Robert Downey Jr. beat his drug addiction using Kung Fu, according to the master who taught him the rigorous form of ancient Chinese martial arts.
On Thursday, California governor Jerry Brown pardoned Robert Downey Jr. for a nearly 20-year-old felony drug conviction that had led to the Oscar-nominated actor’s imprisonment for roughly a year. A largely symbolic gesture, the pardon leaves the Iron Man star’s criminal record intact, but serves as a public proclamation that Robert Downey Jr. has remained out of trouble and demonstrated exemplary behavior, according to Business Insider.
A promising star in his own right in the early 1990s, Downey’s career was derailed after he was arrested on a Los Angeles County highway and authorities found heroin, cocaine, and a pistol in his vehicle. In the following years, his career plummeted to a new low, but the last decade has seen Robert Downey Jr. bounce back from a number of probation violations and once again chart his own rise to the top with many box-office successes, including the Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes franchises, and comedies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tropic Thunder, where Downey portrayed an aging action movie hero trying to reinvent his persona.
And one man who has been deeply responsible for this turnaround is Si-Fu Eric Oram, a martial arts teacher, who wrote a moving letter in support of Downey’s pardon to California governor Jerry Brown.
When Oram was first contacted by Robert Downey Jr., the martial arts teacher — who teaches a form of “Chinese boxing system,” or Wing Chun Kung Fu — thought Downey’s was a losing battle, according to TMZ. Skeptical of the actor’s commitment, Oram contacted a lady who once worked with Robert in rehab, and was even more reluctant to take Downey on after she described Downey as a “hopeless addict” who “would never change.”
But Robert Downey Jr. was persistent, said Oram, who himself learned Kung Fu from the mentor and teacher of Bruce Lee, and he had no option but to try his luck with the actor.
In the months that followed, Robert Downey Jr. did not only become a committed martial arts student but was also willing to “rewire his mind and body,” according to Oram.
Over the course of the following years, the two developed a close bond, and the teacher has worked with Robert Downey Jr. in 17 films after his revival from drug addiction.
In the letter Oram wrote to governor Jerry Brown, he concluded that it was impossible to recognize Robert Downey Jr. as the same man who had plummeted to the nadir of drug addiction just a decade ago.
“It’s difficult to recognize the Robert that stepped into my academy 12 years ago.”
On the Christmas Eve pardon that was granted to Downey, the judge maintained that “by completion of his sentence and good conduct in the community of his residence since his release, Robert Downey Jr. has paid his debt to society and earned a full and unconditional pardon.”
There are not many examples of people who come back from the depths of drug addiction to resurrect a fledgling career and become a role model for millions of young people, but Robert Downey Jr. has managed to do it, and thanks to Kung Fu for that.
[Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images]