Why Was Robert Downey Jr. Arrested the First Time He Visited Disneyland?

Avengers: Endgame concluded with a reminder that Tony Stark really did have a heart. Robert Downey Jr.’s tenure with the Marvel Cinematic Universe concluded with a revelation at the D23 Disney fan convention that the newly named Disney Legend was kicked out of the happiest place on earth for smoking pot.

It was a lighthearted, amusing anecdote that was also a little ironic, given Downey’s troubled past with drugs. However, Downey’s sense of humor about the incident also shows just how far he has come. 

Did Downey see pink elephants at Disney? 

Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

When Downey accepted his award, he told the story of how Disneyland security frowned upon his inhaling of certain substances. 

“Here’s a bit of trivia for you. The very first time I went to Disneyland I was transported to another place — within moments of being arrested,” he said onstage. “I was brought to a surprisingly friendly processing center, given a strict warning, and returned to, if memory serves, one very disappointed group chaperone. I’ve been sitting on that shame for a while and I’m just going to release it here tonight.”

Downey did not specify what year this took place, but the Anaheim park used to crack down on hippies in the park, particularly after a subset of that group called yippies (for Youth International Party) descended on the park in April 1970. According to Los Angeles Magazine:

The group, numbering more than 300, had some unusual demands, including free admission, the “liberation” of Minnie Mouse, and a raise for Frontierland’s Native American dancers. 

Downey, however, was probably not part of this group, as he was about 5 at the time. Still, the event freaked out Disney’s security team,, still working in the shadow of Walt, who had only been deceased for a few years.

Even employees were not allowed to sport facial hair. The yippies ended up shutting down the entire park. One can only wonder how the Avengers would have responded back in the day.

Downey reflects on his legacy

Downey has a net worth of $300 million and a permanent foothold in Disney’s history, but that wasn’t true in the mid-2000s, when Downey was emerging from the shadow of a series of drug arrests for which he ended up serving time.

When director Jon Favreau suggested Downey for the part of Iron Man, he was taking a risk — but a risk that paid off in spades. 

In D23 magazine, as reported by Digital Spy, Downey also took time to single out his Endgame co-stars for praise, saying, “I really don’t need to look any farther than my co-stars. Mark Ruffalo is an activist, Chris Evans is a diehard American and proponent of true democracy,” he said. “I don’t really have the gumption, the skill set, the drive, or the humility either of those guys do.”

Downey may be putting the MCU in the rear-view mirror, but he’s looking back with fondness at his time there, calling it a “great gift” and saying that he’s looking forward to watching the MCU evolve as a fan.

What is a Disney Legend? 

The Disney Legend award is a hall of fame for the company that was created in 1987. The very first inductee was actor Fred MacMurray, whose films for the studio included The Absent-Minded Professor, The Shaggy Dog and The Happiest Millionaire.

It’s ironic that he’s remembered now for family comedies when he had played cads in classics like Double Indemnity and The Apartment. 

Inductees  this year also included Favreau, Bette Midler, Christina Aguilera, who got her start on the Mickey Mouse Club, Mulan voice Ming-Na Wen, Lion King star James Earl Jones and Lion King composer Hans Zimmer.

Other Disney Legends include Jim Henson, George Lucas, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Ub Iwerks, the animator who designed Mickey Mouse, Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald Duck, and Pinto Colvig, the  original Goofy, as well as Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.