All About Robert Downey Jr.'s Late Mom, Elsie Ford

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Robert Downey Jr.'s mom, Elsie Ann Ford, was an actress best known for her role in the 1976 comedy series 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman'

<p>Jim Ruymen/UPI/Shutterstock</p> Robert Downey Jr. hugs his mother Elsie while being honored during a hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman

Jim Ruymen/UPI/Shutterstock

Robert Downey Jr. hugs his mother Elsie while being honored during a hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on December 7, 2009.

Robert Downey Jr. has been very public about the influence his father, Robert Downey Sr., had on him. But his mother, Elsie Ford, had just as big of an impact.

"She was my role model as an actor and as a woman who got sober and stayed that way," Downey Jr. wrote in a 2014 Facebook post, per Vanity Fair. "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."

Ford grew up in a suburb outside of Pittsburgh, where she remained until deciding to drop out of college and pursue her dreams of being a comedian. Those dreams took her to New York, where she met Downey Sr., an independent filmmaker known for his absurdist and satirical underground movies.

They married in 1962 and welcomed two kids soon after. Allyson Downey was born in 1963, and Downey Jr. was born in 1965. The couple were married for over a decade before divorcing in 1975. After years of battling an alcohol addiction, Ford got sober in 1990 and eventually inspired her son to do the same. She later struggled with bouts of heart problems up until her death in 2014.

So, who is Robert Downey Jr.'s late mom? Here's everything to know about Elsie Ford and her relationship with the actor.

She grew up in Pittsburgh

Courtesy of Netflix Sr. (L to R) Robert Downey Sr. and Elsie Downey in 'Sr'.
Courtesy of Netflix Sr. (L to R) Robert Downey Sr. and Elsie Downey in 'Sr'.

Ford was born in April 1934 outside of Pittsburgh. According to Downey Jr.'s Facebook tribute, her father was an engineer who worked on the Panama Canal and her mother ran a local jewelry shop.

The family settled in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a small borough that sits alongside the Juniata River. Ford stuck around her hometown for a bit to attend college, but she dropped out in the mid-1950s to pursue an acting career.

Downey Sr. proposed to her at a baseball game

Larry Busacca/WireImage Director Robert Downey Sr. and actor Robert Downey Jr. attend Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center on May 8, 2008 in New York City.
Larry Busacca/WireImage Director Robert Downey Sr. and actor Robert Downey Jr. attend Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center on May 8, 2008 in New York City.

After spending some time in the Big Apple, Ford met Downey Sr. in 1962. They had a whirlwind romance and he proposed soon after at a Yankees and Orioles baseball game. The couple then got married that same year.

Downey Jr. wrote on Facebook that his parents were both drawn to the underground counterculture film revolution that was happening at the time. He described Ford as "Bob Sr's muse" and said that the couple dove headfirst together into the world of independent filmmaking.

She starred in several of her husband's films

Ford starred in many of Downey Sr.'s films, including Chafed Elbows, Greaser's Palace and Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight, in which she played not one, but 17 different characters.

In Downey Jr.'s Netflix documentary about his late father, titled Sr., the actor said that he learned everything he knew about acting from watching his mom.

"Seeing her being directed by Dad, she was wildly devoted to whatever creative stream of silliness he was onto," Downey Jr. said in the film. "She had no problem doing something that’s exacting.”

But Ford's most notable (and last) role took place when she played Muriel Haggers in the 1976 comedy Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

She had two kids

<p>Jim Spellman/WireImage</p> Allyson Downey and Robert Downey Jr.

Jim Spellman/WireImage

Allyson Downey and Robert Downey Jr.

Soon after Downey Sr. and Ford got married, they welcomed their first child, Allyson, in 1963. Their firstborn briefly followed her parents' footsteps into the entertainment industry and appeared in a few films like Funny Valentine and 1999.

Two years later, Downey Sr. and Ford had their son, Downey Jr., who would go on to become a  Hollywood actor. During his early years, he appeared in his dad's American Western film Greaser's Palaces with his mom.

Greaser’s I had a lot of pride in,” Downey Jr. said in the documentary Sr. “I was old enough to know I was in it.”

She got sober in 1990 — and then helped Downey Jr. do the same

Downey Jr. wrote in his Facebook tribute that, like many artists in the 1970s, the culture of drugs and drinking eventually caught up with his mom. Ford struggled with alcoholism for years until she decided to get sober in 1990.

When he started having his own issues with addiction in 2004, Downey Jr.'s mom helped him find his way to recovery.

"I was in bad shape," the actor wrote. "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."

She questioned some of Downey Jr.'s career choices

<p>Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty</p> Robert Downey Jr. attends the premiere of Columbia Pictures' "Spider-Man: Homecoming" on June 28, 2017 in Hollywood, California.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Robert Downey Jr. attends the premiere of Columbia Pictures' "Spider-Man: Homecoming" on June 28, 2017 in Hollywood, California.

Like most moms, Ford wasn't afraid to give her son some tough love and share her honest opinions.

During a 2020 interview on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Downey Jr. talked about how his mother voiced her concern over his role in Tropic Thunder — where he played a method actor who surgically darkens his skin for a war movie.

"My mother was horrified,” he said. "'Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, me too, mom.' ”

Ultimately, Downey Jr. said he stands by his decision to do the movie because he believes Tropic Thunder was "about how wrong [blackface] is."

She has three grandkids

E. Charbonneau/WireImage Robert Downey Jr. and son Indio during Los Angeles Premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "The Shaggy Dog" at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States
E. Charbonneau/WireImage Robert Downey Jr. and son Indio during Los Angeles Premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "The Shaggy Dog" at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States

Ford was a grandmother to Downey Jr.'s three children: Avri Roel, Exton Elias and Indio Falconer.

The actor welcomed Indio in 1993 with his then-wife, Deborah Falconer. He shares Exton and Avri with his wife, Susan Downey.

Downey Jr. wrote in his 2014 Facebook post that when he was able to move Ford out to Los Angeles, she really enjoyed spending time with her grandkids.

"She had a special affinity for my firstborn son Indio and really got a kick out of Exton," he wrote. "Got an iPad, pictures, videos, the whole 9."

Related: Robert Downey Jr.'s 3 Kids: All About Indio, Exton and Avri

Her doctors nicknamed her "medical incredible"

<p>Ima Kuroda/HNW-Photo/Plux/Shutterstock </p> Elsie Ford at Robert Downey Jr.'s Hand and Foot Ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on December 7, 2009.

Ima Kuroda/HNW-Photo/Plux/Shutterstock

Elsie Ford at Robert Downey Jr.'s Hand and Foot Ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on December 7, 2009.

Soon after she got sober, Downey Jr. wrote on social media that his mom dealt with several decades of heart disease and bypasses. Ford impressed her doctors so much that they gave her a nickname.

"Her doctors basically titled her a 'Medical Incredible,' said there was little they could do, and were frankly amazed she was up and walking," Downey Jr. said. "Even after she suffered a cardiac arrest that put her on life support, she was still lucid and making funny faces.”

Despite her seemingly indestructible spirit, another set of seizures led to Ford being brought home for hospice. She died on Sept. 22, 2014.

"If anyone out there has a mother, and she's not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway," the actor wrote after announcing her death.

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