Robert Downey Jr. and Charlie Sheen have certain things in common.
Both were born into show business families in 1965. Both started acting at a young age; Downey was 5, Sheen was 8. And both have kept the tabloid presses humming for much of their adult careers with sordid tales of extremely bad behavior often linked to the abuse of substances banned by law.
And in their roles as actors both have disrupted popular TV shows—but while Sheen’s messy saga continues to unfold, Downey’s story is one of redemption.
Downey hit bottom right around the time he joined the cast of Fox’s Ally McBeal for the show’s 2000-01 season. He had recently been released from a California prison when he signed up to play the latest love interest of lead actress Calista Flockhart.
During the season, Downey was busted twice for drug possession and was fired from the show (his character was written out of the plot). In Downey’s case, the decision to fire him, at least from a business standpoint, was relatively easy. A cult favorite, McBeal was never a monster hit and spent four of its five seasons outside of the top 30 network programs.
Getting fired—with the distinct possibility of becoming permanently unwelcome in Hollywood—appeared to be just the kick in the pants that Downey needed to get his act together. He entered rehab again and was able to get clean.
In short order, a number of film roles came his way and then, in 2008, the lead role in Iron Man, which became a box office smash. In an appearance on Oprah in ’04, Downey told the talk diva something that could be seen as good advice for Sheen today: “When someone says, ‘I really wonder if maybe I should go to rehab?’ Well, uh, you’re a wreck, you just lost your job and your wife left you. Uh, you might want to give it a shot.”
Sheen hasn’t lost his job—yet.