Robert Downey Jr.’s Cosmic Punishment
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I'd met Downey once before under less serene circumstances. It was in 1992 at the Republican National Convention in Houston. The heat was nearly as oppressive as Pat Buchanan. Downey was filming a gonzo political documentary, and I was self-medicating with a friend who was working for the Bush-Quayle campaign. Downey and I had a happily incoherent conversation that ended with one of us excusing ourselves, possibly to vomit.

The trip for me was a boys' weekend gone horribly wrong. It was Downey's daily life for more than a decade. After a brilliantly diffuse early career – there were starmaking turns in 'Chaplin' and, uh, 'Weird Science' – he seemed hell-bent on reenacting all the drug scenes from his early classic 'Less Than Zero'. It's hard to remember if the most depressing part of Downey's downward spiral was his going to prison for heroin possession and a gun charge; passing out in his neighbor's bed, thinking it was his own; or getting hired and fired from Ally McBeal.

By 2006 Downey was longtime clean, but he was still playing the sixth lead in a remake of 'The Shaggy Dog', the thespian equivalent of opening for a puppet show. But then came 'Iron Man,' 'Tropic Thunder,' and 'Sherlock Holmes.' The three films together grossed $1.25 billion – more than the 50-plus Downey films that preceded them.

Now, at 45, everyone wants a piece of him, including sifu's earlier client, a director who would just love to meet Robert. "He's done commercials," says Oram, without pushing too hard. Downey remains serene, nods affirmatively, and speaks few words – a rarity for him.

This meeting is never going to happen.

Downey, of course, is grateful he has moved from Tom Sizemore problems to Tom Cruise problems. Still, there's a paradox: The success of 'Iron Man' has opened the world to Robert Downey Jr., but making too many soulless popcorn flicks may be replacing his former 'Sunset Boulevard' buddies as the biggest threat to his sanity. Even before 'Iron Man 2' hits, 'Iron Man 3' is already in the works, and a 'Sherlock' sequel is in development. All the filming and promoting has left Downey exhausted. I ask if he is worried about burnout.

"You don't worry about something that has already happened," he says with resignation. "You don't need to worry about your car breaking down when you're already on the side of the street with the hood up. Worrying is done. The hubcaps have already come off going around the corners."