Film-maker behind 1969’s Putney Swope and father to Robert Downey Jr was known for his anti-establishment films
Robert Downey Sr in 2016. His son hailed him as a ‘true maverick film-maker’. Photograph: Startraks/Rex/Shutterstock
The Guardian-Benjamin Lee
Robert Downey Sr, the director best known for 1969 satire Putney Swope, has died at the age of 85.
The film-maker had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for more than five years and died in his sleep at home in New York.
His son, actor Robert Downey Jr, paid tribute to him on 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. According to my stepmoms calculations, they were happily married for just over 2,000 years,” he wrote.
Downey Sr’s most celebrated work was the 1969 film Putney Swope, which starred Arnold Johnson as the only black man on the executive board of an advertising firm who is accidentally put in charge. It was praised for its progressive satire on race in America and corporate culture.
Paul Thomas Anderson and Jim Jarmusch have cited the film as a major inspiration and in 2016, it was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
His other films included 1970’s Pound which saw humans playing dogs waiting to be euthanised and includes his son’s first ever acting role, 1972’s western Greaser’s Palace which Time called “the most adventurous American movie so far this year” and 1980’s Up the Academy. He also directed episodes of The Twilight Zone.
“It was just fun,” Downey Sr said of his early film-making days in a 2016 interview. “We had no money. My wife would get a check from doing a commercial, and I’d grab it before she even saw it. Later, I’d pay it back. Nobody ever made a dime on these things.”
Downey Sr also appeared as an actor in small roles in Boogie Nights, The Family Man and Tower Heist.
He is survived by children Allyson Downey and Robert Downey Jr and wife Rosemary Rogers.