For the best part of a decade he was Hollywood’s most notorious cautionary tale.
After being tipped for stardom, Robert Downey Jr spent the late 1990s and early 2000s addicted to drugs and reduced to earning eight cents an hour scrubbing pizza pans in the kitchen of the LA County jail during regular stints in prison.
So it is all the more remarkable that the 50-year-old was yesterday named the best-paid male actor for the third year running, raking in £51million.
Just how did he achieve this remarkable change of fortunes? Fittingly a superhero transformation is behind his success.
Forbes, which compiled the list, said Downey Jr has managed to earn the ‘stratospheric’ amount thanks to his starring role in the Iron Man films, what has become the biggest movie franchise in the world.
He was first cast as eccentric billionaire inventor Tony Stark, who transforms into Iron Man, seven years ago, alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays his love interest, Pepper Potts.
Since then he has starred in four more films. Avengers: Age of Ultron, the most recent instalment, has pulled in a massive £830million worldwide since its release earlier this year.
These days there are remarkable parallels between the actor and his on-screen alter-ego.
Like Stark, Downey Jr lives in Malibu, but in an eccentrically decorated £10million ranch with its own gym, rose-covered stabling for 12 horses and riding rings. He also owns a £5million pad in the trendy LA neighbourhood of Venice Beach.
The luxury doesn’t stop there. He travels by private jet, has his own chef and indulges eccentricities in true Hollywood diva fashion, taking his furniture with him when he films on location.
Yet it was not that many years ago that it looked like he would lose his life to substance abuse.
The star reportedly had his first experience of drugs when he was only six years old after his father, a drug-addict underground film maker, Robert Downey, let him try a cannabis joint.
The actor claims he started taking drugs with his father as an emotional bonding experience. He recalls he was soon getting drunk every night and ‘making a thousand phone calls in pursuit of drugs’.
After being tipped for stardom, Robert Downey Jr spent the late 1990s and early 2000s addicted to drugs and reduced to earning eight cents an hour scrubbing pizza pans in the kitchen of the LA County jail during regular stints in prison (pictured in court in 1999)
He once told a judge that taking drugs was ‘like having a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of gun metal’ (pictured in court in 2001 for drugs charges)
Despite his ups and downs, the actor has gone onto become the highest paid in Hollywood – beating the likes of Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp.
His success is down to his titular role in the smash box office Iron Man – which spawned four more films.
In 2001, he was sacked from the series following another drugs arrest in which he had been found wandering the streets, barefoot and high on drugs. His long-suffering wife followed the example of Sarah Jessica Parker and left him, taking their son with him.
He was by now a pariah in Hollywood and, pursued over unpaid taxes, he almost went bankrupt.
Then, in 2003, he met his current wife, producer Susan Levin. Downey Jr credits her with his remarkable turnaround as she insisted she would never marry him unless he gave up drugs for good.
In 2003, he met his current wife, producer Susan Levin. Downey Jr credits her with his remarkable turnaround as she insisted she would never marry him unless he gave up drugs for good.
In suitably dramatic fashion, he stopped outside a roadside Burger King and threw all his drugs into the Pacific Ocean. He entered a 12-step programme to tackle his addictions, took up meditation and describes beating his addictions as coming out of a ‘20-year coma’. Downey Jr insists he hasn’t touched powerful stimulants ever since.
His career started to recover within months of his pledge to give up drugs and he is now apparently a devoted family man, taking Susan and their young son Exton and daughter Avri with him as travels the globe.
Downey Jr’s £51million earnings are considerably higher than the actor ranked second, Hong Kong-born martial arts star Jackie Chan, who pulled in £32million from his action films. In third place was Vin Diesel who earned £30million thanks to the success of the Fast and The Furious franchise.
Bradley Cooper, who is currently starring on the London stage in Elephant Man, was fourth with a £26million haul from roles in films such as American Sniper, while comedian Adam Sandler was in fifth with £25million.
Rounding out the top ten were Tom Cruise in sixth on £24million, Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan rank at joint seventh with £21million and Akshay Kumar was ninth on £20.8million.
Mark Wahlberg was tenth with £20.5million. Daniel Craig was the only British actor on the list and came in 15th after earning £17million from the James Bond films.