Ethics Hero: Robert Downey, Jr.

Superhero on the outside, Ethics Hero on the inside.

Show business Ethics Heroes are about as rare as credible presidential candidates; after all, Hollywood is one of two environments where the ethical culture is even more warped and cynical than Washington, D.C. (The other: the Columbia drug cartels.) Yet a genuine Ethics Hero emerged at the 25th annual American Cinematheque Award gala, when honoree Robert Downey, Jr., now a major star and industry power player, threw his prestige and influence behind a genuine industry pariah, Mel Gibson, in an act of kindness, gratitude, and reciprocity.

After Downey accepted his award before a cheering crowd of important performers and artists, he unexpectedly devoted his moment in the spotlight to recall how Mel Gibson, when Downey’s career had been devastated by habitual substance abuse and Gibson was a megastar, constantly supported him, encouraged him and refused to give up on him, though the Hollywood community had. The “Iron Man” star explained how Gibson, in 2003, gave Downey a starring role in “The Singing Detective,”  which had been developed for Gibson himself, because nobody else would give the troubled actor another chance.  Gibson even paid the insurance premiums for Downey, because the studio would not accept the risk of hiring him, given his history of drug addiction and legal problems. All  Mel asked in return, Downey recalled, was that Downey resolve to help out the next actor who had hit bottom and had no friends in the Town Without Pity.That actor, ironically, turned out to be Mel Gibson himself.  Beginning with a drunken anti-Semitic rant in 2006 and extending through a vicious domestic battle in 2010 that featured tapes of Gibson threatening his girlfriend using racial epithets, Gibson has been credibly accused of homophobia, racism, xenophobia, domestic abuse and misogyny. All this, combined with his extremely conservative political views and the commercial failure of his most recent films (in Hollywood, the most unforgivable sin of all) has brought Gibson all the way off his once lofty peak to the status of a has-been with a bleak future…or about where Robert Downey, Jr. was not long ago, and might be still without Mel Gibson.

Nobody in the movie business would have faulted Downey for not repaying his debt to Gibson, for in Tinseltown the standard is, “What have you done for me lately?” He did the right thing because he, more than anyone, knows that forgiveness can work wonders, and that the flawed denizens of Hollywood hardly had the right to deny anyone a second chance.

Who knows if his generosity will turn things around for Gibson the way Gibson’s kindness helped Downey? All we know is that on this evening at least, Downey’s salute produced a standing ovation for Gibson from his alienated colleagues, and that his prospects of getting that second chance looked bright. What comes of it, of course, is up to Mel. And if he indeed regains the trust and respect of the industry, it will be because of the Ethics Hero  he created himself, by helping a friend in crisis years ago.

11 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Robert Downey, Jr.

  1. Its a shame that an act like this is so rare that you have to point him out as an ethics hero when loyalty and acts like this use to just be called being a true friend.

    • I know, and I agree, Bill. And I do believe that this kind of thing is a lot more common among normal people than in the hyper-ambitious, ego-obsessed world of high-stakes show business.

      • Indeed that is one of the problems with the Cult of Celebrity we see all around us. The ethical values (or lack thereof) of celebrities begin to seem like the norm, since page after page and hour after hour of print and electronic media are devoted to them. But, in point of fact, and like you, I see many instances of ordinary folks (rarely, if ever, seen in the media) doing the right thing by those around them, in the course of a single day. Kindnesses, courtesies, and acts of generosity are actually quite common, if only one looks for them.

  2. It’s said by cynics that a good deed never goes unpunished! However, others would reply that a selfless act reflects upon its benefactor tenfold; in Heaven, if no place else. Hollywood, of course, is a place where cynicism abounds as it does in few other places on Earth. Therefore, Downey’s act is remarkable for that reason alone.

    It can well be said that Gibson’s problems were brought on himself and, likely, for the same reasons as Downey’s were; substance abuse. It’s easy enough to fall into that snake pit out there, where drugs, liquor, teachery and insanity mix in an often deadly cocktail. Both men may be fortunate to just be alive, regardless of any career status! But both are also talented and, in their lucid moments (!), capable of notable works, as they’ve shown. Gibson’s momumental “The Passion Of The Christ” will outlive his personal issues, come what may.

    Indeed, though, may God bless Robert Downey for helping- in his own way- his fallen benefactor to regain his own life. Maybe Gibson’s best works (and Downey’s) may still lie ahead. Maybe their own experiences will serve as a warning and, perhaps, an inspiration to colleagues to not repeat their mistakes… and to the ultimate worth of selflessness in a profession largely bereft of the concept.

    Here’s hoping so. If nothing else, all of Hollywood (including Gibson) might take further note of the wisdom inherent in one of Downey’s recent and typically irreverent lines. “Don’t do a total retard, man!”

  3. Despite what people may say about him, Robert Downey Jr. is a tenacious and determined man. He’s gone to rehab numberous times and has made sincere efforts and often has progressed quite well in his treatment. I think people that don’t have a working understanding of addiction and chemical dependence should reserve their bashing comments for another post.

  4. That’s what sets him apart from so many of his contemporaries, Cheryl. Most others in his trade will go to a luxurious “rehab retreat” purely as a publicity measure, receiving little real help and seeking none besides.

  5. Pingback: Ethics Hero: Robert Downey, Jr. | Ethics Alarms « Ethics Find

  6. Bill’s comment is well taken, except insofar as Downey is a public figure who made a loyal and courageous act. One hopes non-celebrities are doing this all the time: we just don’t know about them. Downey is, I hope, just one of millions of “ethics heroes” out there, and was named as only an exemplar of the rest of them.

  7. Pingback: Ethics Hero: Robert Downey, Jr. | Business Tutorials, Courses and Articles

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