Robert Downey Sr., director of the satirical protest classic Putney swope and actor Robert Downey Jr.’s father, passed away early today in his sleep at home in New York City. He was 85 years old.
His death was announced by his wife, author and hagiographer Rosemary Rogers, to the New York Daily News. Rogers told the publication that Downey Sr. has suffered from Parkinson’s disease for more than five years. Robert Downey Jr. confirmed the death on Instagram today, writing that his father was “a true maverick filmmaker ”who“ remained remarkably optimistic ”throughout the“ ravages of Parkinson’s disease ”.
Read Downey Jr.’s Instagram tribute here.
Born in New York City, Downey Sr. became a major force in the city’s underground film movement in the 1960s, writing and directing the 1961 fantasy short. The prom bluff in which a Civil War soldier wakes up to find himself in Central Park in the 20th century.
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Other quirky independent films followed, including 1964 Babou 73, years 1966 Scratched elbows and 1968 No more excuses.
But it was the years 1969 Putney swope who introduced the work of Downey Sr. to a wider audience. With Arnold Johnson as Swope, a black commercial who surprisingly and accidentally becomes the agency’s new chairman of the board. The satire touched the advertising industry, Madison Avenue culture, corporate America and racism, and would inspire generations of independent filmmakers with its irreverent, low-budget approach which included a controversial poster featuring this which appeared to be a lifted middle finger. and the slogan “Up Madison Ave”.
Putney swope was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” in 2016.
From there, Downey Sr. turned to bigger budget projects, including the 1972 Surrealist. Greaser’s Palace with Allan Arbus (MASH POTATOES*) as a Jesus-like figure in the American West.
The following credits would include the 1973 TV movie Sticks and bones, the characteristic Up to the Academy (1980) and episodes of television series including The twilight zone reboot and, in 2005, the feature documentary Rittenhouse Square located in Philadelphia Park.
Downey Sr. has also worked as an actor, appearing in To Live and Die in LA, 1st & Ten, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and in its final credit, 2011’s Tower robbery.
Filmmaker and first wife Elsie had two children: actress and screenwriter Allyson Downey (born 1963) and Robert Downey Jr. (born 1965). The couple divorced in 1982 and Downey Sr. married his second wife Laura Ernst in 1991. After her death, he married Rogers in 1998.
Downey’s two children appeared in Greaser’s Palace, and Downey Jr. starred in his father’s comedy in 1990 Too much sun, which also included Arbus, Eric Idle, Andrea Martin, Ralph Macchio and Howard Duff.