Robert Downey Jr says culture decides ‘who is and isn’t OK’: ‘It is baffling’

Robert Downey Jr. is giving rare insight into his relationship with the public and his rocky past.

In a new interview with the New York Times, the “Iron Man” star spoke about celebrities redeeming themselves in the public eye and “culture deciding who is and isn’t OK.”

The interviewer asked Downey Jr. specifically about his 2004 interview on “Oprah” in which he addressed his sobriety after years in and out of rehab as well as serving time in prison.

“I remember with great pride that I was able to even address something like that in a public forum,” he recalled. “Yet it would irk me deeply. It felt strangely punitive and unnecessarily humiliating. The challenge, though, is, yeah, so what? [Expletive] what you’re going through. Can you show up for this?”

He continued, “I am close with people right now who have gotten caught up in this iteration of the pendulum-like nature of culture deciding who is and isn’t OK. It is baffling.”

Robert Downey Jr. wearing sunglasses on the red carpet

Robert Downey Jr. recently spoke about celebrities redeeming themselves in the public eye, saying culture decides “who is and isn’t OK” and that “it’s baffling.” (Michael Tran / AFP)


When asked if he had any advice for the people he’s close with who culture decided aren’t “OK,” he acknowledged that it’s difficult to compare his experiences in the ‘80s and ’90s to “what’s occurred in the last five or seven years,” but he thinks “there’s usually a two-year turnaround on sinking to the depths of the Mariana Trench until you get back up to the surface.”

“You come up too quick, we know what happens,” he added. “There are many points in a comeback or being seen in a favorable light by your peers that, I’ll speak for myself, I wanted to happen sooner than it did, and I felt victimized by the timeline.”

The “Avengers” star noted that patience was key.

“But mankind’s greatest challenge is to be still. Stay on the bus. The scenery’s changing. You don’t get to decide where you get off the bus. The driver will let you know when you’ve arrived at your stop. But that’s that intolerable thing of how will I know when this nightmare is over?”

Robert Downey Jr. smiles in a photo

Robert Downey Jr. has successfully overcome a lifetime of addiction issues and has been sober since 2003. (The Chosunilbo JNS / Imazins via Getty Images)


Downey Jr. had an infamous past, struggling with addiction to drugs, and has gone to rehab several times. He also served time in federal prison after violating his probation after being arrested while driving under the influence.

In June, he shared some of his recollections on his time in prison on the “Armchair Expert” podcast, saying, “You could just feel the evil in the air.”

“It was kind of like just being in a really bad neighborhood, and there was no opportunity there; there was only threats,” he added. “So, yes, everyone is going to take your wallet, so watch it.”

Robert Downey Jr in court

Actor Robert Downey Jr. is taken into custody after being charged with possession of cocaine and speed following a judge’s decision inside a courtroom on Dec. 8, 1997, in Malibu, California. (Getty Images)


Downey Jr. became sober in 2003 and has remained so ever since. In 2016, he was pardoned for his 1996 drug conviction. The pardon restored his voting rights and is a public proclamation that the person has demonstrated “exemplary behavior,” according to the governor’s website.

Robert Downey Jr poses with shaved head on the red carpet

Robert Downey Jr. helped kick off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 when he was cast in “Iron Man.” (Kimberly White)

In 2008, he was cast as Tony Stark, aka “Iron Man,” and kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also marked his major career comeback.

Downey Jr. can be seen next in “Oppenheimer” in theaters July 21.

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