Another downward spiral was underway – and this one almost destroyed him. Today, Downey is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He finally demonstrated the courage and willpower to stay clean. But let’s not forget that until then, he had been indulged in his addictions by the studios, by the media that liked him and by the judicial system. The courts showed remarkable leniency toward his breaches of probation and – on three notorious occasions in 1998 – sprung Downey from prison so he could work on films, where he was treated like royalty and would buy lunch in Paramount’s VIP dining room for awed sheriff’s deputies accompanying him to the studio. All this was too much for The Los Angeles Times. In a blistering editorial, it charged that Downey was being indulged by the courts, cops and film industry. The message was clear: This was a pampered celebrity who received the kind of favoured treatment that would be denied people like you and me. The Times zeroed in on a further uncomfortable truth – that Hollywood continued to employ Downey while ignoring his drug problem. But not all of Hollywood: The producers of Ally McBeal finally fired him from the show for failing to clean up his act. A couple of minutes on the Internet will deliver seemingly endless lists of celebrities with drug histories. And yes, some manage to survive unscathed – Jack Nicholson, who has received a free ride from an uncritical media for years, being a prime example.

Discontent brewing under the Hollywood sign

Now, there are more than 40 tour companies running buses and vans in and out of the canyon. Then, there are the technological advances. Many tourists now use GPS devices on their cars and phones to map out the best views. And the directions send them not just down the main roads but into narrow residential canyons. Tourist websites also offer tips on prime locations. One even directed visitors to Deronda Drive, where “residents will have lemonade stands set up, offering the perfect thirst quencher after an exhilarating hike to the sign. They’re wonderful folks!” Residents say they are bothered by the traffic but are most concerned about safety issues because the curving hillside roads were not designed for so many cars and pedestrians. “We live in the middle of an area that is very attractive to people all over the globe,” said Fran Reichenbach, president of the Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Assn. “We knew that when we moved here, but in the last few years it’s really gotten out of hand.” In an effort to deal with the crowds over the summer, the city tested the use of road checkpoints where tourists were warned of parking restrictions in the area and directed to a vista point above the Hollywood Reservoir where they could see the fabled sign. It’s the latest of several tactics the city has tried, with decidedly mixed results. In 2011, the city began weighing tour buses as they entered Hollywoodland to strictly enforce the 6,000-pound vehicle limit on the small streets. Residents have even taken matters into their own hands, posting signs in the neighborhood stating “Warning Tourist-Free Zone All Tourists Leave the Area” and “Tourists Go Away.” At a forum two years ago, residents offered a number of ideas for easing the traffic, including erecting gates across some streets and even building an aerial tram connecting the nearby Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park to a ridge next to the Hollywood sign. Neither of those ideas went far. Now, residents are demanding that the city keep roads clear for emergency vehicles and that park rangers beef up patrols along the hiking trails leading up to the sign.

I took over the Dish column when Claudia Eller left to join the LA Times and most people never even knew I was dialing long distance. My wifes decision to stay put was brilliant. She is first generation Italian and has as close knit a family as I do. My kids grew up with all their cousins. I got to cover a great business while achieving any fathers dream. I watched my three children grow up and was there for every significant moment. I coached their soccer teams; I made every game, saw every dance recital, attended every school play, put money under the pillow for every lost tooth. I cant say how many times I would tell an agent or studio executive to hold on while I reeled in a fish on the boat. I always felt I was getting away with something. My oldest daughter is 23 and lives in Boston, my son is busy at college and my youngest is a self-sufficient high school junior consumed with her cross country time. It feels like a good time for a new adventure. All these years when I took week long LA trips by myself, Id pack in 30 meetings and go all hours, a pace I will do my best to replicate. More face time will do me good, as will the motivation to shed the 40 or so pounds Ive gained since I joined Deadline and started filing up to 15 stories per day.