Robert Downey Sr. Got Candid About Introducing His Son To Drugs As A Kid

It seems like Robert Downey Jr. and his father, the late avant-garde filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., were able to work through some things before the latter’s death in 2021.

In the new Netflix documentary “Sr.,” which focuses on the father and son’s close but complicated relationship, the two speak openly about their substance abuse problems.

Downey Sr. admits in the documentary that he was addicted to cocaine for 15 years. Downey Jr. famously struggled for a long time with substance abuse, which almost ruined his acting career. Downey Sr. introduced his son to marijuana at age 6.

“I think we would be remiss not to discuss its effect on me,” Downey Jr. says to Downey Sr. about 40 minutes into the film, referring to his dad’s issues with substance misuse.

“Boy, I would sure love to miss that discussion,” Downey Sr. replies.

Soon after, footage is shown of Downey Sr. speaking to his son in what seems to be the early 2000s, when Downey Jr. got sober.

“A lot of us did things and thought it would be hypocritical to not have our kids participate in marijuana and stuff like that,” Downey Sr. says in the clip, with his arm around his son’s shoulders. “So we thought it was cute to let them smoke. It was an idiot move on our parts, a lot of us, to share that with our children.”

“I’m just happy he’s here, that’s all,” Downey Sr. adds, noting that there were “many times” he thought that wouldn’t be the case.

Robert Downey Jr. and father Downey Sr. in 2008.

Stephen Lovekin via Getty Images

Downey Jr.’s struggles with drugs and alcohol seemed to spiral out of control in the 1990s, after he became famous for roles in 1987’s “Less Than Zero” and 1992’s “Chaplin,” receiving an Oscar nomination for the latter film.

In 1996, police found heroin, cocaine and crack in Downey Jr.’s car, as well as an unloaded .357 Magnum, when he was stopped for speeding, per ABC News. That same year, he was arrested when his neighbors found him passed out in their 11-year-old son’s bed.

Over the next few years, Downey Jr. spent long stints in jail and in substance abuse treatment facilities, escaping from rehab twice. After more arrests, including an occasion where he was found wandering the streets of Los Angeles barefoot, Downey Jr. checked into rehab and finally got clean.

“It was just playing a game of wanting to self-soothe or stay loaded, rather than deal with the fact that things had gone off the tracks a little bit,” Downey Jr. says of addiction in the documentary. “More than anything, I look back and go, ‘It’s shocking that a single film came out finished.’ But that didn’t stop we Downeys.”

Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

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