Sad news to report, as Robert Downey Sr. died in his sleep at his NYC home after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease, according to his wife. He has left a legacy that spans many careers and helped lead the Absurdist movement, basement budget, independent films, coming of age in counterculture anti-establishment 1960s America.
His work in the late 1960s and 1970s was classic anti-establishment, echoing the nonconformity promoted by larger counterculture movements which led to new freedoms, including the breakdown of codes on censorship. His 1970s films were independently made on shoestring budgets and were relatively obscure in the Absurdist movement.
One of his first underground films, Ball’s Bluff, a fantasy short about a Civil War soldier who awakens in Central Park in 1961, put him on the map. He moved into big-budget filmmaking with the surrealistic Greaser’s Palace. His most recent film was Rittenhouse Square, a documentary capturing life in a Philadelphia park.
Downey often cast his family, including his first wife, Elsie, who appears in four of his movies (Chafed Elbows, Pound, Greaser’s Palace, and Moment to Moment), as well as co-writing one (Moment to Moment). Daughter Allyson and son Robert Jr. each made their film debuts in the 1970 absurdist comedy Pound at the ages of 7 and 5, respectively; Allyson would appear in one more film by her father, Up the Academy. Robert Jr.’s lengthy acting résumé includes appearances in eight films directed by his father (Pound, Greaser’s Palace, Moment to Moment, Up the Academy, America, Rented Lips, Too Much Sun, and Hugo Pool), as well as two acting appearances in movies where his father was also an actor (Johnny Be Good and Hail Caesar).
Robert Downey Sr. served in the army, played minor-league baseball, was a Golden Gloves champion and off-off Broadway playwright, all before he was 22 years old. He switched gears to filmmaking, and Downey Sr.’s films beginning in 1960s were “strictly take-no-prisoners affairs”, with minimal budgets and outrageous satire, effectively pushing forward the countercultural agenda of the day.
He is best known for his acting appearances in movies Boogie Nights, Magnolia and To Live and Die in LA. Of course, he is also best known for being the father of perennial fan favorite actor Robert Downey Jr. Both have had their ups and downs in Hollywood, but have treaded water in the down times to rise again.
Speaking of the pairs’ struggles with drugs, Sr. had this to say.
“Ten years of cocaine around the clock. I didn’t beat it until ’81, until my late wife gave me an ultimatum. I officially quit in front of my son. He keeps reminding me about it. I tell him, ‘If it made such an impression on you, then why can’t you do the same thing?'”
The most recent film he worked on was the action comedy Tower Heist which also starred Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick and Casey Affleck. As director, his final projects were Hugo Pool, a romance starring his his son RDJ, Sean Penn, Patrick Dempsey and Alyssa Milano, and the 2005 documentary Rittenhouse Square,that is described as an impressionistic, music-filled documentary about a small Philadelphia park – “the spot” – where people go to meet friends, find romance, muse about life and enjoy the beauty of nature and the opposite sex.
Robert Downey Jr. has not yet commented publicly on the death of his father. This news was first reported at TMZ.
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