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Remembered, Not Forgotten: Film Stars, Addiction, and Comebacks

Some movie stars are just as famous for their drug and alcohol use as they are for their film roles. Sometimes we see their worst moments splashed across the tabloids right next to pictures of them in a designer tux or gown at a red carpet event. Addiction doesn’t care if you are rich and famous; it strikes all kinds. Yet some of the stars who have struggled most—and most publicly—have achieved long-term recovery and gone on to deliver some of their best work. Below is a list of actors that have been able to fight the perilous battle of substance abuse and come back strong to play iconic characters we know and love.

  • Robert Downey, Jr.

The superstar we all know and love has a tragic history due to his drug addiction. Born in 1965, Robert Downey, Jr. (or RDJ) made his big-screen debut at the age of five, appearing in one of his father’s films. While poised to have an incredible future in the spotlight, he was unfortunately introduced to drugs at an early age—by some reports as early as six years old—and within a few years, he was addicted. In 1997, RDJ was arrested and prosecuted for various crimes. His addiction to drugs even cost him a seven-year relationship, and by the time he was out of jail he had alienated his family, had no money, and his spouse had left him.

Life Freakz. “Success Story of Robert Downey Jr.” Medium. 28 Jan 2018,

Fast forward to 2001, when he met his future wife, Susan Nicole Levin (now Susan Nicole Downey), whom he credits with helping him with his former drug and alcohol habits and also revitalizing his career. In 2007, he was cast as Iron Man and the rest is history! Robert Downey, Jr., is now one of the most highly paid actors in the world with a net worth of a whopping $250 million!

Iron Man (2008). IMDb. 11 September 2019,
  • Daniel Radcliffe

Everyone knows him as the “The Boy Who Lived,” but not many people know about his struggles with alcohol addiction. Daniel Radcliffe was cast as Harry Potter at the young age of eleven and soon became a superstar and a household favorite.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). IMDb. 11 September 2019,

But it turns out that not many young stars can handle the pressures of immense fame. Daniel unfortunately became addicted to alcohol and admitted to drinking excessively to cope with portraying Harry Potter. However, the actor has since bounced back and has been sober since 2010, after realizing how the addiction started affecting his work on set. As of 2018, he still continues to star in movies but has now focused his skills on the theater—something he has always loved doing. Kudos to the young star for bouncing back from a play most movie stars can’t recover from.

  • Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore made her acting debut at the tender age of six, starring in the film E.T. The future superstar has come forward with her own addiction story, admitting that she started drinking at the age of nine and quickly became addicted to drugs soon after. Much of her teenage years were spent overcoming her addictions, and her mother put her into rehab following a suicide attempt by the star. She was sober by the age of fourteen, and even released an autobiography when she was sixteen. Despite the resistance of some of Hollywood’s power players, Drew returned to acting and established herself as one of the leading actresses we know and love today.

Drew Barrymore. IMDb. 11 September 2019,

These actors’ stories prove that we do not have to let our past define us, and that in the end, if you persevere and follow your dreams people will value you enough to forget about your past.

Stars: They Are Just Like Us

We all know that fame comes with stress and pressure. But anybody can experience excessive stress and the destructive effects of addiction. We have lost some great film stars to substance abuse over the years, but it is a good sign that more celebrities are willing to open up about their addiction and mental health struggles. It helps remove the stigma, and proves that they are human and sometimes need help like the rest of us. For most celebrities, the first step was to break the silence and reach out to a friend, family member, or health professional. If you or anyone you know is struggling with these issues, here are some resources for getting help:

National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Free Helpline

IU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) 24-Hour Helpline

IU Student Affairs Substance Use Services

Here are some documentaries about addiction available through Media Services (many more available):

Addiction: A Comprehensive View

Understanding Addiction

Portrait of Addiction

Media Services staff member and guest blogger Dhruv Madappa is pursuing a Master’s degree in Cybersecurity at IU.

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