Robert Downey Jr.'s Teary Victory Speech

robert downey jr
Downey last night. Photo: WireImage

Robert Downey Jr. has been having a hell of a week. Iron Man opened last Friday, and the 43-year-old unlikely action star's well-earned "victory lap" ended last night with a visit to the Time 100 gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center, where he was more than happy to gloat to the crowd. "I'm actually the only convicted felon in history — I’m not exactly sure, ask around, do a background check — who has rung the bell of the New York Stock Exchange within the last two weeks."

But the real reason he’d come that night, he told us later, was to honor his father, Robert Downey Sr. “When will I ever have the format to tell my dad that I’m grateful and he’s a hell of a guy and I’m living proof? It’s American-dream stuff for me, is the truth.” And though we’d already heard six speakers that night, including John McCain, Downey Jr.’s speech was the only one that truly moved us. So we transcribed the entire thing.

“I remember seeing Greenwich Village from seven feet up in the air growing up as a kid, because he’d have me on his shoulders and we’d be tripping around. And at a time before underground and independent film became a hot idea, then a dirty word, then a hot idea again as it is nowadays, my dad was making films that influenced a generation of filmmakers — films like Putney Swope. Here’s just one of the lines from it. [Sings] ‘I have a malignancy in my prostate / but when you’re in my arms, it’s benign.’

“Growing up in Downey Sr.’s house, the commodity was wit, the commodity was political commentary, the commodity was innovation, and that’s what I grew up feeling very inspired by. And I wound up getting recruited … I had the dubious honor — hey Lorne — of being on probably the worst season of Saturday Night Live. And I still had a great time and it was a great experience. Thanks for not kicking me off the show — I was up to some pretty nefarious acts in the dressing room. Unless I need mention the obvious, it was a period of time when being a Gen X guy … if I’m influencing anything, it’s about survival, surviving a time of that post-sixties, we-don’t-know-who-we-are-or-what-to-do. It was a time when being self-destructive seemed in. And we weren’t quite sure what we were rebelling against, but we took a pretty heavy fall and we lost a lot of people. So I remember when I was at my very lowest, my dad, who had put down all that dumb stuff twenty years before, said, ‘Hey kid, stick around. It’s not so bad. Just stay on the planet.’”

Jr. turned to his dad, but his voice cracked and he couldn’t quite get out his sentence. “And so tonight … [long pause] I just want to honor my dad for being every inch the man I remember him to be and thank him.”

The applause swelled. Not an eye in the house was dry. Then Jr. turned the mike over to Sr., who stared at him blankly and deadpanned: “I’m not your father.”

Downey Jr. stood there, mouth agape, for a moment, before crumpling over in laugher and hugging his dad. “You son of a bitch! You just let me get all fucking emotional?”

Later, as the crowd filtered away, we spotted Downey Sr. talking to Lorne Michaels.

Sr.: He’s the same character now, except he’s sober. I’m so happy for him. Because he was a dead man. Just shows you can never give up on anyone.
Michaels: He’s still around. That’s all that matters.
Sr.: I just wish Hillary Clinton was.

And with that, the son swept in with a big hug and vowed to take his father out on the town: “Come on, Dad. Let’s blow this Popsicle stand.” —Jada Yuan

See Chris Rock, Mariah Carey, John McCain, and others at our complete coverage of the Time 100 party.