seems like he's really together and on the road to recovery, finally.

COLLINS: Robert Downey's future seems to be looking up. In "The Singing Detective," his first feature film since getting out of rehab, he is taking the leading role on screen and trying to take control of his own life. Downey is now dealing with his addiction with humor.

DOWNEY: And what's always been funny to me is people say, You know, shouldn't a boy move out of Hollywood and kind of -- you know, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) locate in Seattle? And won't that fix it? You know, right now, the ominous feeling of -- you know, I'll remember this -- this horrible time as the good old days.

COLLINS: The question that only Robert Downey, Jr., can answer: Are there good days ahead?

DOWNEY: Things are a little different now than they were a couple of years ago. You know, I'll just keep doing what I have to do to keep it that way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: "The Singing Detective" received mixed reviews at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and its official release date is uncertain at the moment. As for Downey, he may re-team with Mel Gibson in the near future. He is reportedly being considered for a role in the fourth installment of the "Mad Max" series.

That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Next week, the Grammys' hottest acts and Kevin Spacey's return to the big screen.

I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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