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Fact Check: About the Claim That a Burger King Meal Saved Robert Downey Jr. From Crippling Drug Addiction

Julien De Rosa Getty Images
Julien De Rosa Getty Images

Claim:

Actor Robert Downey Jr. once credited Burger King with helping him overcome his drug addiction.

Rating:

Rating: Research In Progress
Rating: Research In Progress

For more than a decade, articles and Reddit posts have suggested that actor Robert Downey Jr. credited Burger King with playing a significant role in his recovery from drug addiction.

While Downey Jr., 58, did say in several interviews in the early 2000s that "I have to thank Burger King" for the moment he chose recovery after years of drug use, the validity of how events unfolded that day does require additional research.

For example, an interview with Empire magazine that was recirculated by the New York Daily News in 2008 and another interview with the U.K.'s Independent in 2005 offer contradicting accounts regarding that moment, which occurred around the Fourth of July in 2003 as Downey Jr. was driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in California. According to the Independent:

"There I was," he recalls, "with tons of f***ing dope in my car. I'd already been up for a couple of days, and I could have gone on for the next couple of days. And it probably wouldn't have ended there."

The Independent continued that Downey Jr. didn't embark on "one of the epic binges that have been a regular occurrence since his teens. Instead, he stopped the car, threw all his drugs into the ocean, and went to Burger King," adding:

"I have to thank Burger King," he says. "It was such a disgusting burger that I ordered. I had that, and this big soda, and I thought something really bad was going to happen. I thought I might have a heart attack or have to go to the hospital. So I reached out to some people and said: 'I'm really in trouble. I need to curl up for four days and get all this out of my system.'

However, per the New York Daily News, that day played out slightly differently for the "Iron Man" actor and his Burger King moment, suggesting it was the "disgusting burger" that prompted him to finally throw away his drugs, once and for all:

"I have to thank Burger King," he said. "It was such a disgusting burger I ordered. I had that, and this big soda, and I thought something really bad was going to happen." Downey Jr. says he then tossed all of his drugs into the ocean, deciding right then and there to clean up his act.

Snopes reached out to Downey Jr.'s representatives for clarification, who did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The Academy Award-nominee has publicly discussed his drug addiction, which led to legal troubles, career setbacks, multiple arrests, and stints in rehabilitation centers and prison throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

(Kypros Getty Images)

In 1999, for instance, during a sentencing hearing in a Los Angeles court for drug and weapons charges, Downey Jr., then-aged 34, likened his addictions to a game of Russian roulette. He told the judge per the Los Angeles Times: "It's like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I've got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal."

With multiple reports stating that Downey Jr. credited Burger King with playing a major role in helping him overcome drug addiction, but lacking some clarity around how/why that was the case, we have rated this claim as "Research in Progress."

Sources:

Archive, View Author, et al. DOWNEY GETS 3 YRS. OF HARD TIME ON DRUG RAP. 6 Aug. 1999, https://nypost.com/1999/08/06/downey-gets-3-yrs-of-hard-time-on-drug-rap/.

Burger King Helped Me Beat Addiction, Robert Downey Jr. Says. 23 Apr. 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20100423001143/http://www.nydailynews.com:80/gossip/2008/06/09/2008-06-09_burger_king_helped_me_beat_addiction_rob.html.

Campbell, Duncan. "Downey Going Down." The Guardian, 6 Aug. 1999. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/film/1999/aug/06/news.duncancampbell.

CNN Programs - People in the News. https://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/people/shows/downey/profile.html. Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

"Downey Jr Falls Off The Wagon." Empire, 27 Nov. 2000, https://www.empireonline.com/movies/news/downey-jr-falls-wagon/.

"Downey Jr Jailed." Empire, 8 May 1999, https://www.empireonline.com/movies/news/downey-jr-jailed/.

Grierson, Tim. "The True Triumph of Robert Downey Jr.'s Second Act | Features | Roger Ebert." Https://Www.Rogerebert.Com/, https://www.rogerebert.com/features/robert-downey-jr-oppenheimer-oscar. Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

Hedash, Kara. "How The Iron Man Cheeseburger Scene Has A Hidden Robert Downey Jr. Meaning." ScreenRant, 26 Jan. 2020, https://screenrant.com/iron-man-1-movie-scene-robert-downey-jr-cheeseburger-meaning-explained/.

News, A. B. C. "Robert Downey Jr. Talks About Addiction and Passing It to His Son." ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2014/09/robert-downey-jr-talks-about-addiction-and-passing-them-to-his-son. Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

"Robert Downey Jr. and Late Dad Get Candid About Becoming 'Stuck' in 'Drug-Culture Life' in Sr. Doc." Peoplemag, https://people.com/movies/robert-downey-jr-recalls-drug-addiction-sr-documentary/. Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

"Robert Downey Jr. Drug Addiction: An Incredible Comeback Story." DrugAbuse.Com, 25 Aug. 2014, https://drugabuse.com/blog/robert-downey-jr-s-incredible-comeback-from-addiction/.

"Robert Downey Jr: I'm Absolutely Normal, Really." The Independent, 8 Mar. 2005, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/robert-downey-jr-i-m-absolutely-normal-really-527569.html.

"Robert Downey Jr. On Burger King In 'Iron Man': A Disgusting Lifesaver." MTV, https://www.mtv.com/news/d47kl2/robert-downey-jr-on-burger-king-in-iron-man-a-disgusting-lifesaver. Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

"Robert Downey Sr. Got Candid About Introducing His Son To Drugs As A Kid." HuffPost, 8 Dec. 2022, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/robert-downey-sr-introducing-robert-downey-jr-drugs-as-a-kid_n_639235a4e4b019c696203ef5.

Sr. Directed by Chris Smith, Team Downey, Library Films, 2022.

Twitter, et al. "Robert Downey Jr. Gets 3 Years in Prison." Los Angeles Times, 6 Aug. 1999, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-aug-06-me-63303-story.html.

---. "Robert Downey Jr. Gets 3 Years in Prison." Los Angeles Times, 6 Aug. 1999, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-aug-06-me-63303-story.html.