Actor Robert Downey Jr. Receives Pardon for 1996 Drug Conviction

California Governor Jerry Brown granted actor Robert Downey Jr. and 90 other Californians full and unconditional pardons on Christmas Eve 2015.

Downey was convicted of possessing a controlled substance, carrying a concealed weapon with a prior conviction, driving under the influence and being under the influence of a controlled substance on November 6, 1996.

His pardon was granted more than 20 years after he was stopped by police and found in possession of a .357 Magnum, cocaine and heroin. Downey struggled with addiction during the ‘90s, visiting multiple rehabilitation facilities and serving sentences in prison after parole violations, according to the New York Times.

After recovering in 2003, the actor returned to fame with award-winning roles in “Tropic Thunder,” “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” and “Sherlock Holmes.” He was the highest paid actor during each of the last three years, making $80 million in 2015, according to Forbes.

In October 2015, Downey was awarded a California superior court order “evidencing that since his release from custody, he has lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen,” according to the pardon.

In order to apply for a pardon, applicants must receive a certificate of rehabilitation from a superior court. Pardons don’t erase criminal records, but they allow citizens to serve on juries and erase obstacles to finding jobs, according to a statement released by the governor’s office.

“The individuals granted pardons all completed their sentences and have been released from custody for more than a decade without further criminal activity,” according to the statement. “Pardons are not granted unless they are earned.”

Downey did not make a public statement regarding the pardon but tweeted on Christmas Eve: “You’re only on the naughty list if you get caught… #HappyAlmostChristmas.”

A Troubled Start to a Storied Career

The son of actor and filmmaker Robert John Downey Sr., Downey Jr. began acting at a young age. He played leading roles in various films in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, earning award nominations for his role as Charlie Chaplin in the movie “Chaplin.”

But his career slowed as drug addiction became an increasingly major problem in his life. His 1996 arrest came after he was pulled over by Malibu police for speeding, and a month later he was found passed out in a neighbor’s house, according to the L.A. Times.

In 1999, Downey was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released after one year, but the actor was arrested on cocaine possession charges three months later. It took a total of 15 months in prison and multiple stints at rehab facilities before he completed his parole in 2002, according to the L.A. Times.

Recovery and Return to Fame

Downey had earned a role on the TV show “Ally McBeal” in 2000, but he was fired three years later because of his problems with drug addiction and law enforcement.

It was after that, in a Burger King parking lot sometime around Independence Day 2003, that Downey decided he wasn’t going to let drugs ruin his life, according to a 2008 New York Times interview. He told the Times he threw his drugs into the Pacific Ocean and has remained sober since.

The same year, he began a relationship with movie producer Susan Levin while working on the set of “Gothika.” The pair later married, and Downey has said his wife was a key component of his recovery.

Downey went on to star in blockbuster films like “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” and “Sherlock Holmes,” winning multiple People’s Choice Awards, Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe. Today, he avoids talking about his troubled past, according to multiple media reports.

He’s a new person.

“If I see somebody who is throwing their life away with both hands and is raging around and destroying their family, I can’t understand that person,” Downey told The New York Times in 2008. “I’m not in that sphere of activity anymore, and I don’t understand it any more than I understood 10 or 20 years ago.”


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