Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Robert Downey, Jr.: I'm So Green

I'm happy for Robert Downey, Jr.. I'm a fan.

And this is so random, but I do have an amusing story about his not-totally-illustrious past. In 1996-97, during what was surely the low point of my professional career, I worked for a buy-sell-trade used and new clothing store in San Diego near the beach.  The shop attracted quite a cross-section of Pacific Beach types, from college students and tourists to housewives and gutter punks, from cash-poor trust fund babies selling their Gucci bags for beer money to meth heads trying desperately to trade decades-old pleated jeans for spare change.*

It also attracted, for some reason, Robert Downey, Jr., who at the time was also suffering through the nadir of his career. This was when he was constantly in the tabloids and on Entertainment Tonight owing to his enthusiastic relationship with substance abuse, and he had apparently "escaped" to San Diego to get away from the paparazzi and reporters. He must have come into the store a dozen times over the period of two months or so, usually with his skanky girlfriend, a blatant mismatch if I ever saw one, a bony, tattooed and ratty-looking walking billboard for the dangers of opiates and speed.

It's always a bit unnerving to see a celebrity, but even more so to see one during a scandalous period in his or her life. What kind of small talk do you make? "Oh, hi! What have you been up to?" when you were literally just hours earlier hearing the lurid tales of their latest drug busts and court appearances. Awkward.

This wasn't an issue with Mr. Downey, however, because he was simply and utterly delightful, friendly and polite, jokey and fun. He was hardly discreet: he ran around the store looking at everything, talking to everybody. We also liked him because he'd buy every single pair of second-hand expensive designer sunglasses (Gucci, Prada, etc.), items which were often a risky buy for us, and all you'd have to do was hold up a garment and say, "Look at this insane disco shirt," and he'd beam and add it to his pile. And all this was when he was going through utter hell.

And here's another thing that might surprise you: Robert Downey, Jr. is a total goofball, absolutely ridiculous and dorky, completely unselfconscious (at least back then). One day he came in, and we were startled to see that he was dressed head-to-toe in green: green shirt, green shorts, green shoes, and to top it all off, a green vinyl Sanrio bag covered with "Keroppi" the cheerful frog (see illustration above).

Was he high? I'm so bad at telling that, but it didn't seem like he was wasted when he came into the store. He just seemed like an affable, nutty funboy. Over the next couple of years, his comeback came in fits and starts, and he was still in and out of trouble. Some may have wondered why people kept giving him another chance, but I knew why: the guy is just magnetic, and so much fun to be around; who wouldn't want to work with him?

I wonder if he's still like that? I like to think so. I prefer to think that he was weird and fun not because he was on drugs, but because he's just a weird and fun person. So it's been gratifying to see him regain his place on the A-list. I liked him in Tropic Thunder, loved him in Zodiac, and enjoyed the Iron Man movies immensely, even the second one, which would have been unendurable without him in it.

So I guess the moral to this story is... hooray for Robert Downey, Jr.? Or something?

*Side note: oh, wow, I HATED that job. It was my lowest low, the worst retail job ever, mitigated only by the fact that the manager was one of my favorite old high school friends. Anybody reading this who has had to deal with dressing rooms knows that that is the depths of despair. Working at the buying table, where people brought garbage bags of unwashed clothes, hot from the car trunk, in desperate want of cash, was, I believe, my least favorite thing I ever did for a paycheck. Ugh.


Fran said...

Thanks for this great story - wonderful at so many levels.

You remind us that sometimes celebrities can be most delightful, and are not all a bunch of jerks. FWIW, I have heard this from others during my LA days, that Downey was just someone impossible to dislike - no matter what. Unselfconscious seems to describe it best of all.

It is also a reminder that we all could use a second, third, fourth, etc chance. Not all of us follow the path of do this-then that. And even if we do, monumental f*ckups, bad decisions, and so forth can derail us. Hey - there's always tomorrow! And trust me, I am not so preternaturally cheerful, but I do believe that.

Lastly, what an interesting insight into your own life. We have all had some horrible jobs - that one sounds like a doozy. But here you are, telling us about it, without self-pity, but very honestly. A reminder, once again, that we don't all just press play and become who we are.


Michael Strickland said...

Great stories. Always enjoyed watching him in all his many weird periods, but couldn't make it through the Iron Man movies. In fact, I stopped halfway through the first. International Arms Dealer as Superhero struck me as more than a little creepy. And Gwyneth Paltrow didn't help.

Anonymous said...

Downey WAS the coolest thing in the Ironman series especially the first one. the creep factor of him being an arms dealer saving the world was one of the cool things about the movie that still functioned (for me) somewhat like a comic book. "Or something?"
nice writing PSP.

The Cat's Meow said...

i knew there was a reason I adored Robert Downey Jr., I just wasn't sure what it was (except, of course, for "Soapdish," which still makes me roar). Otherwise, I never go to his movies. I just wish him well. Tons of well.

The nicest celebrity I ever met was John Cleese.

As for second, third and fourth chances, I'd say George W. Bush is out of his. And Condi, natch!