08/05/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT
In 1999, when he was sentenced by a judge to three years in prison for drug-related offenses, Robert Downey Jr. explained his addiction: "It's like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I've got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gunmetal." On July 19 he revised the metaphor. Now, "it's like I lost my gun license," Downey said with a laugh, "and I'm glad."
The troubled actor-who was released from jail two years ago only to be re-arrested three months later-was in court again but under happily different circumstances. Riverside County (Calif.) Superior Court Judge Randall D. White ended Downey's three-year probation after the actor had successfully completed 12 months of treatment in a live-in rehab center.
A jubilant Downey, 37-who pleaded no contest last July to cocaine possession and being under the influence of drugs-told the court that he not only earned this reprieve, "but I will continue to earn it." He added, "It's going to be a long time before I can ever say, 'I'm well on the road to recovery.' But this past year...there has been progress."
Both personal and professional. In between repairing his relationship with son Indio, 8 ("It's been intensely difficult, but it seems to be getting easier"), Downey has appeared in the video for Elton John's single "I Want Love"; shot an ad campaign for Skechers shoes; and wrapped filming on his first feature in two years, a drama called The Singing Detective. "Downey was fabulous," costar and producer Mel Gibson said recently. "He's killer." Judge White's ruling will only help. Asked outside court if he had any other projects in the works, Downey smiled. "Maybe now."