That time I created the Internet’s first Robert Downey Jr website (really)

Robert Downey Jr just got pardoned. On Christmas Eve of all days. This story strikes a special, albeit somewhat bizarre, chord with me. I originally posted this on Facebook when the news broke as I was suddenly in the mood to share this tale as I don’t really bring it up much anymore…

Once upon a time when I was in high school, I saw an actor I had always liked who was now struggling and getting nothing but negative publicity. He effed up every other week it seemed. He was a mess. The Internet back then was very small. Dial-up modems were a thing. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. When doing a search on this guy, there were no bios, interviews or fun backstories to be found. Just article after article about his current troubles and oh what a terrible person he was.

In my perpetually bored teen youth, I decided to use my rare (for the time) self-taught HTML skills to create something positive for the guy, so if someone did a search (we didn’t call it Googling back then, because there was no Google yet), there would be a website finally with facts and info that went a little beyond the headlines. That’s all I meant for it to be. The first-ever Robert Downey Jr site on the Internet. Not exactly brag-worthy at the time.

However, it became surprisingly popular over the 5 years I clumsily ran it. Enough so, that a girl I worked with who liked him said, “Oh you’re THAT Leslie?! I’ve been to your site!” when I told her about my little after school hobby that I honestly didn’t talk about much in my “real life.” The site was #1 in Google when Google became a thing, and listed on the websites of CNN, BBC, E!, you name it. I was quoted in a cover story about him in Newsweek (as several of my friends know by now). I took it all for granted. It was my norm. Basically, no matter the search engine, when you typed in “Robert Downey Jr” for a few years there, my lil site was the first to pop up.

Despite all that, I still occasionally got flack from strangers online and even from some people close to me for supporting, “a useless drug addict.” This triggered my stubborn side and encouraged me more. All in all, I received thousands of emails over the years. Mostly very positive. From all walks of life. I learned more about drug addiction than I ever thought I would. I heard many stories from those who struggled with addiction themselves, from those who had friends/family who were addicts, and from those who had lost someone to addiction. It felt more educational than any classroom could possibly be on the topic and had a lasting effect on me that resonates to this day. My heart is forever huge for anyone battling addiction and for their loved ones who struggle alongside them on a completely different, yet painfully real, level.

Now it feels like a million years later. Downey is currently the Earth’s top earning actor. Kids look up to him. We have Wi-Fi now. And the media, for the most part, has moved on. He is still my fave comeback story, considering all I knew back then (I knew more than the media and yeah – I’ll never tell).

And yes, I am a tad smug these days. I can finally say to those adults who sent a well-meaning teenage girl hate mail: “Ha! I told you so! Have fun with your kids at the next Avengers flick.”

Congrats, Downey. Keep it up.


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