Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Robert Downey Jr. for his multiple crimes in the ’90s


I’m old enough to remember when Robert Downey Jr. was an utter mess. Back in the ‘90s, I lost count of how many times he was arrested, how many times he was in and out of courtrooms, jail cells, community service stints, rehabs and probation. That cycle lasted years and it was almost all related to his drug and alcohol abuse (mostly drugs). At some point – in the early ‘00s – he met Susan and got clean. And it stuck. RDJ and Susan married and they painstakingly worked to revive his career after a lot of burnt bridges following his drug problems.

Nowadays RDJ is the highest-paid actor in Hollywood because his deal with Marvel has him making one of the most generous backends in film history. Reportedly, he hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol in more than a decade (probably more like 14-plus years) and he’s the father to two young children with Susan, plus his now-adult son Indio (who is struggling with the same kind of problems RDJ had). So… obviously, RDJ’s past arrests aren’t keeping him down. But that didn’t stop California governor Jerry Brown from formally pardoning RDJ on Christmas Eve.

Robert Downey Jr. got a one-of-a-kind Christmas present on Thursday when California Gov. Jerry Brown granted the actor clemency for his past crimes. Downey, who struggled with drug problems in the late 1990s, had his criminal record scrubbed in the Christmas Eve pardon, which has become a tradition in California, according to Los Angeles Times.

The 50-year-old star spent several stints in jail for drug-related charges. After repeated arrests in 1996 – including for possession of a controlled substance and driving under the influence – he served, in total, two years and eight months behind bars. He completed his parole in 2002, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I accidentally [got] involved in heroin after smoking crack for the first time. It finally tied my shoelaces together,” Downey Jr. told Rolling Stone back in 2010 of his former struggles. “Smoking dope and smoking coke, you are rendered defenseless. The only way out of that hopeless state is intervention.”

The pardon notes Downey’s “good conduct in the community” in the time since his release, and asserts that he “has paid his debt to society and earned a full and unconditional pardon.”

The Iron Man star is one of 91 people who received a pardon, most of whom had also been charged with minor drug offenses. In order to be eligible, the convicted individuals must keep their records clean for more than a decade after release from prison, CNN reported. The clemency follows the actor’s induction into the California Hall of Fame in October. The ceremony, which was established in 2006, honors “legendary people who embody California’s innovative spirit and have made their mark on history.”

[From People]

I wonder if this was even on RDJ’s radar. I wonder if he even cared, you know? The governor – and the president, for that matter – can pardon anyone, for any crime, regardless of whether the person has officially applied for a pardon. I would love to know if RDJ or his lawyers had applied for anything, or if RDJ was just as surprised by this as everyone else. I also think it’s sort of funny that Governor Brown did the pardon, considering RDJ probably isn’t his political supporter at all – RDJ has long been known as a pretty politically conservative guy these days, and Brown is the most liberal governor California has seen in decades (since Brown’s first stint as governor, actually).


Photos courtesy of WENN, Fame/Flynet.

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78 Responses to “Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Robert Downey Jr. for his multiple crimes in the ’90s”

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  1. Kristen says:

    Actually, I read that RDJ donated $5K to one of Gov. Brown’s campaigns… And more to a cause the governor supports. Either way, I’d say RDJ earned his redemption.

    • V4Real says:

      He also attended and gave funds to the Obama fundraiser that George Clooney held. Some people are saying he’s a Republican because of what he said about going from a two thousand dollar a night hotel to prison and not coming out a liberal.

      • Prairiegirl says:

        He might be a little less liberal than he used to be. But who’d admit to being a Republican these days, in Hollywood, given the current candidates? Oy.

      • chelsea says:

        He also posed for pictures with GW Bush.

      • FingerBinger says:

        Bill Clinton posed for pictures with GW Bush too. It doesn’t mean anything.

      • V4Real says:


        Here are a few celebs who are openly Republicans

        Jessica Simpson, Stacy Dash, The Rock, Juliette Lewis, Gloria Estefan, LL Cool J (he backed Governor Pataki and he backed McCain), Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, (Stating the obvious A. Schwarzenegger, Jon Voight and Clint Eastwood), Drew Carey, basketball legend Karl Malone, Don King, Nick Lachey, James Earl Jones, Vince Vaughn, Bo Derek, Heather Locklear, Alice Coper and Cindy Crawford switched from Democrat to Republican.

        @Chelsea Michael Jackson posed with George Bush and Regan. Did that automatically make him a Republican? Lala Vasquez and Carmelo Anthony posed with George W. Bush.

      • kcarp says:

        I think Hollywood like a lot of the rich and famous give to a lot of candidates. I bet there are a lot more Republicans in Hollywood on the down low.

        Would a straight lace Bible thumper in the Bible belt admit they support Obama? No they wouldn’t. Everyone has the right to voter privacy.

  2. t.fanty says:

    I’m side-eyeing this. I side-eyed it when Marky Mark applied, and I’m side-eyeing it now. Nobody should be pardoned for being famous.

    That said, I can’t see RDJ applying for it. He seems pretty comfortable with that being a part of his past. I think he likes being the Comeback Kid.

    • Cee says:

      RDJ should call Lindsay Lohan.

    • Esmom says:

      I think side-eyeing Marky Mark is absolutely justified. Downey’s crimes seem far less heinous. It sounds like he wanted the pardon, hence the campaign donations.

      • T.Fanty says:

        I think a large part of it also comes down to attitudes towards addiction. If one sees it as a disease, then a pardon is absolutely warranted, and part of a larger political maneuver. I would be curious to see if that was the Gov’s stance (but I’m way too lazy to look it up).

      • LAK says:

        T.Fanty: I think your last paragraph makes a good point and may be part of why he was pardoned, putting aside the politics of it.

        I regularly watch Bill Maher’show, and one of his recent guests was the lieutenant governor of California who made very positive noises about legalising marijuana and had a progressive view of drugs in general. It’s not a stretch to say that viewing this pardon as part of an on-going plan to de-stigmatise drugs.

      • Alex says:

        I side eye Mark because he pretends like his arrest is some kind of personal vendetta against him and by all accounts never apologized to his victims. Plus it was a hate crime much worse than RDJ’s crime against himself. As far as we know RDJ may have not applied for a pardon but he DOES acknowledge the damage he did during those years. He even made amends with SJP recently. That’s the major difference for me.

        But it’s not only rich that get pardons there were plenty of pardons given out. The POTUS has also made it a priority to pardon petty drug offenses.

      • lilacflowers says:

        Mark Wahlberg applied for a pardon. He has not received a pardon.

    • Greenieweenie says:

      Yeah, I agree. He only “paid his debt to society” on the back of the career he had before he went to prison. Many many people don’t get the chance to pay that debt because they’ve nothing to build on.

      What a cliche: gets rich, gets conservative.

    • SJO says:

      Me too. Must be many other deserving folks who have turned their lives around and could use a break more than RDJ. Kinda of a hollow gesture toward a very privileged person.

      • SusanneToo says:

        I don’t think there’s any limit on the number of pardons the governor can hand out. It’s not like he poached someone else’s spot.

      • V4Real says:

        @SJO GO back and reread the article. It said that 91 others were pardon and I’m betting they are not all celebrities.

    • Nanea says:

      According to the Guardian​, “Downey obtained the pardon after getting a judge to issue a Certificate of Rehabilitation, according to a proclamation released by Brown’s office.”

      So Downey was actively involved in being pardoned.

  3. Cee says:

    What does a pardon entail? Is everything taken off of his record? He served his time, done his part, so what’s the importance of a pardon? Honest question, I’d love to know.

    • Snazzy says:

      It is a great question – I was wondering the same thing actually.

    • Tania says:

      he’s allowed to vote again, for one.

      • karen2 says:

        …allowed to vote again…& I read the crime remains on file…something I don’t understand…is a pardon from Potus different from a pardon from a Gov…whatever…Clinton gave out a ton of dubious pardons…Potus is committed to giving out many many pardons to non violent offenders..which is fine so long as they dont go back to their offending ways which is statistically unlikely…will he pardon Madoff ya think?…anyway happy new year to all…

      • bokchoi says:

        Am i reading this correctly? Americans do not have the right to vote if they are convicted of a crime?

    • Esmom says:

      I think for the average citizen it can mean a lot more than it probably does for RDJ. It’s not like his criminal past was hindering him from getting employment, which is what I’m guessing a lot of ex-cons struggle with.

      • Prairiegirl says:

        Except his criminal past DID hinder him from employment for a long time, back when he wasn’t insurable.

        Good for him, anyway.

      • Esmom says:

        Right, I meant he’s not having trouble with employment now. I think even if he’d been pardoned years ago he’d still have had to rebuild trust in the industry.

    • Greenieweenie says:

      It restores his voting rights.

    • Cee says:

      From the Justice’s FAQ:
      “Pardon: It does not signify innocence. It does, however, remove civil disabilities – e.g., restrictions on the right to vote, hold state or local office, or sit on a jury – imposed because of the conviction for which pardon is sought, and should lessen the stigma arising from the conviction. It may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding, or employment. Under some – but not all – circumstances, a pardon will eliminate the legal basis for removal or deportation from the United States.”

      I don’t see how a pardon affects him unless he really wants to vote again or go after a political seat. However, he must have applied himself, it doesn’t seem to be randomly handed out.

  4. LAK says:

    Holly Batman blast from the past. Again.

    It really seemed for a moment there in the 90s that RDJ was a complete gonner down the rabbit hole of drugs, wrong side of the law, wasted chances and complete ruin of a life.

    I did have a moment of pity when he asked a judge for clemency at one of his court hearings.

    I do remember how hard it was to revive his career in the early 00s. If that first IR hadn’t worked, I don’t think he’d have been given another chance. He is one of those people I admire for successfully turning their life around. I don’t envy the extreme wealth and fabulous home life (OK I do, but not in a negative way), I think it’s admirable that he pulled himself UP and so high.

    On a different note, how is Mark Warlberg’s request for Pardon coming along?

    • SusanneToo says:

      I recall an article on RDJ from veerrry long ago(People, I think)that told how his hipster parents would have him smoke grass before a party because they and their friends thought it was so funny seeing a 4 or 5 year old kid all whacked out. What an environment to grow up in.

      • Esmom says:

        Yikes, reminds me a bit of what I’ve read about Drew Barrymore’s childhood. Another person who seems to have conquered her demons and is in a good place despite some rocky times.

    • Lizzie McGuire says:

      Marky Mark is probably mad that he hasn’t gotten his pardon yet. To me RDJ getting a pardon is fine but what Marky Mark did gives me the chills & didn’t seem all that honest when requesting a pardon.

      • LAK says:

        I quite agree Lizzy McGuire.

        Susannetoo: I read somewhere that his father often shared drugs with him as a kid/teen, didn’t realise it was as early as that or for that reason.

        On the subject of questionable parentage, I read somewhere that Timothy Leary is Winona Ryder’s godparent which, if true, puts her subsequent drugs issues in context.

    • Original T.C. says:

      I admire anyone who turns their life around from either addiction or crime. However let’s recall that RDJ was given chance over chance-like a 110X more than the average joe- and was only turned down for work insurance because like Lohan he could no longer be relied upon to show up for work and/or be sober at work. His actions cost producers money for lost shooting days, affected his fellow actors who had to wait on him or stay later, the film crew, etc. It’s hard to give someone another chance when they have screwed you over and over.

      • Tiffany :) says:

        The big difference I see here in hindsight (I was pretty young when it happened, so I have to rely on these articles) is that RDJ actually served more than TWO YEARS in prison! That is a serious amount of time. Did that allow him to realize his “bottom”? I feel like Lohan has been enabled so consistently that she doesn’t fully suffer the consequences of her actions, so she never gets that motivation to change her ways.

      • perplexed says:

        Yeah, he did the time for possession in a way I can’t recall another (white) celebrity doing. Did RDJ cause the level of damage that Lindsay did to anyone other than himself? He showed up late to work and maybe that would have cost some time and money to others, but I don’t remember hearing a story about him running over somebody”s feet like Lindsay did.

  5. Miss Jupitero says:

    If he was pardoned because he is a celebrity, I side-eye it. If however other ordinary people also get these pardons, subject to the same conditions, then I think there should be more of it.

    Our country incarcerated too many people, and our policies toward former convicts who have paid their debt to society (e.g., permanently taking away their right to vote, restrictions them from any financial aid for education) is deplorable. I’d like to see more efforts to turn tjis around, more expunged records, more pardons.

    • SusanneToo says:

      Many ordinary people get these pardons, but as is usually the case, it’s the celeb ones that make the news.

    • V4Real says:

      “If he was pardoned because he is a celebrity, I side-eye it.”

      I don’t think it was because he was a celebrity since 91 others were also given the pardons.

    • Nic919 says:

      The US incarcerates way too many people for drug issues that usually only affect the individual as opposed to Wall Street guys who have stolen the homes and savings of millions. And it is no coincidence that the incarcerated drug users tend to be non white, with RDJ being one of the rare exceptions.

      I do find his pardon less offensive than Marky Mark’s because it is arguable if RDJ’s offences should even be crimes whereas Marky Mark was a violent racist asshole and he does not show a lot of remorse to this day.

    • Tiffany says:

      There were some companies that I worked for that were all no ifs, ands or buts. I have seem denials for minor in possession ( yeah, because 19 years old don’t drink in college). Or possession of pot ( not enough to distribute, but small enough to enjoy). I see those as discretions that you grow from, and if the story is great, kind of funny. Not all criminals records should fall in the same category.

  6. antipodean says:

    I am all for redemption, and pulling one-self up by the boot straps, but when that turns into a smug, self satisfied, pat on the back, and how wonderful am I attitude, I am afraid I lose all sympathy. It seems that revisionist history takes over, and a different sort of addiction presents itself, one that has a distinctive whiff of self congratulatory hubris, and I find that supremely unattractive. Even in his movies now, RDJ has a smirk that sets my teeth on edge, no matter what part he is playing. He used to be a very talented actor, now, not so much, he is establishment, and loving it.

    • frivolity says:

      ICAM. This is total B.S.
      While “ordinary” people are sometimes pardoned, those cases are RARE. Mostly, celebs and those with money, power, and connections are pardoned.

    • felixswan2 says:

      @ANTIPODEAN I agree with you 100%!

      • antipodean says:

        Thank you felixswan2, I appreciate your comment. Sometimes I feel I am a voice crying in the wilderness when my comments are derided and belittled. I like to think I am fairly broadminded, and always try to err on the side of kindness and humour, but it would seem that there are those who enjoy seeing the negative side of others’ opinions and foist their own agendas, willy nilly, it can be surprisingly hurtful, although I usually choose to ignore them. Maybe I am too thin-skinned, but I will carry on, regardless. Your comment made my day.

    • I Choose Me says:

      Girl, preach! Loved him in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and thought his Charlie Chaplin nom was well deserved but somewhere a long the line, I don’t know when, he started feeling himself a little too much and it shows.

  7. Prairiegirl says:

    Someone refresh my memory – wasn’t it MEL GIBSON who helped him turn his life around? Cast RDJ in one of his movies, back when RDJ wasn’t insurable? Convinced one of the Ally McBeal producers to take a chance on this former Oscar nominee? Back when Mel had clout before HE fell off the wagon and the scandal involving the phone call to his girlfriend came out?

    • V4Real says:

      Yes it was Mel, hence the reason why RDJ still calls him friend.

    • SusanneToo says:

      Yes, that’s true and RDJ has given MG credit for helping with his sobriety and his career. A few years ago, when Gibson sat at a table with RDJ and Jodie Foster at the GG, I assumed that was payback. I find MG repulsive, but kind of understand RDJ’s standing by him.

    • MrsNix says:

      About Mel Gibson:

      Obviously, he’s done and said horrendous things. I think everyone can agree there.

      But here’s the thing…he’s so obviously mentally ill. He led a life that was creative and generous and spiritual and, by all accounts from those who knew him, decent and loving.

      And in a period of about two years, he did a 180.

      That’s not a guy being a racist jerk. That’s a guy going insane. He’s clearly profoundly mentally ill, and it really bothers me that almost no one covering his issues and his misbehavior treats it that way.

  8. Nancy says:

    This is Hollywood after all. He really was the character from Less Than Zero and turned it around without making excuses for his poor behavior. What baffles me most is that he dated SJP. She wasn’t pardoned, but her husband basically was when he killed two people in a traffic accident and was charged with dangerous driving which was reduced to careless driving and fined $175.00. Sounds more like vehicular homicide to me….but there you go. I give RDJ a thumps up for turning his life around and prospering.

    • Prairiegirl says:

      I don’t know this story! More details please!

      • Nancy says:

        LOL. Broderick was dating Jennifer Grey and I think they were driving in Ireland, not positive about that…..the rest I said above he hit a car and killed two women. He and Grey were injured badly as well. I only know from what my mother told me, but I’m sure it can be goggled for a better synopsis than mine! I don’t mind Broderick but have never understood the appeal of SJP or sex in the city. It didn’t ring true to me, I mean does she look like a woman men would pine after?!! Her clothes, yes, her….no!

    • V4Real says:

      @Nancy I used to think the same thing about Matt B until I got more details. I think it happened in Switzerland. The report was that it was raining, the roads were slippery and Matt might have gotten confused about what side of the road to drive on . He wasn’t drunk nor had he been drinking that day according to police. Unfortunately he killed a mother and her daughter. But it was an accident that could happen to any of us, especially us Americans who are not used to driving on what we call the opposite side of the road. I believe Jennifer Grey was with him and she pretty much quit acting after that. Some people said that Matt has never fully gotten over this.

      • MP says:

        He killed two people! Just saying he got confused and that could happen to anybody is ridiculous. If you find driving on the different side of the road difficult get a taxi!

      • Nancy says:

        MP: Thank you. I had to write short novellas to try to get my point across and you did it in three lines. Job well done.

      • V4Real says:

        @Nancy Not trying to argue but you guys are being a bit unreasonable. Check the stats of car crashes in America and you will see that a lot of car crash fatalities involves more than one car. So yes if we were to prosecute all car accidents,not just fatalities half the country might be in jail.

        @MP How many times have you heard that people mistakenly push the accelerator instead of the breaks which led to an accident. I guess all drivers who made that mistake should take taxies. It’s easy to get confused if you’re used to doing something one way and for a moment you forget that what you’re doing should be the opposite of what you’re used to. And it can happen to anybody and that’s not ridiculous. No one said he found driving on the opposite side of the road difficult, perhaps he didn’t. But for a moment a driving pattern that he was used to caused him to forget that he was supposed to do the opposite.

      • Nancy says:

        V: Ok last post from me. You can defend this dude till the end of time and the ending will be the same. Two people were killed as the result of his careless driving (court’s words) and he faced five years jail time which he avoided. I am not speaking of any other driver, just him, he caused the death of two human beings. Bad things happen to good people. He isn’t the devil, I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but it happened. Just ask the family members of the victims who probably still mourn the loss of their loved ones particularly now at the holidays. He’s gone on to a successful life so I wouldn’t be too worried about him. Happy new year to you.

      • V4Real says:

        I’m not defending him, I’m defending an accident that could have happened to any of us. I can see if he was speeding or had been drinking but he wasn’t. It was an accident, as horrible as it was, it was an accident. Low blow of you trying to prove a point by saying ask the victims loved ones.

        And he avoided jail time because it was an unintentional accident and he wasn’t driving after drinking or speeding. The courts saw that. Happy New Year to you.

    • lilacflowers says:

      The accident occurred in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland in 1987. Broderick was with Jennifer Grey at the time. He was driving in the wrong lane.

      • Nancy says:

        I thought it was Ireland. He switched lanes and collided head on with the mother and daughter killing them instantly. He was hurt badly but claims he has no recall of the day.

      • V4Real says:

        Wrong place but still it was an unintentional accident. The report was that he as an American got confused as to which lane to drive in. They also factored in weather conditions. That could happen to any American that is not familiar with driving on foreign roads. If we prosecuted all accidents then half of the country would be behind bars.

      • Nancy says:

        V4R: I get it, it’s not easy driving in Europe as an American. But, he was at fault, switching lanes and killing those woman. He was given a slap on the wrist for it, but I’m sure struggles with it. I didn’t bring it up to persecute him. My original comment was that it seemed strange RDJ dated Sarah J. Seems like an odd coupling. (Not being mean or snarky, but half the country doesn’t kill two innocent people behind the wheel, regardless of the country). I guess it’s a good idea to learn the region you plan on traveling, rules, speed limits, lanes, etc. before actually driving abroad. Like James Dean said, the life you save could be mine.

      • Jellybean says:

        Driving on the wrong side of the road is a pretty extreme case of careless driving. I am English and have driven in mainland Europe, so I know it requires concentration, but if you are not up to it, don’t do it.

      • MrsNix says:

        Yeah. I don’t excuse the “confused American” thing with the left lane. I am an American who was expat in left-side driving nations several times. You concentrate for a few weeks, and then it becomes natural.

        I don’t know anything about the Broderick deal except what you wrote here, but moving to a country with different lane conventions is not really that hard, and you don’t drive until you’ve passenger’ed enough to get used to it, first.

  9. i love how RDJ is conservative leaning… in politics

    yet i’m sure those same politician and their sentiments would BANISH and SNUB RDJ for his druggie jailbird past…. smh

  10. Mylene - Montreal says:

    I know he was fuck top as hell .. but .. grrrrr he was cute

  11. Jane says:

    I’m so proud of RDJ and making the comeback that many thought was impossible. Good for him!

  12. WTF says:

    The idea of him or Marky Mark being pardoned infuriates me. I don’t have a problem with pardons, but they are so rare for ‘regular’ people. Someone up thread said that Obama has pardoned a lot of people, but actually that’s not true. He’s pardoned something like 30 people since he’s been in office.
    These celebrities aren’t facing nearly the hardship that a regular person faces if they aren’t pardoned. (inability to find work, or housing, or get insurance even).
    The point is, our criminal justice system is incredibly unfair, and pardoning celebrities ignores that and enforces the inequity.

    • SusanneToo says:

      According to, President Obama has pardoned 65 people thus far and has commuted many, many sentences, most of them for possession with intent and most of them Life Sentences.

  13. teacakes says:

    So he wasn’ t the only one to get a pardon, 91 other (I presume) non-celebrities got it too?

  14. Dangles says:

    “Alcohol and drugs. Alcohol or drugs”

    Alcohol is a drug.

  15. Velvet Elvis says:

    Hearing about people getting pardons just pisses me off, especially people who get them by virtue of being a celebrity. It’s not fair in our criminal justice system to pardon a special and lucky few while most must live with their crimes on their records forever. Either pardon everyone in the same circumstances or pardon none. Millions of people commit crimes and turn themselves around to live meaningful lives and benefit society, but they don’t get pardons. I believe the only people who should get pardons are those people who were convicted under extenuating circumstances or who are in all likelihood innocent…certainly not celebrities who already live entitled lives.

  16. AnotherDirtyMartini says:

    RDJ really irks me. Sooo smug – and why the heck should he be pardoned??

  17. Cora says:

    Well, if the President is in the mood for giving out pardons, then I hope he pardons Brendan Dassey. Thanks to Netflix, I’m now obsessed with his case.