Hey, did you know Robert Downey Jr and Sarah Jessica Parker were once partners? 35 years ago, well before Sex and the City or Iron Man, the future A-listers made for quite the couple. A pretty cool photo of the pair still exists, but it hides some sad secrets.
A Robert Downey Jr. Retrospective
Son of actors Robert Downey Sr. and Elsie Ann Downey, Downey was surrounded by acting and drugs from a very young age. His father was a drug addict who would do drugs with his son. Downey quickly got into acting on film and stage before being cast on Saturday Night Live in 1985. He was fired a year later, and Rolling Stone later named him the worst cast member in the history of the show.
Around the same time, Downey appeared in the film Firstborn. It was Corey Haim’s film debut and it’s where Downey met Sarah Jessica Parker. Like Downey, Parker was just coming up in New York City, having received a big break in Footloose and Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
Quite The Photograph
Firstborn was a critical and commercial flop, but it’s what got Downey and Parker together. The two dated from 1984 until 1991. Here’s a photograph of them from January 1, 1987.
Parker would soon star in the NBC drama A Year in the Life, while Downey was working on the Molly Ringwald flick The Pick-up Artist. Parker’s sporting quite the hat while Downey’s very thin tie is a sight to behold.
Could Never Last
Sadly, Parker and Downey’s time together coincided with Downey’s drug and alcohol addiction. He was a global punchline through most of the ’80s and ’90s because of it, which is a good signifier of how the world’s attitude toward addiction has and has not changed. Here he is getting lampooned in season 11 of The Simpsons.
In 2020, Parker told People that her time with Downey taught her how to love: “And what’s the difference between loving and taking care of people and what’s necessary, and what grown-ups should and shouldn’t do for one another.”
She added that it primed her for parenthood: “Maybe it taught me a little bit about being a parent too, because the things that I ended up caring about, and the way I cared for [Downey], were things that might be more suitable for a parent at a certain point.”
Downey more or less corroborated her story. In 2008, he told Parade, “I liked to drink, and I had a drug problem, and that didn’t jibe with Sarah Jessica, because it is the furthest thing from what she is… She provided me a home and understanding. She tried to help me. She was so miffed when I didn’t get my act together.”
Downey cleaned himself up in 2003, quickly revitalizing his career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man. Parker’s career has flourished as well, and she famously went on to marry Matthew Broderick. Parker and Downey’s time as a couple has become a distant memory, but it’s still nice to look back on it.