Robert Downey Jr. is a real-life superhero

I’ve been procrastinating on my Iron Man 3 review for the better part of an entire weekend, but before I get to that, here’s a Robert Downey Jr. story that I just had to share. The running joke around these parts is that Robert Downey Jr. has been staying in character as Tony Stark for the better part of a decade. But it turns out, it goes back even further than that, at least according to writer Dana Reinhardt, who relates the story of attending an ACLU event in the early nineties that was also attended by a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. (I mean obviously it was pre-Iron Man, unless RDJ has a time machine, which I wouldn’t put past him).

The story is old, but it was brought to my attention today by LettersofNote, and I hadn’t heard it before. Even if I had, it’d still be worth a repost. This excerpt picks up after Reinhardt talks about accompanying her grandmother to the event, and pointing out Robert Downey Jr. to her, about whom she didn’t seem to care.

We made our way to our folding chairs in the garden with our paper plates and cubed cheeses and we watched my stepmother give one of her eloquent speeches and a plea for donations, and there must have been a few other people who spoke but I can’t remember who, and then Ron Kovic [wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet and the subject of Born on the 4th of July] took the podium, and he was mesmerizing, and when it was all over we stood up to leave, and my grandmother tripped.

We’d been sitting in the front row (nepotism has its privileges) and when she tripped she fell smack into the wheelchair ramp that provided Ron Kovic with access to the stage. I didn’t know that wheelchair ramps have sharp edges, but they do, at least this one did, and it sliced her shin right open.

The volume of blood was staggering.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I raced into action; that I quickly took control of the situation, tending to my grandmother and calling for the ambulance that was so obviously needed, but I didn’t. I sat down and put my head between my knees because I thought I was going to faint. Did I mention the blood?

Luckily, somebody did take control of the situation, and that person was Robert Downey Jr.

He ordered someone to call an ambulance. Another to bring a glass of water. Another to fetch a blanket. He took off his gorgeous linen jacket and he rolled up his sleeves and he grabbed hold of my grandmother’s leg, and then he took that jacket that I’d assumed he’d taken off only to it keep out of the way, and he tied it around her wound. I watched the cream colored linen turn scarlet with her blood.

He told her not to worry. He told her it would be alright. He knew, instinctively, how to speak to her, how to distract her, how to play to her vanity. He held onto her calf and he whistled. He told her how stunning her legs were.

She said to him, to my humiliation: “My granddaughter tells me you’re a famous actor but I’ve never heard of you.”

He stayed with her until the ambulance came and then he walked alongside the stretcher holding her hand and telling her she was breaking his heart by leaving the party so early, just as they were getting to know each other. He waved to her as they closed the doors. “Don’t forget to call me, Silvia,” he said. “We’ll do lunch.”

Some fifteen years after that garden party, ten years after my grandmother had died and five since he’d been released from prison, I saw him in a restaurant.

I grew up in Los Angeles where celebrity sightings are commonplace and where I was raised to respect people’s privacy and never bother someone while they’re out having a meal, but on this day I decided to abandon the code of the native Angeleno, and my own shyness, and I approached his table.

I said to him, “I don’t have any idea if you remember this…” and I told him the story.

He remembered.

“I just wanted to thank you,” I said. “And I wanted to tell you that it was simply the kindest act I’ve ever witnessed.”

He stood up and he took both of my hands in his and he looked into my eyes and he said, “You have absolutely no idea how much I needed to hear that today.” [original story here, Google-Cached version here]

Aw, geez, is it dusty in here? Heroism, redemption, a departed loved one, garden parties, a handsome movie star using his expensive suit as a tourniquet – this story really has everything. And if there’s one takeaway here, it’s this: you will never, ever be as cool as Robert Downey Jr.

Robert & Susan Downey photo credit: Featureflash /