Robert Downey Jr. played a superhero on screen for over a decade, but did you know that to one fan, he was also a superhero in real life. In a 2020 Reader’s Digest article, Dana Reinhardt recalled a story about how the actor, who was years away from becoming a global superstar with the Marvel movies, kicked into gear when he saw her grandmother had injured herself gravely. And he even made sure to be as charming as he could.
On Downey’s 57th birthday, here’s a throwback to that story. The incident happened in the early 90s, before Downey’s much-publicized brushes with the law. The actor famously overcame a drug addiction and was uninsurable for a while before he was hired to play Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The author of the article was attending a garden party for the ACLU of Southern California with her 80-year-old grandmother. She pointed Downey out to her, but the elderly lady had no idea who he was. After the event ended, the author and her grandmother got up to leave, but her grandmother tripped and fell, slashing her chin open. Blood was spurting everywhere. “I sat down and put my head between my knees because I thought I was going to faint…” the author wrote, adding, “Luckily, somebody did take control of the situation. That person was Robert Downey Jr.”
She added, “He took off his gorgeous linen jacket, he rolled up his sleeves, and he grabbed hold of my grandmother’s leg. Then he took the jacket, which I’d assumed he’d taken off only to get it out of the way, and he tied it around his wound. I watched the cream-colored linen turn scarlet with her blood. He told her not to worry and that everything would be all right.” The author recalled that Downey also made sure to flirt with her grandmother. “He held on to his calf, and he whistled. He told her how stunning her legs were,” she wrote, and later, “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.’”
The author admitted that she was too embarrassed to say anything to him in the moment. Years later, when she read about his imprisonment for drug possession, she thought about writing to him in prison and reminding him of the story. But she didn’t. And then, fate presented her with a third opportunity. Years after her grandmother had died and Downey had been released from prison, she saw him at a restaurant. “I said, ‘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.’”
Downey has now semi-retired from acting. His final appearance as Iron Man came in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the superhero blockbuster in which the character was killed off. He then attempted to start another franchise, Dolittle, but that didn’t take off. He will next be seen in a supporting role in director Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.