“At this point in my life
I’ve done so many things wrong
I don’t know if I can do right.”
Being as neurotic as I am, I spend a lot of time wondering if I’m contradicting myself when I put forth an opinion in this blog, in Soap Opera Weekly, or on Twitter. I really pore over things I’ve said, hoping I’m not being a giant hypocrite. And nowhere is that more apparent than in my discussion of celebrity. I haven’t held back about Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. I’ve been pretty relentless, as I’ve tried to wrap my head around why Sheen gets so many passes despite his many foibles. And then there’s Robert Downey, Jr… whom I just found myself praising in a tweet or two. I rocked back on my metaphorical heels and went, “Hunh. What’s that about, Mala?”
Obviously I’m human, I can’t be 100 percent consistent all the time. But I also think Downey has done an admirable job of coming back from the ugly low point in his life. Even now, I can call up his mugshots in my mind — those photos were splashed all over the news when he was in his drug-addled heyday — and compare it to the shiny, promotional pictures for Iron Man. Downey was a mess. He was no one’s prize. Not someone you’d want to exhale a dreamy sigh over. But, now, he’s the prime example of The Comeback Kid. Why? Because he went away.
I think, in just a few short years, we’ve been spoon-fed a lesson that retaining celebrity means constantly staying in the spotlight, fighting to keep that place because you’ll lose it if you step back. But Downey had to relinquish his spot. He went to both rehab and jail. And when he got out, his career inched forward at a snail’s place by Hollywood standards. I think it was probably Kiss Kiss Bang Bang where people kind of went, “Oh, hey, maybe we can start taking this guy seriously again?” And, then, of course, there was the smash hit, Iron Man… which is practically an RDJ biopic, given its throughline of a spoiled rich boy with an addiction who realizes he has a bigger purpose in life. Downey couldn’t have picked a better role to put him back on the map. As Tony Stark says, ironically, at the end of the film, “I am Iron Man.” In a way, it was Downey’s declaration as well… and Hollywood, and the viewing public, embraced that.
I believe in redemption. But I think you absolutely have to work for it, and not just think its owed you because you have a pretty face or a famous name. Nobody is perfect; we’re all a work in progress. And I completely understand lauding someone who devotes themselves to an internal Extreme Makeover. Rehabbing yourself, putting your destructive patterns in check, is one of the hardest things for a person to do. Redemption is forged, often in the deepest fires of personal hell — and it doesn’t begin until you take that hammer in hand.