Stephen M. Silverman
June 23, 1998 12:00 AM

According to two sources, the widely reported sobriety of Robert Downey Jr. after his August release from prison was, for the most part, an act, PEOPLE reports in its new cover story. They claim he started using drugs at least six weeks before his Nov. 25 Palm Springs arrest — and perhaps even earlier. “He has been getting loaded on and off,” says someone who is close to Downey’s wife. Alan Nierob, the actor’s spokesman, says the allegations of Downey’s drug use are “not true.” But the person who is close to Downey’s estranged (since 1996) wife, Deborah Falconer, claims that two weeks before Downey’s arrest, and during a weekend visit with his son, Indio, the actor left the 7-year-old at his home with an assistant and darted off in the middle of the night to score drugs. Daniel Brookman, one of Downey’s attorneys, says, “There are aspects of his life which are and should remain private matters.” Now staying in his Hollywood home, Downey is due in court Dec. 27 and could eventually face more time behind bars, a fate that terrifies his loved ones. “He needs serious psychiatric help, not punishment,” his cousin Stacy Sheehan, 44, tells PEOPLE. “He is such a puppy, he breaks your heart. Everyone just wants to hug him or shake him or love him back to health.”

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