Robert Downey Sr., Pioneering Underground Filmmaker And Father To Robert Downey Jr., Dead At 85

Celebrated filmmaker and actor Robert Downey Sr. has died at 85 years old.

According to The New York Daily News Downey, who has been battling Parkinson's disease, died early Wednesday morning. He passed away in his sleep, at his home in New York City.

Downey is best known as the director behind the iconic underground satire, Putney Swope, a much-celebrated anti-establishment film. Downey also worked as an actor, cinematographer, and screenwriter, in addition to working on television, including three episodes of The Twilight Zone. The famed director was father to Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. and actress Allyson Downey.

A Life and Legacy

A life-long New Yorker and husband of bestselling author Rosemary Rogers, Downey began work in the film industry as a cinematographer in the early 50's, before beginning to act and direct regularly. A pioneering underground filmmaker, he is well-known for minimal budget films with counterculture agendas.

His films like Chafed Elbows, a 1966 still-image film, used absurdist and manic humor to great effect. Releasing in 1969, Putney Swope satirized the advertising world of Madison Avenue, commenting on questions of corporate corruption and white power structures. The film followed a Black executive who upends the advertising industry after being accidentally placed in charge of a big firm. Putney Swope changed the tide for Downey and, as a mainstream release, exposed his work to a much wider audience. The film made New York Magazine's list of 10 top films of the year. The film is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and Tubi.

The following year, Downey gave his son and namesake Robert Downey Jr his very first acting credit as Puppy in the surreal drama Pound. The film centered around several dogs, a cat, and a penguin waiting to be euthanized.

Downey served as a second unit director on the 1971 Dick Van Dyke film Cold Turkey and his 1972 film Greaser's Palace presented at the Telluride Film Festival

His other films include Sticks and Bones, Up The Academy, Rented Lips, Too Much Sun, the documentary Rittenhouse Square, and more. As an actor, Downey appeared in TV shows like Matlock, Tales of the City, and the HBO sitcom 1st & Ten. Additionally, he made brief appearances in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia and Boogie Nights.

His final film appearance was in Bret Ratner's 2011 action caper, Tower Heist.

Reflecting on the loss of his father, Downey Jr. wrote on his Instagram:

Last night, dad passed peacefully in his sleep after years of enduring the ravages of Parkinson's ..he was a true maverick filmmaker and remained remarkably optimistic throughout.