A show-business career is, by nature, an up-and-down experience, but at least when you’re down, the world is generally rooting for you to rise again.
The following people were all lifted higher by comebacks that told the world, “I’m back and better than ever.”
Robert Downey Jr.
After a weak start on “Saturday Night Live,” Downey branched out into charismatic turns in movies, becoming one of his generation’s most luminescent lights of the silver screen. And then came the drugs. And more drugs. And messups and apologies and coverups and foulups and more drugs.
From 1996 to 2001, he went on so many rampages that Amanda Bynes looks like the Flying Nun by comparison. But then came some cleaning up, soul searching and good friends who lent him much-needed trust. Pal Jon Favreau took a chance on Downey for “Iron Man” in 2008, and the guy’s been soaring ever since. Who needs drugs?
Generally regarded as the poor man’s Liz Taylor, Collins was used as walking, talking scenery in the 1950s and ’60s. By the ’70s, she’d resorted to adaptations of her sister Jackie’s trash novels “The Stud” and “The Bitch,” making a career as basically a glorified soft-core actress of fine dramatic kitsch.
But that all changed in 1981, when Joan entered a prime-time soap called “Dynasty” in its second season. As the vengeful bitch Alexis Carrington, she was glamorous, exciting and hateful, instantly turning the world on with her bile (and shoulder pads). This was a resurrection almost worthy of that other JC.
It’s hard to believe it, but in the early ’80s, superstar Cher wasn’t so super, fronting a rock band called Black Rose, which wilted due to critical disdain and public disinterest. But then, in 1982, she appeared in “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” on Broadway and proved she had actual acting chops.
The show flopped, but it became a film, plus it led to acclaimed work in “Silkwood,” “Mask” and her 1987 Oscar winner “Moonstruck,” which made everyone snap out of it. The same year, Cher had her first Top 10 hit in more than almost a decade (“I Found Someone”). And in 1989, “If I Could Turn Back Time” turned the hands back and made her a musical sensation all over again. And now, in 2015, is anyone even thinking about Black Rose?
The woman came back and repeated more times than a Mexican dinner. But her biggest comeback of all happened after she was devastated upon having been frozen out by Johnny Carson when he found out she was getting a rival talk show on Fox in 1986. And the Fox experience wasn’t all peaches and cream either.
The network wanted to dump Joan’s husband, Edgar Rosenberg, as producer, and she vehemently fought that, so they axed them both! Edgar ended up killing himself, and Joan’s life and career were in shambles, but in ’89 she got a daytime talk show, won an Emmy and never stopped working (and getting work done) till the moment she left us last fall.
Labeled “box office poison” after a string of flops, Hepburn had to crawl back to Broadway to star in “The Philadelphia Story” in 1938, then buy the film rights and make a sensation in the movie version. Her high cheekbones truly rose from the ashes — and they kept ascending, considering the fact that her next film after that was 1942’s “Woman of the Year,” her first teaming with someone named Spencer Tracy. Hepburn was never equated with poison again.
Ol’ Blue Eyes was basically Ol’ Toilet Career until he nabbed the role of Maggio in the 1953 classic “From Here To Eternity,” about American soldiers in Hawaii. Shockingly, Frank was even more washed up than Deborah Kerr lying on the beach, and he really wanted the part, so he wrote letters to studio head Harry Cohn and apparently encouraged his then-wife Ava Gardner to employ her many wiles as well.
It all worked, especially since Eli Wallach, who was going to play the part, dropped out to act on Broadway. Meanwhile, Sinatra took a huge pay cut, but he won the Oscar and got his career back.
Runner-up: John Travolta
When she and “ER” parted ways in 2000, things looked iffy for Julianna, despite jobs like “The Mists of Avalon” and a voice in “Dinosaur.” But finally in 2009 came “The Good Wife” and the comeback of a Wife-time.
She was a Hollywood superstar (and married) in 1950, when she got involved in an affair with director Roberto Rossellini (also married) while filming a movie. Ingrid had played a nun and a saint, but apparently she was merely human, and the world didn’t care for that at all.
As her relationship with Rossellini grew and her marriage ended, Ingie was the subject of sensational headlines and was branded a whore, though by today’s standards, her indiscretions would barely make TMZ. Anyway, in 1956, Ingrid made “Anastasia” and won her second Oscar, plus the forgiveness of all the phonies and hypocrites who loved her.
Runner-up: Gloria Swanson, though, of course, that wasn’t a comeback, “It’s a return!”
Tina divorced the awful Ike in 1978, but rebranding herself as a solo rock/R&B singer wasn’t so easy. It wasn’t until her hypnotic 1983 cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” that the way was paved for her domination, leading to percolating hits like “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” “Better Be Good To Me” and “Private Dancer.”
Suddenly, the entire globe was in the thrall of a seasoned entertainer with a lot to say and a hell of a riveting way to say it. Then came movies (“Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” in ’85), plus Hollywood adapted her story, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” in 1993, and Tina’s hot legs kept coming back for more.
It was a long, rocky journey from “As Tears Go By” in 1964 to her “Broken English” album in 1979. Messy behavior, mood swings and stretches of inactivity had marred the output of this singer, actress and Rolling Stones appendage.
But with a newly scratchy voice rasping out lyrics like “Why’d you do what you did? Why’d you spit on my snatch?”, Marianne was back on top, proving that Old Faithfull was suddenly spraying genius.
Michael Musto is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.