Robert John Downey Sr. (born Robert Elias Jr. on June 24, 1936) is an American actor and filmmaker. The father of actor Robert Downey Jr., he is best known as an underground filmmaker of arthouse and avant-garde films, serving as director and/or writer of such cult classics as Putney Swope, a satire on the New York Madison Avenue advertising world. According to film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon, Downey's films during the 1960s were "strictly take-no-prisoners affairs, with minimal budgets and outrageous satire, effectively pushing forward the countercultural agenda of the day."

Early life

Downey was born in New York City, the son of Elizabeth (née McLauchlen), a model, and Robert Elias Sr., who worked in management of motels and restaurants.[15] His paternal grandparents were Lithuanian Jews, while his mother was of half Irish and half Hungarian Jewish ancestry.[16][6][7] Downey was born Robert Elias; but he changed his last name to Downey for his stepfather, James Downey, when he wanted to enlist in the United States Army but was underage at the time.[9]


Robert Downey Sr. initially made his mark creating basement budget, independent films aligning with the Absurdist movement, coming of age in counterculture anti-establishment 1960s America. His work in the late 1960s and 70s was quintessential anti-establishment, reflecting the nonconformity popularized by larger counterculture movements and given impetus by new freedoms in filmmaking, such as the breakdown of Codes on censorship. In keeping with the underground tradition, his 1960s films were independently made on shoestring budgets and were relatively obscure in the Absurdist movement, finding cult notoriety.

In 1961, working with the film editor Fred von Bernewitz, he began writing and directing low-budget 16mm films that gained an underground following, beginning with Ball's Bluff (1961), a fantasy short about a Civil War soldier who awakens in Central Park in 1961. He moved into big-budget filmmaking with the surrealistic Greaser's Palace (1972).[11] His most recent film was Rittenhouse Square (2005), a documentary capturing life in a Philadelphia park.[12]

Downey's films were often family affairs. His first wife, Elsie, appears in four of his movies (Chafed Elbows, Pound, Greaser's Palace, Moment to Moment), as well as co-writing one (Moment to Moment). Daughter Allyson and son Robert Jr. each made their film debuts in the 1970 absurdist comedy Pound at the ages of 7 and 5, respectively; Allyson would appear in one more film by her father, Up the Academy. Robert Jr.'s lengthy acting résumé includes appearances in eight films directed by his father (Pound, Greaser's Palace, Moment to Moment, Up the Academy, America, Rented Lips, Too Much Sun, Hugo Pool), as well as two acting appearances in movies where his father was also an actor (Johnny Be Good, Hail Caesar).

Personal life

Downey has been married three times. His first marriage was to actress Elsie Ann Downey (née Ford), with whom he had two children: actress-writer Allyson Downey and actor Robert Downey Jr. The marriage ended in divorce in 1978. His second marriage, to actress-writer Laura Ernst, ended with her 1994 death from Lou Gehrig's disease. In 1998 he married his third wife, Rosemary Rogers, author of Random House bestseller, Saints Preserve Us! and seven other books. They live in New York City.


1953The American RoadCinematographerShort film
1961Balls BluffCivil War Union soldierDirector, writer, and producerShort film
1964A Touch of GreatnessDirector, producer, and cinematographerDocumentary
1964Babo 73Director, writer, and producer
1965Sweet Smell of SexDirector, writer, and cinematographer
1966Chafed ElbowsDirector, writer, and producer
1966Literature Au-Go-GoCinematographer and editor
1968No More ExcusesPvt. Stewart ThompsonDirector, writer, and producer
1969Putney SwopeDirector and writerVoice, uncredited
1969Naughty NurseDesk ClerkShort film
1970PoundDirector and writer
1971You've Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You'll Lose That BeatHead of Ad Agency
1971Is There Sex After Death?HimselfMockumentary and mondo film
1971Cold TurkeySecond unit director
1972Greaser's PalaceDirector and writer
1973Sticks and BonesDirector and writerTelevision film
1975Moment to MomentDirector and writerRetitled Two Tons of
Turquoise to Taos Tonight
1980Up the AcademyDirector
1980The Gong Show MovieCo-writer
1985To Live and Die in L.A.Thomas Bateman
1985–86The Twilight ZoneMr. MillerDirectorDirected 3 episodes
acted in segment: "Wordplay"
1986AmericaDirector and co-writer
1986MatlockJudge Warren AndersonEpisode: "Judge Warren Anderson"
1988Rented LipsDirector
1988Moving TargetWeinbergTelevision film
1988Johnny Be GoodNCAA Investigator Floyd Gandolfini
1988–891st & TenMike McDonald / Reporter #4 /
Reporter / Sports Writer
4 episodes
1991Too Much SunDirector and co-writer
1993Tales of the CityEdgar's DoctorMiniseries; 1 episode
1994Hail CaesarButler
1996SunchaserTelephone voices
1997Hugo PoolDirector and co-writer
1997Boogie NightsBurt
1999MagnoliaWDKK Show Director
2000The Family ManMan in House
2004From Other WorldsBaker
2005Rittenhouse SquareDirectorDocumentary
2011Tower HeistJudge Ramos