Actor, writer, producer, director and occasional cinematographer Robert Downey Sr. has died at the age of 85. Although arguably best known by modern movie fans as little more than Robert Downey Jr.’s father, the Iron Man star’s old man was a hugely talented and respected filmmaker in his own right, even if he hadn’t been active as an onscreen presence since playing a small role in Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy’s Tower Heist back in 2011.
It wasn’t until his seventh effort behind the camera that Downey Sr. gained mainstream recognition, with Putney Swope drawing widespread acclaim. The 1969 comedy was way ahead of its time in terms of both satire and sociopolitical commentary, following the only black man on the board of an Madison Avenue advertising firm who ends up being put in charge of the company. Such was the movie’s impact and influence in terms of addressing race, white privilege and corporate corruption, it was selected for the National Film Registry in 2016 for being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.
Downey Sr. also had a penchant for relying on his family to fill small roles in his various projects, with young Robert making his feature film debut as a 5 year-old in 1970’s Pound, an absurdist comedy where all of the animals are played by human actors. In total, he directed two documentaries, three short films, a made-for-TV movie, three episodes of The Twilight Zone, a single installment of miniseries Tales in the City and twelve features, the last of which came with 1997’s romantic comedy Hugo Pool.
A trailblazing satirist, Robert Downey Sr. influenced a generation of talents, with Paul Thomas Anderson in particular a noted fan, who homaged Putney Swope in Boogie Nights. He’ll be sorely missed by his friends, family and the film community.