Robert Downey Sr., iconic filmmaker of breakthrough anti-establishment classic films such as “Putney Swope” and “Greaser’s Palace,” is dead. He died early Wednesday morning in his sleep at his home in New York City, his wife told the Daily News.Robert Downey Sr.
Downey, who turned 85 last month and had been battling Parkinson’s disease, also had a turn as an actor appearing in the movies “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “To Live And Die in L.A.”
The filmmaker, actor, producer and writer was a life-long New Yorker and the husband of author and hagiographer Rosemary Rogers and father of actor Robert Downey Jr.
A heartbroken Robert Downey Jr. told The News, ” I will miss him forever.”Robert Downey Jr. and father Robert Downey Sr. (right) in 2008.
Rogers was at home with Downey Sr. when he died. He succumbed after suffering from Parkinson’s for more than five years. “Last night, dad passed peacefully in his sleep after years of enduring the ravages of Parkinson’s,” Downey Jr. wrote Wednesday in an Instagram tribute. “He was a true maverick filmmaker, and remained remarkably optimistic throughout.
“According to my stepmoms calculations, they were happily married for just over 2000 years,” the “Iron Man” actor continued. “Rosemary Rogers-Downey, you are a saint, and our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Rogers told The News, “Bob was a New Yorker through and through from Greenwich Village to Queens to Chelsea to Waterside Plaza, where he spent the last 23 years of his life.”
A life-long sports fan, when Downey was a teenage soldier in the army, he pitched against Yankee Yogi Berra, and later pitched in the Broadway Show League. He was also a New York Daily News Golden Gloves finalist, she said. When he and Rogers married, she told The News, he moved to Waterside Plaza, where he continued working in film but also made sure he took time to mentor budding filmmakers who were enthralled with the opportunity to actually learn at the master’s knee.
Noah Schwartz, 19, now a film major at SUNY Purchase, said, “Bob was a good, good friend of mine, a close friend, and he shared a lot of amazing stories with me and gave me so much guidance. It meant a lot to me as a young filmmaker. The bond of cinema and the love of making films really connected us. We were very close despite our age difference, film just transcends all sorts of ages.”
Downey Sr. achieved early success during a career that spanned more than five decades as a writer and director of independent films that offered commentary on the era and contributed to the counterculture movement. After garnering attention for works such as 1961′s “Balls Bluff” and 1964′s “Babo 73,” Downey’s profile ascended with the 1969 release of “Putney Swope,” a satirical take on the advertising industry of New York City.
“Putney Swope” proved to be a revelation with enduring impact, as the Library of Congress chose the movie for its National Film Registry in 2016. Three years later, Downey came out with “Greaser’s Palace,” a Western about a man capable of creating miracles such as bringing back the dead or helping sick people recover. Downey Jr. appeared in 1972′s “Greaser’s Palace” as a child, as did Downey Sr.’s daughter, Allyson, and first wife, Elsie Downey.
He also worked for Joseph Papp and the New York Public Theatre, directing David Rabe’s play “Sticks and Bones” for CBS. The 1971 saga about returning Vietnam vets outraged the network and advertisers pulled out prior to screening so it ran without commercials. But it resonated with Vietnam Vets who identified with the story of the yet-to-be-named PTSD.
He married Elsie in 1962. She proved to be his muse and starred in most of his work and they had two children together. The couple divorced in 1982 but remained lifelong friends. Downey married his second wife, Laura Ernst, in 1991, and remained with her until her death three years later. Downey and Rogers married in 1998. Downey continued to work into his later years, writing and directing the 1997 romantic comedy “Hugo Pool,” which starred Alyssa Milano and Patrick Dempsey, as well as his son.
His final directorial work came in 2005 with the documentary “Rittenhouse Square.” A regular on talk shows through the ’60s and 70′s, Downey made quite an impact with an appearance on Dick Cavett’s show wearing old jeans and a T-shirt. Explaining the look to Cavett, Downey explained, “I’m an absurdist, leave me alone.”