From the Archives: A troubled actor’s rude awakening

Oscar-nominated actor Robert Downey Jr. as he was in a Malibu courtroom in 1996. Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday pardoned Downey and 90 others, declaring them good citizens.

Oscar-nominated actor Robert Downey Jr. as he was in a Malibu courtroom in 1996. Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday pardoned Downey and 90 others, declaring them good citizens.

(Nick Ut / Associated Press)
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Just hours after he was charged with one drug crime, actor Robert Downey Jr. was arrested on a new narcotics charge when he slipped unnoticed into a neighbor’s Malibu home and passed out in a bedroom--only to be found by a stunned homeowner, authorities said Wednesday.

Downey, 31, was arrested late Tuesday night on suspicion of trespassing and being under the influence of a controlled substance, which authorities believed to be heroin. He spent the night in the jail ward at County- USC Medical Center and was released Wednesday morning on his own recognizance.

The Oscar-nominated actor’s troubles set off alarm bells in Hollywood. Agents around town said they feared the arrests could hurt his career.


On Tuesday, Downey was charged with felony counts of cocaine and heroin possession in connection with a June 23 speeding arrest in Malibu. He also faces misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence and having a concealed weapon in his vehicle in that incident. He will be arraigned July 26 in that case.

Downey’s latest misadventure appeared to stem from a mistake.

He wandered into the home of neighbors Bill and Lisa Curtis, who live 17 houses south of Downey on Broad Beach Road, a quiet two-lane street that runs along the coastline. Both homes are on the west side of the road and have similar-looking double wooden garage entrances.

Bill Curtis said his wife, who was home at the time, offered this account:

Downey entered the multileveled home through an open door and probably descended a circular staircase of about 70 stairs before finding a spare bedroom. There he laid his pants neatly over a chair and, wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts, tucked himself into the sheets and fell asleep.

“He got real cozy,” Bill Curtis said.

Curtis’ wife noticed Downey sleeping when she entered the room, sometime around 9 p.m., thinking one of her children was playing a game. She called sheriff’s deputies and a neighbor, who found Downey’s identification. Paramedics revived the actor.

“He was sitting up--groggy, looking very white and gaunt,” Curtis said. “At no time was he doing anything the least bit threatening.”

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Curtis said Downey even made funny faces at his daughter as he was led away by sheriff’s deputies. “He still took out time to be entertaining,” Curtis said.

Agents across town offered their own sad assessments.

“Two drug arrests in a row? Yes, this can seriously damage your future in this town,” said one agent at United Talent Agency, which used to represent Downey. “There is too much young talent on the rise, too much competition. Nobody wants someone that’s high-maintenance and it can be a detriment at his age.”

Added an executive from the now-defunt Carolco Pictures, which was involved with the movie “Chaplin,” a role that brought Downey an Oscar nomination and is widely considered to be his finest performance: “Poor Robert, he’s rock-bottoming out.”

Downey has bounced among three talent agencies in the last year. He left Creative Artists Agency last November for the Gersh Agency, leaving there and signing one week ago with International Creative Management Agency.

The movement, agents say, has mirrored the actor’s turbulent personal life in recent months.

Downey is separated from his wife, model Deborah Falconer; the couple has a 3-year-old son.


He was most recently involved in two movies, filming simultaneously. He just wrapped his performance in New Line Cinema’s upcoming “One Night Stand,” in which he plays a young man dying of AIDS. The other film, “Hugo Pool,” is being directed by Downey’s father, Robert Downey Sr., known for such ‘70’s cult classics as “Pound” and “Putney Swope.”


Downey was resting at his home Wednesday and did not comment about his arrest. His attorney, Charles English, told a throng of reporters camped on the street that the actor was sorry for his actions and had apologized to the Curtis family.

“Mr. Downey has a problem,” English said. “He’s taking care of it. He appreciates everyone’s concern. A treatment program is under way.”

Bill Curtis said he hopes the district attorney’s office does not file trespassing charges against Downey.

“This is a nice guy who has troubles,” he said. “It was a very unfortunate incident, whatever caused the problem. We hope he gets better.”