How Much Time Did Robert Downey Jr. Serve in Prison?

Robert Downey Jr. is about as talented as they come in the entertainment world, but it was a bumpy road for the Marvel star. How long was RDJ in jail?

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Oct. 23 2020, Updated 2:25 p.m. ET

how long was rdj in jail
Source: Getty

To say that Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. are pretty much responsible for the entire restructuring of Hollywood with their creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn't really be hyperbole — it's pretty much a fact. The actor's portrayal of Tony Stark helped to usher in a whimsical, character-centric protagonist to Marvel's let's-not-take-ourselves-so-seriously brand of comics and it worked. It's crazy to think that not long before that, however, RDJ was in jail.

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How long was RDJ in jail?

While the 2008 release of Iron Man was a production that was fraught with obstacles, and Jon Favreau and the rest of the production team were scrambling to secure financing from various sources, it was also coming out at the same time as another blockbuster superhero franchise, Nolan's Batman trilogy.

how long was rdj in jail
Source: Marvel
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Iron Man basically came out head-to-head with The Dark Knight which is one of the most critically acclaimed movies of all time, and is still considered the creme de la creme of superhero flicks. And while DC hasn't managed to capitalize on the superhero phenomenon quite like Marvel has, Stan Lee's crop of conjured heroes are earning big bucks for Disney these days.

In fact, Hollywood has been forever altered by Marvel's release schedule of films.

Billion-dollar blockbuster after billion-dollar blockbuster is par for the course for Marvel releases. I mean honestly, could you have ever imagined, growing up, that a movie based on Ant Man would gross over $500 million and it would get a sequel that would manage to make even more? It's nuts.

And it all started with RDJ. Which is nuts to think that seven years prior to his debut as Tony Stark he was just arrested in Culver City, walking barefoot under the suspected influence of drugs.

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Much of RDJ's trouble with the law occurred between 1996 and 2001 and many of them related to drug use charges and being found under the influence. The highly publicized woes of the lifetime actor who rose into super stardom with his portrayal of Julian in Less Than Zero, the 1980's flick based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel of the same name. 

how long did robert downey jr spend in jail
Source: Universal Pictures
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After earning more and more high profile roles, in 1992, RDJ starred as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, and his preparation for the role was the stuff of method acting legends. He earned an Oscar nomination for the flick and his star grew even more astronomically, so much so that people started delving into his upbringing, and they discovered a less-than-ideal childhood. RDJ's father, a filmmaker and actor, bonded with his son using drugs.

His dad allowed Robert to get high using marijuana at age six, something he adamantly regretted doing. This set RDJ up for an emotionally complicated relationship with drugs that carried into adulthood.

Between 1996 and 2001, he was arrested several times, and spent six months in a Los Angeles County Jail, after failing to undergo drug testing in 1997.

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how long was rdj in jail
Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

He was then sentenced to three years in prison despite having a crack legal team in 1999 after failing to report to another mandatory drug test. He only served an additional year of that time after a judge "unexpectedly" ruled the time he previously served was enough to reduce his sentence, as long as he posted a $5,000 bail.

RDJ did and then got his career back on track.

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While he already put in work on Ally McBeal, earning an Emmy nomination after joining the show's cast and reviving ratings (and he was written off the show following his Culver City relapse).

His first acting gig following his stint in rehab was shot in August of 2001 where he lip-synced Elton John's "I Want Love." It took 16 takes and the director used the last one because of how "relaxed" and "underplayed" it was.

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Robert Downey Jr. starred in several great movies in the years leading up to 'Iron Man.'

Mel Gibson helped secure Robert Downey Jr.'s first big screen role in the 2003 movie, The Singing Detective by paying for his insurance bond. RDJ also secured a role in Gothika, and producer Joel Silver held on to 40 percent of RDJ's salary until production completed, a contract clause that became a part of more of RDJ's future deals.

From then on, he'd star in the excellent directorial debut of Shane Black in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang opposite Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Good Night, and Good Luck, A Scanner Darkly, and Zodiac among others.

RDJ was officially "back," but his biggest, most life-changing role would come with Iron Man, and the rest is history. He got another Oscar nod for his role in Tropic Thunder too, when he wasn't forever-altering the landscape of Hollywood.

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