Iconic filmmaker and actor Robert Downey Sr. has died at the age of 85. Downey passed away early Wednesday morning in his sleep at his home in New York City following a more than five-year-long battle with Parkinson's disease. His wife confirmed his passing to the NY Daily News. Downey is the father of actor Robert Downey Jr. The Iron Man actor has not yet commented on his father's passing.
A leading figure in the 1950s and '60s independent cinema, Downey was born in Manhattan in 1936 as Robert Elias, Jr. ComicBook reports that he took on the last name of his stepfather, James Downey, in an effort to get into the military when he was underage. Although his efforts fell short, the name stuck, with Downey carrying the surname throughout his illustrious decades-long career.
A life-long New Yorker and the husband of bestselling author Rosemary Rogers, the filmmaker, actor, producer, and writer was known for creating micro-budget movies. He is perhaps best known as the director behind Putney Swope, the 1969 film about an advertising firm that inadvertently elects Putney Swope, the firm's only Black executive, as chairman. The film has been lauded as an "anti-establishment satire on the advertising world of Madison Avenue." While Downey would go on to work as the second unit director on Norman Lear's the Dick Van Dyke movie Cold Turkey in 1971, he did not enter mainstream cinema until 1972, when Greaser's Palace released. He also directed in the TV realm, with credits including three episodes of The Twilight Zone.
Along with directing, Downey also worked as a cinematographer, actor, and second unit director. He is well known for his appearances in movies Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and To Live and Die in LA. He starred in shows like Matlock and Tales of the City. His most recent acting credit was Tower Heist, the 2011 action-comedy also starring Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, and Casey Affleck. In 2015, he also had an uncredited appearance on Saturday Night Live as himself.
News of his passing led to an outpouring of tributes on social media, where journalist and filmmaker Bilge Ebiri remembered him as "a pioneering underground filmmaker, a true original, and a lovely man." One fan said Downey "was basically the world's greatest filmmaker. I value those movies as much as anything." Another person wrote, "even if he just did Putney Swope, he'd be one of the best of his era." Downey is survived by his wife and children, son Downey Jr. and daughter Allyson, both from his first marriage to Elsie Ann Downey.