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Robert Downey Jr. usually does not talk about his troubles with addiction or arrests for it. He even walked out of an interview for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron when the reporter brought it up. He must have trusted his fellow actors Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes because he opened up for them. 

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr. | Film Frame/Marvel Studios

Downey was a guest on their SmartLess podcast on Aug. 30. When discussing the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Downey mentioned it reminded him of incarceration.

Robert Downey Jr. is sensitive to people experiencing isolation for the first time 

Downey said the coronavirus isolation reminded him of his previous stints in court-imposed isolation. However, he’s also sensitive to people experiencing it for the first time, through no fault of their own. 

Robert Downey Jr. - Infinity War
Robert Downey Jr. w/ L-R: Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo and Benedict Wong | Film Frame/Marvel Studios

“What’s the real element here is an unprecedented psychological shift,” Downey said. “Having done actual time, there’s something very interesting about having your movement limited. For kids that’s tough. What everyone is going through is what they’re going through. It’s specific to them and it is a big deal.”

Robert Downey Jr. recalls three jail or stints

In the ’80s and ’90s, Downey had several arrests related to his addictions. Downy recounted the details.

I did 12 days once, four months [and] 13 days a second time and then something like three years or two and a half. The last time, it didn’t matter because it was state time. It just means you’re not in county, you’re not in some awful spot. You’re just in an actual prison where you have significantly more freedom. I know that Judge Mira, God bless him, threw the book, his gavel, his wig and the bench at me. So, I think I had a three year suspended sentence but then I appealed it. It turned out he had oversentenced me and I don’t blame him for it. I’d have done the same thing. I think it was 26 months.

Robert Downey Jr., SmartLess podcast 8/30/2020

Time to think

Downey said he valued his time in jails because it forced him to confront his problems. 

“First of all, I probably deserved it, so that helps,” Downey said. “Second of all, it’s very monastic and rather dangerous and isolating. It’s awful. It’s traumatic. I think I said this before but here’s a crazy ting too. If you’ve had a trippy life, and I think all of us can agree that just being in the entertainment field, we know the psychological breakdown of folks like us.”

Marvel's Avengers Endgame: Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. | Film Frame/Marvel Studios

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Downey also acknowledged that he was not in a hardcore general population maximum security prison.

“Something about having a cell door close behind you, this was when I was in Twin Towers [Jail] in the ‘glamor slammer,’ you will never be safer than you are when a correctional officer or the sheriffs lock you down in that room,” Downey said. “As long as you trust your cellie, you willn ever be safer than that until the morning when they pop ‘em open.”

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.