In choosing ten comebacks as the greatest of all-time some standard was necessary such an auspicious list. My criteria involved two elements and within each element a measurement was used. The elements were the nature of the setback and the prominence of the comeback. The measurement for each was simply the greatness of the span between the setback and the comeback. There have been many great comebacks in history. This book is devoted to the concept that there can be many more. But there are certain comebacks that simply stand apart from all others because of their true greatness.
10. Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. had a great amount of success at a young age. He starred in a number of films throughout the 1980s and 1990s, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in the 1992 film Chaplin. After this promising start he began to face problems in his personal life. From 1996-2001, he was arrested numerous times on drug related charges. In April 1996 he was arrested for possession of cocaine, marijuana and an unloaded .357 magnum while speeding down Sunset Boulevard. He was sentenced to three years probation and required to undergo mandatory drug testing.
That first arrest did not stop his destructive behavior. A year later he missed a court-ordered drug test and had to spend four months in the Los Angeles County jail. Even jail time failed to change his behavior, and in 1999 he missed another drug test and was sentenced to three years at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran, California.
He received a big break when he was unexpectedly released early for previous time served in 1996. Unfortunately, his addiction was too strong and he was arrested yet again the next year for possession of cocaine and valium. In July, 2001 he pleaded no-contest to the charges but avoided jail time because of California’s Proposition 36, which was aimed at helping non violent drug offenders to overcome addiction through court-ordered rehabilitation.
Downey told Oprah in 2004 that he finally decided he needed help and reached out for it. He said, “You can reach out for help in a kind of half-assed way and you’ll get it and you won’t take advantage of it. It’s not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems…what’s hard is to decide to actually do it.” After five years of setbacks, he decided he was going to have a comeback.
While he managed to stay employed with small projects throughout his battle with drug addiction, it was in 2008 when his career comeback really solidified. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Tropic Thunder. He landed the lead role in the movie Iron Man and Entertainment Weekly named him “Entertainer of the Year.” In addition, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2008.
He now has the lead role in two widely successful movie franchises, Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. In 2010 his role as Sherlock Holmes earned him a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture. Downey is one of the most popular and sought after actors in Hollywood solidifying his comeback. He has also started a foundation to help others.
9. Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, receiving a $3.96 million signing bonus. He was an unlikely candidate for a future drug addict; unfortunately, adversity struck his life and young career in the form of numerous injuries. In 2001, he was involved in a car accident that placed him on injured reserve. In his first three seasons, he missed a total of two hundred and thirty-six games because of injuries. During this time he self-medicated with the destructive coping mechanisms of drugs and alcohol. As a result, Hamilton tested positive for substance abuse, was suspended, and put into a treatment program.
However, this did not stop his addictive behavior. In 2004, Major League Baseball suspended him indefinitely for violating the joint drug treatment and prevention program. At this point he had become a full blown addict, the substance abuse that initially begun while he was trying to cope with the injuries that stalled his promising career had become the agent of his career destruction. His depression worsened. Finally in 2005, he hit rock bottom, waking up on his grandmother’s doorstep after what would be his final crack cocaine binge. Hamilton had experienced a gigantic setback and his future was very dim.
He chose a road that led to recovery and his comeback in baseball. In an ESPN article about his story he describes his comeback as, “it’s a God thing. It’s the only possible explanation.” In that same article he describes two dreams that encompass his journey back from addiction.
“I was fighting the devil, an awful-looking thing. I had a stick or a bat or something and every time I hit the devil, he’d fall and get back up. Over and over I hit him, until I was exhausted and he was still standing.
I woke up in a sweat, as if I’d been truly fighting and the terror that gripped me makes that dream feel real to this day. I’d been alone for so long, alone with the fears and emotions I worked so hard to kill. I’m not embarrassed to admit that after I woke up that night, I walked down the hall to my grandmother’s room and crawled under the covers with her. The devil stayed out of my dreams for seven months after that. I stayed clean and worked hard and tried to put my marriage and my life back together. I got word in June 2006 that I’d been reinstated by Major League Baseball and a few weeks afterward, the devil reappeared.
It was the same dream with an important difference. I would hit him and he would bounce back up, the ugliest and most hideous creature you could imagine. This devil seemed unbeatable; I couldn’t knock him out. But just when I felt like giving up, I felt a presence by my side. I turned my head and saw Jesus, battling alongside me. We kept fighting and I was filled with strength. The devil didn’t stand a chance.
You can doubt me, but I swear to you I dreamed it. When I woke up, I felt at peace. I wasn’t scared. To me, the lesson was obvious: Alone, I couldn’t win this battle. With Jesus, I couldn’t lose.”
His reinstatement was just the beginning of his remarkable comeback. In 2008 he was selected to his first All Star team, where he also participated in the Home Run Derby, setting an opening round record of 28 home runs and finishing with the second most home runs of all time in Derby history with 35.
His Home Run Derby explosion introduced Josh to the public in a big way furthering his comeback. He has been selected to the All Star team for three straight years (2009-2011). In 2010, he won several single season honors in the American League including the Batting Title, ALCS MVP and most impressively MVP of the entire American League. The man who almost lost his life and career to addiction has now become one of baseball’s biggest stars. In addition to his personal success, he has led the Texas Rangers, who had never won an American League pennant, to the past two American League pennants and World Series appearances (2010-2011). The comeback is still continuing with Josh and only in time will his full success be known.
8. Ulysses S. Grant
Grant was both a general and a president. He was an American hero in the truest sense of the word. Misunderstood by many people who don’t know his whole story, his life is a powerful example of a comeback. Grant was the son of a tanner in Ohio and was soft spoken and easily embarrassed. He went to West Point and entered into the Army as an officer. He served in the Mexican-American War and then was sent to the new Oregon territory out west. He did not like it, he did not like the climate and he did not like being separated from his wife and children.
In his depression, he drank too much and quit the Army. He gave up his officer commission and went back home. He tried his hand at a couple of different things. He failed at real estate and he failed at business. He was working in his family’s tannery and making very little money when the Civil War broke out. He was contacted by the Union Army since he was a West Point graduate and had combat experience in the Mexican War. He was asked to rejoin the Army and he did.
His comeback did not start out so great and he actually did not do very well in his first battle. But then he had a great victory at Fort Donaldson and then he won a big battle at Shiloh. That victory got the attention of President Lincoln. Lincoln kept going through generals trying to find somebody who actually would get the job done and he decided that Grant was someone who would actually fight. Grant kept getting promoted until he was the top general of all the Union forces. He won the Civil War not by fancy maneuvers or clever strategy but by confronting the Confederate army in the field and defeating it. The man with the rumpled uniform, unkempt beard and ever-present cigar accepted the surrender from General Lee of the Confederate forces at Appomattox.
Grant was then elected President of the United States. In fact he was re-elected, serving two terms as president. Though his two terms were riddled with political and financial scandals (none directly involving him) he managed to bring a calming influence to the country and bring peace between the North and South and between the US and the rest of the world.
The culmination of his comeback was the book he wrote after he left the Presidency. He wrote Memoirs about his life and it became the biggest selling book in American history, excluding the Bible. The shy boy from humble beginnings who failed at much in the early part of his life had an incredible comeback. He was the top general who lead the Union’s victory in the Civil War, he was elected president for two terms of the United States and he wrote the bestselling book of all time.