Like Father, Like Son: Robert Downey Jr. Explores His Addictions in 'Sr.' on Netflix

The Robert Downeys, Sr. and Jr. (via Netflx)

Robert Downey Jr. teamed up with his father to make "Sr.," a documentary streaming on Netflix.

Downey Jr. is of course the Oscar-nominated actor who infamously had drug problems in his 20s and 30s.  Downey Sr. preceded him in the business as an independent movie director best known for Putney Swope

In the film, they deal with issues that led to Jr.'s addiction spiral, arrests and three years of incarceration between 1996-2001. In 1999, Downey Jr. told a court that "he had been addicted to drugs since he was eight and the threat of a prison term had not stopped him using cocaine and heroin." He'd also been charged with marijuana possession.

Robert Downey Jr. on the '80s: "It was just a wild era. We were all altering our consciousness with substances."

In a 2000 Vanity Fair article, Downey Sr. confessed to allowing his son to drink wine and smoke pot as young as six years old:

“We were all sitting around, smoking grass and playing poker down in the old West Village loft, and Robert was staring at me kind of funny - Robert was always an observer of it all, even at a very young age. And I go, ‘You know, you ought to try a little of this instead of drinking.’ I passed him a joint. And suddenly I knew I had made a terrible, stupid mistake. Giving a little kid a toke of grass just to be funny. The story keeps getting repeated. By now you’d think Robert was Jimmy Cliff’s dealer at age eight. I’ll never forgive myself, but Robert and I have dealt with it, and he’s said to me, ‘I’m not a victim, Dad. I don’t blame anybody.’”

This all comes up in "Sr." when Downey Sr. further reveals in the film: "A lot of us did things and thought it would be hypocritical to not have our kids participate in marijuana and stuff like that. So, we thought it would be cute to let them smoke it and all that. It was an idiot move on our parts, a lot of us, to share with our children."

In another part, they talk about a family road trip from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. "I was in charge of the hash pipe," Downey Jr. recalls.

Robert Downey Sr.: "You’d think Robert was Jimmy Cliff’s dealer at age eight. I’ll never forgive myself, but Robert and I have dealt with it."

About his own addiction, he explains: "I was just playing a game of wanting to self-soothe and stay loaded, rather than deal with the fact that I had gone off the tracks a little bit."

Downey Sr. also admits, "I was a drug addict. Mainly cocaine and marijuana. Total insanity... 15 years of total insanity."

Downey Jr.'s early career included druggy films like 1987's Less Than Zero and peaked with his Oscar nom for Chaplin in 1992. Post prison, he appeared in Natural Born Killers and his father's Hugo Pool before pivoting to action films like Iron Man and The Avengers

"When we did Less Than Zero, it was right around when I began," he says about playing Julian, who dies in the film. "It was obviously not autobiographical for me, but certainly what was similar was young folks, drugs, '80s. It was just a wild era. That whole world gets tied in with creativity. We were all altering our consciousness with substances."

In a section on 1997's Hugo Pool, Downey Jr. tells his dad: "Your movie was representing everything from Laura's illness to my addiction to you turnaround." Laura was Downey Sr.'s second wife who died from ALS. While Laura was sick, Downey Sr. focused on her and put away the drugs.

Robert Downey Jr. has been sober since 2003. Robert Downey Sr. passed away in 2021 at 85. The maverick filmmaker suffered from Parkinson's.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.