Robert Downey Jr. pardoned for 1996 drug conviction that sent him to prison
Robert Downey Jr. accepts the award for favourite movie actor at the People's Choice Awards at the Nokia Theatre on Jan. 7, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP)
Don Thompson and Anthony McCartney, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, December 24, 2015 1:47PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, December 24, 2015 3:05PM EST
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The governor of California pardoned Robert Downey Jr. on Thursday for a nearly 20-year-old felony drug conviction that led to the Oscar-nominated actor's imprisonment for roughly a year.
Downey was among 91 people granted pardons for criminal convictions after demonstrating they had rehabilitated themselves and been out of custody for at least 10 years, Gov. Jerry Brown's office announced.
The pardon does not erase records of a conviction, but it restores voting rights and is a public proclamation that the person has remained out of trouble and demonstrated exemplary behaviour, according to material on Brown's website.
Downey, once a courthouse mainstay for a series of drug-related arrests, has become one of Hollywood's greatest success stories for career and addiction rehabilitation.
Since 2008, Downey has portrayed "Iron Man" in a series of Disney blockbuster films, including "The Avengers," based on the Marvel comic books.
The 50-year-old actor is a two-time Oscar nominee for his roles in 1992's "Chaplin" and 2008's "Tropic Thunder."
Downey's legal troubles began in June 1996 when he was stopped for speeding on Pacific Coast Highway and authorities found cocaine, heroin and a pistol in his vehicle.
In 1999, he was sent to prison for roughly a year after he acknowledged violating his probation.
Downey obtained the pardon after getting a judge to issue a certificate of rehabilitation, according to a proclamation released by Brown's office. It said Downey has "lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character, and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen."
An email sent to Downey's agent Jim Toth and a call to his attorney Blair Berk were not immediately returned.
The Democratic governor, a former Jesuit seminarian, has made it a practice to issue pardons around Christian holidays.
The state's longest-serving governor has now issued 1,087 pardons, including 683 in the past five years and 404 during his first eight years in office from 1975-1983, according to his office.
Most of those pardoned Thursday were convicted of drug and property crimes, though three were convicted of arson, one of kidnapping and one of vehicular manslaughter. Three were convicted of assaults using deadly weapons and one of carjacking with a BB gun. Many are now residents of other states.
The hundreds of pardons Brown has issued in each of his four terms are typical -- except for his three immediate predecessors. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger granted 15, Democrat Gray Davis granted none, and Republican Pete Wilson granted 13.
Former Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan granted nearly 600, according to Brown's office.