Robert Downey Jr.’s Dad Lied About His Age to Join the Army

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Robert Downey Sr Jr
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man (Marvel) and Robert Downey Sr. (Instagram)

Decades before he became a movie superstar for playing “Iron Man,” 7-year-old Robert Downey Jr. made his film debut playing a puppy in his dad’s movie “Pound.”

Robert Downey Sr. was an actor and experimental filmmaker whose uncommercial movies made a bigger impact on film school students than they did in the commercial marketplace. Downey, 85, died from Parkinson’s disease on July 7, 2021.

His son paid tribute to his father on Instagram, writing: “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 2000 years. Rosemary Rogers-Downey, you are a saint, and our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Downey was born in 1936 as Robert John Elias Jr. in Rockville Centre, N.Y. As a teenager, he joined the Army and used his stepfather Jim Downey’s last name and lied about his age to enlist as an underage teenager.

Back in the days before computers took over the world, screening was obviously less stringent than what aspiring soldiers face today. Downey later claimed he spent most of his hitch in the stockade and used the time to write a novel.

He pitched in semi-pro baseball and tried his hand at playwriting. What Downey never did was get a college degree or attend film school. He just picked up a camera and started making movies.

The director made his mark in 1969 with “Putney Swope,” a brutal satire of the advertising industry in which a Black adman is accidentally elected chairman of his agency. The partners, prohibited by company rules for voting for themselves, all choose the one person they’re sure cannot win and chaos ensues. In 2016, the Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry, its collection of American movies with cultural or historical significance.

He followed it with “Pound,” an especially weird movie that featured actors playing stray dogs. He cast his young son Robert Jr. as a puppy who joins adult dogs in a cage at an animal shelter.

 

He’s definitely a cute kid, but there’s not much to suggest that he’ll grow up to be the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.

Dad eventually took a shot at mainstream success with “Up the Academy,” a raunchy Mad Magazine-produced comedy that aimed to be the “Animal House” of military school movies. Young Robert Jr. makes an uncredited appearance as a soccer player. Mad was not pleased with the result and did a takedown of the movie in its own magazine.

 

Downey Sr. took on acting roles later in life, appearing in director William Friedkin’s modern noir classic “To Live and Die in L.A.” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.”

While his son grew up to make some of the most polished movies of our time, Robert Downey Sr. made rambling, sometimes disorganized, low-budget films that reflected the anarchic spirit of their director. Not a bad career for a teen who lied his way into the Army.

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