What Happened to Eric Roberts?

We take a deep dive into the career of Eric Roberts, who boasts one of the most jampacked list of credits on the IMDB ever seen, with over 700 movie and tv appearences.

Eric Roberts is one of the most prolific actors of all time. With over 700 credits on the IMDB to his name, Roberts has had a long and varied career. While one could argue that he hit his career pinnacle in the eighties when he earned an Academy Award nomination for Runaway Train (and richly deserved one for Star 80) and appeared in the cult hit Best of the Best (and its sequel) he’s kept plugging away and is an icon in his own right.

Eric Roberts was born on April 18, 1956, in Biloxi, Mississippi, to Betty Lou Bredemus and Walter Grady Roberts. His family soon moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he grew up in a creative household with his younger sister Julia Roberts (yes, THE Julia Roberts). Their parents ran a children’s acting school, and Eric began performing at a young age, appearing in local productions and television shows.

However, his parents’ marriage ended in divorce in 1972, and Eric chose to live with his father, Walter, while his sister, Julia, remained with their mother, Betty. Eric’s father passed away in 1977, but Eric’s passion for acting only intensified. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. After honing his craft, Roberts began landing small roles on stage and screen. He made his national television debut in 1974 with a role in the soap opera How to Survive a Marriage in 1974. Though he’s said he was “the worst soap opera actor ever”, another early role of his was as Ted Bancroft in the soap opera Another World in 1977. Despite his hundreds of credits over five decades and appearances in major blockbusters, many know him first as a soap opera actor.

runaway train eric roberts

Eric Roberts’ star potential was seen early on, and he made his film debut as the lead Dave Stepanowicz in 1978’s King of the Gypsies. In the film, Dave faces immense pressure from his grandfather Zharko, played by Sterling Hayden, to take up the mantle as leader of their cultural group and criminal enterprise. This puts Dave at odds with his father Groffo, portrayed by Judd Hirsch, who would be overlooked in the ascension. Roberts’ performance in this poignant story about identity, tradition, and family was well-received by critics and earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Acting Debut.

In the 1980 television movie Paul’s Case, an adaptation of Willa Cather’s short story of the same name, Eric Roberts played the lead role of Paul Cromwell, a sensitive and troubled teenager who feels suffocated by his middle-class life and struggles with his own identity. The movie and Roberts’ performance thoughtfully captures an inner turmoil that ultimately results in the character facing an inescapable decision.

Roberts continued to showcase his emotional range as the love interest opposite Sissy Spacek in Raggedy Man in 1981. His character is one of the key figures that gives Spacek’s Nita the courage to start her life again. It wasn’t too long after that Eric Roberts found himself needing to start his own life over. 

Those movie sets from early in his career were practically awash with the smell of marijuana and caked in cocaine, and he was pressured to partake by his fellow actors. In June of 1981, Eric Roberts was in a car accident while high on cocaine that nearly took his life. He suffered serious injury, notably neurological, which left him in a coma for 3 days and necessitated speech therapy, to his face, which required restorative surgery, and to his hip, which forced him to sometimes walk with a cane and have surgeries throughout his life. Though he would recover, his addiction colored his personal and professional relationships, and his never ascending to true A-list status has often been attributed to these struggles, despite his prototypical look and enviable talent.

Career peak and an Oscar nomination

Eric Roberts was able to channel some of those inner demons into a chilling portrayal of a real-life murder in Star 80 in 1983. This wasn’t nearly the last time one of the most likeable figures in Hollywood portrayed a manipulative psychopath, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable. In 1984’s The Pope of Greenwich Village, Roberts delivered a standout performance as Paulie alongside Mickey Rourke. He took personal liberties with the character that turned into an “It’s him or me” with the original director. In case it isn’t obvious who the studio sided with, Stuart Rosenberg was not the original director.

The Coca-Cola Kid from 1985 offers lighter fare than Eric Roberts’ other works from this era. In this quirky comedy, Roberts plays Becker, a charming but eccentric market research consultant, with his signature energy and charm. The film’s offbeat humor and Australian setting make it a refreshing departure from Roberts’ more intense roles, showcasing his versatility as an actor. With its lighthearted tone and humorous performances, The Coca-Cola Kid is a fun and entertaining contrast to Roberts’ darker projects.

His next film, Runaway Train, just may be Eric Roberts’ signature performance from this stage of his career. His role as escaped convict Buck in the high-octane, action-packed thriller earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. While he may not be an A-list superstar in the West, this movie earned Roberts superstar status in Russia, due to the film being helmed by Andrey Konchalovskiy, who you may also know from his collabs with fellow Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. To this day, Eric Roberts can’t walk a Russian city street without being swarmed by fans. I don’t think anyone would say Runaway Train isn’t Jon Voight’s movie, but they might say that Roberts suits his own role better.

Best of the Best 2

Cult films and action roles

As Eric Roberts navigated the labyrinth of Hollywood in the late 1980s, his career was marked by a series of roles that showcased his remarkable versatility and resilience. In 1986, he appeared in Slow Burn and Nobody’s Fool, films that allowed him to delve into complex characters and further hone his craft. The following year, in 1987, he played Alex McSween in The Equalizer, a role that resonated with the show’s large fan base, and starred in Best of the Best as Alex Grady, a performance that highlighted his ability to embody the spirit of martial arts and personal triumph.

The late 1980s and early 1990s brought more opportunities for Roberts to shine. In 1989, he shared the screen with his sister Julia in Blood Red, though they never actually appeared on screen together, and delivered a thrilling performance as Josh Baker in The Ambulance in 1990. He also appeared in the TV movie Memphis as Jake, showcasing his adaptability to various storytelling mediums. In 1992, he delivered a standout performance as Dr. Neil Clark in the psychological thriller Final Analysis and played Jeff Stevens in the TV movie Fools Rush In, further cementing his status as a versatile actor.

Roberts’ career trajectory in the mid-1990s was as varied as it was prolific. In 1994, he joined the cast of The Specialist, and in 1996, he delivered a critically acclaimed and emotionally charged performance as Nick Stark in It’s My Party. The same year, he made a cameo appearance as himself in The Cable Guy, adding a touch of self-referential humor to his body of work. In 1998, he showcased his ability to navigate the realms of the supernatural with ease as Michael in The Prophecy II and starred in the TV movie The Shadow Men as Bob Wilson, continuing to choose roles that challenged him and captivated audiences.

TV roles and small parts in big movies

As the new millennium unfolded in 2000, Roberts’ presence on both the small and big screens remained strong. In 2002, he joined the cast of Less than Perfect as Will Butler, and in 2003, he appeared in National Security as Nash. In 2004, he showcased his comedic talents in Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls as Captain Maximus Powers, a parody film that allowed him to explore a lighter side of acting. His critically acclaimed performance as Antonio in the indie drama A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints in 2006 demonstrated his range and contributed to the film’s success.

The late 2000s and early 2010s were a testament to Roberts’ enduring appeal and talent. In 2007, his role as Thompson in the popular TV series Heroes resonated with fans, cementing the show as a cult classic. In 2008, he delivered a critically acclaimed performance as Salvatore Maroni in the iconic The Dark Knight. Although his role was small, with limited screen time, Roberts made a significant impact on the movie’s narrative. His portrayal of Maroni, a ruthless and cunning mafia boss, added depth and complexity to the film’s criminal underworld. His character’s interactions with the Joker (Heath Ledger) were particularly memorable, showcasing Roberts’ ability to hold his own against one of the most iconic movie villains of all time

In 2010, he appeared in the action-packed blockbuster The Expendables as James Munroe, sharing the screen with a star-studded cast, and showcased his vulnerability and commitment to recovery on Celebrity Rehab. He had given up cocaine and alcohol by 1995 but appeared on the show for help with his reliance on marijuana and to raise awareness. He was warned against doing it, but producers, casting directors, and casting agents have told Roberts’ wife and ofttimes agent Eliza, who has been instrumental in his recovery, that rather than avoiding celebrities who’ve publicly gone through rehab, they seek them out for showcasing their vulnerability and for their persistence and commitment.

eric roberts the dark knight

Roberts continued to take on a variety of roles throughout the 2010s, from television roles in The Finder and Bullet in the Face to films like Silver Case. In 2013, he returned to soap operas with The Young and the Restless and appeared in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and the film Lovelace. His role as Charles Forstman in the legal drama Suits in 2014 and his appearance in Inherent Vice added to his impressive list of credits. In 2015, he ventured into horror with The Human Centipede III and made a memorable appearance in Rihanna’s music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money.” Originally cast as the husband character, Roberts was deemed “too fine” by Rihanna to kill, and the role was adjusted accordingly – a compliment Roberts likely didn’t need but appreciated, nonetheless.

In recent years, Roberts has continued to appear in various projects, including the popular medical drama Grey’s Anatomy in 2017 as Robert Avery, La Reina del Sur in 2019 as Erick Sheldon, and the critically acclaimed short film The Rocket in 2020 as Jack. He joined the cast of The Righteous Gemstones in 2022 as Junior Marsh, which he has called his favorite set to work on, and appeared in Babylon as Robert Roy. I wonder if he had more lines than Margot Robbie. His recent work includes the TV series Juzni vetar: Na granici in 2023 and the film Amityville Bigfoot in 2024, adding his unique flair to the legendary creature’s lore. Adding Bigfoot to anything makes it better.

Memoirs and his famous sister and daughter

2024 will see the release of the Eric Roberts autobiography Runaway Train: The Story of My Life So Far. The “So Far” is apt and poignant, as with over 80 upcoming credits in various stages of production, Eric Roberts isn’t likely to slow down, anytime soon. If you asked him why he’s so prolific, would tell you he loves the craft and the human connection. And you’d be inclined to believe him, and not just because he’s so charming, he could sell ice to a penguin or convince Yoda to speak in coherent sentences. With over 800 credits to his name, it’s obvious he walks the walk. But with him, it’s more like he runs the run, often appearing on multiple sets within the same week or even the same day. It’s not a big stretch to assume his frenetic acting pace may also serve to distract his mind from some of the difficulties of his past and from temptations to return to relying on substance use, as this is a common pattern for former addicts, though I think the saying goes that there’s no such thing as a “former” addict.

His relationship with his sister Julia, while at times estranged, has more recently been reinvigorated, and their families spend many holidays together. This isn’t his only famous familial connection, as he is a distant cousin to Edward Norton, and his daughter is scream queen Emma Roberts. At his core, Eric is a down-to-earth guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. With an infectious charisma and realness that makes you feel like you’ve known him forever, Eric has an incredible ability to connect with people from all walks of life. It makes him impossible not to like, even when he’s playing one of his many roles over the years as a character who is super shitty. Roberts has navigated the ups and downs of Hollywood with the same determination and defiance of convention that he brought to his role as Buck McGeehy. His journey is not just a series of stops along the way, but a continuous evolution of an artist committed to his craft. So despite his past struggles, there’s no need to worry WTF happened to Eric Roberts, because he’s perhaps the best he’s ever been, at least so far.

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