Delivering a stern message to a celebrity who has grappled repeatedly with substance abuse, a Malibu judge Monday ordered actor Robert Downey Jr. to serve six months in jail for violating terms of his probation for a 1996 drug conviction.
Malibu Municipal Judge Lawrence Mira told Downey, 32, that the jail term he was imposing was intended "to let you know that when you make the choice for drugs, you're going to jail--it's that simple.
"I'm going to incarcerate you, and I'm going to incarcerate you in a way that's very unpleasant for you," the judge said. "I don't care who you are. What I care about is that there is a life to be saved from drugs."
Downey issued an emotional statement at the hearing, noting at one point that he had been addicted to drugs since the age of 8.
"I have no excuses," he told the judge. "I find myself defenseless."
The boyish actor, whose finely tuned performance as comedian Charlie Chaplin led to an Oscar nomination for the 1992 film "Chaplin," added:
"I don't know why . . . the severity and the fear . . . of you, of death and of not being able to live a life free of drugs has not been enough to make me not continually relapse . . . again. I really need to do this, even if I don't want to, I need to."
As he was led away in handcuffs to Los Angeles County Jail, Downey nodded and smiled to his supporters in the courtroom.
In addition to jail time, which could be reduced for good behavior, the judge ordered Downey to enroll in a residential treatment program upon his release from custody.
Downey has been in and out of courtrooms and treatment programs since the summer of 1996, when he was stopped for speeding. Police searching his pickup truck found cocaine, heroin and a pistol. His name made headlines again a month later, when he was found passed out in a child's bed in a neighbor's home. He was later arrested after leaving a recovery center.
Downey was sentenced to three years probation after pleading no contest to drug and weapons charges. He spent about three months in a live-in treatment program. His probation was revoked Oct. 17 after his drug counselor said he violated a court order by using drugs again. The actor could have been sent to jail for as long as three years or allowed to remain free in a rehabilitation program.
"What's ordinary about you is your drug use," the judge told the defendant. "What is exceptional about you is your willingness to endure so much pain and so much turmoil in your life just to use these drugs. You need to find out why, and I hope by the help of all the people that I got letters from today, that we'll be able to do that."
Despite his legal troubles, Downey's film career seems to have gone ahead full steam. He has several films scheduled to come out next year. The actor also is scheduled to appear in a still-untitled film for DreamWorks SKG.