Robert Downey Jr. Pays Tribute to His Mother

Posted on October 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm

In a sad case of life imitating art, Robert Downey, Jr., lost his mother just before the release of “The Judge,” in which he plays a brash lawyer who must return home for his mother’s funeral.  Downey’s tribute to his mother is heartfelt, devoted, honest, and deeply touching.

As promotion for “The Judge” kicks off this weekend, I feel the need to run the risk of over sharing…..

My mom passed away early this week….I wanna say something about her life, and a generic “obit” won’t suffice…

Elsie Ann Ford was born outside Pittsburgh in April of 1934, daughter of an engineer who worked on the Panama Canal, and mother who ran a jewelry shop in Huntingdon, where they settled….a bona fide “Daughter Of The American Revolution.”

In the mid ’50s, she dropped out of college and headed to NY, with dreams of becoming a comedienne. In ’62, she met my dad, (who proposed at a Yankees/Orioles game). They married, had my sister Allyson in ’63 and me in ’65…

There was another “revolution” of sorts going on at that time, of underground counter-culture film and theatre…and with her as Bob Sr’s muse, they jumped in wholeheartedly…

“Chafed Elbows” (a man marries his mother and goes on welfare), “Greaser’s Palace” (a woman relentlessly persecuted by God who never utters a word), and “Moment To Moment” AKA “Two Tons Of Turquoise To Taos Tonight” (in which she played 17 characters) were the stand outs.

By the mid ’70s, the downside of drug culture caught up with many artists. She was an alcoholic…

As the marriage suffered, she continued to work, but not for long. A recurring role on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” (’76-’77) was her last paying job…not that she cared, she’d have done it for free.

I remember living with her and her boyfriend Jonas, (who became a second father to me) in a 2 room 5 story walk up in Manhattan after that…Bunsen burner for a stove, cockroaches, broken dreams…

By 1990, she’d had enough, went to treatment, got sober. Just in time to enjoy several decades of heart disease, bypasses, you name it….

While I strived to have the kind of success that eluded her, my own addiction repeatedly forbade it.

In the summer of 2004, I was in bad shape. She called me out of the blue, and I admitted everything. I don’t remember what she said, but I haven’t drank or used since.

Eventually, when finances allowed, we were able to move her out to LA. She had a special affinity for my firstborn son Indio, and really got a kick out of Exton. Got an iPad, pictures, videos, the whole 9….

Her doctors basically titled her a “Medical Incredible,” said there was little they could do, and were frankly amazed she was up and walking….

Many fond memories of her in the last few years…holidays, kid-stuff, her strutting around with a walking stick. I knew it was difficult, and understood as the visits got shorter.

In March, she suffered another cardiac arrest and was put on life support.

Her wishes were to be left to die if there wasn’t a reasonable chance of recovery, which for some time there was.

I returned from filming the “Avengers” sequel in June, went straight to see her.

To my amazement, she was completely lucid, interactive, mugging + pulling faces.

We couldn’t speak ’cause she had a tracheal tube. I wondered if she might just beat the odds once more.

Another set of seizures answered that, and we brought her home for hospice.

She died @ 11 p.m., September 22nd, survived by her extremely loving and tolerant partner of 37 years, Jonas Kerr.

She was my role model as an actor, and as a woman who got sober and stayed that way.

She was also reclusive, self-deprecating, a stoic Scotch-German rural Pennsylvanian, a ball buster, stubborn, and happy to hold a grudge.

My ambition, tenacity, loyalty, “moods,” grandiosity, occasional passive aggression, and my faith….

That’s all her…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If anyone out there has a mother, and she’s not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway…

Elsie Ann Downey. 1934-2014

Here you see Robert Downey Jr and his mother (and sister) in clips from a film directed by Robert Downey, Sr., a pioneer of experimental and independent film in the 1960’s.

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