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Robert Downey Jr. Awarded with Disney's Highest Honor at D23 Expo 2019

The actor was honored for his contributions to Disney as Marvel superhero Tony Stark

Kaitlin Thomas

As Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. stopped Thanos and saved the world in the process. For this and his many, many contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he was honored as a Disney Legend on Friday during D23 Expo 2019.

The Disney Legends Award is the highest honor Disney can bestow. A celebration of achievement, it honors the remarkable men and women who have made a lasting mark on the company and its creative legacy. Downey helped launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, when he first appeared as billionaire Tony Stark inIron Man. At the time, the movie, which was directed by fellow newly minted Disney Legend Jon Favreau, was considered a big risk, as there was no guarantee that audiences would turn up, let alone continue to show up for a series of interconnected superhero films for the next decade-plus.

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Eleven years and 23 films later, Downey's influence on Disney and its Marvel Studios properties cannot be overstated. He was the backbone of the MCU, both onscreen and off, having appeared in 10 films, including a cameo in The Incredible Hulk. Although Tony may have sacrificed his life in Avengers: Endgame, Downey's legacy at Disney and in our hearts will live on forever.

While accepting his award from Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger, Downey joked about his first time at Disney, where he was detained for smoking pot in a gondola without a license. But then the actor went on to give a heartfelt thank you speech. "I had a feeling that today would be special," he said. "I want to thank the fans who made this all possible starting back in 2008."

"Playing Tony over these many years, and that thematic idea that technology can guide our species toward enlightenment, has been really worthwhile," he added.

Speaking to his exit from the MCU after Endgame, Downey was excited. "I get to remain a fan of the first inclusive and evolving cinematic universe ever so far," he said. "Here's to the future."

Since its inception in 1987, the Legends award has honored animators, Imagineers, songwriters, actors, and business leaders who have made a significant impact on the Disney legacy. Also honored this year were Christina Aguilera, Wing Chao, Jon Favreau, James Earl Jones, Bette Midler, Kenny Ortega, Barnette Ricci, Robin Roberts, Diane Sawyer, Ming-Na Wen, and Hans Zimmer.

​Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr.

The Walt Disney Company/Image Group LA