Refresh for updates from awards … The 2019 Disney Legends Awards opened this year’s edition of the D23 Expo in Anaheim with a vivid and evocative stage tribute to this year’s class, which is led by Robert Downey Jr., James Earl Jones, Jon Favreau, Christina Aguilera, Kenny Ortega, and Bette Midler.
In all, a dozen new Disney Legends were added to the company’s select pantheon, which was created in 1987 (Fred MacMurray was the first inductee honored) and now has 290 members representing every corner of the Walt Disney Co.’s vast an eclectic empire and every era of its 96-year history.
The crowd of 6,800 fans were delighted when Iger started the ceremony with Downey, the irrepressible wit and wildly talented actor who has embodied the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man while launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe by appearing five of its first seven films and a total of 10 Marvel Studios films to date.
With playful glances back at Iger, the mercurial Downey devoted a good portion of his acceptance speech to recounting his first visit to Disneyland which apparently included a brief detainment by park security for smoking marijuana.
“I was brought to a surprisingly friendly recessing center, given a stern warning and returned to, if memory serves, one very disappointed group chaperone,” Downey said. “I’ve been sitting on that shame for a while and I’m just going to release it here tonight. I would like to make amends to whoever had to detain me for smoking pot in the gondola without a license…” (In Marvel’s official montage of Downey, Favreau and Ming-Na Wen’s speeches, which you can watch below, this portion of Downey’s address is conspicuously missing)
Downey’s breakthrough was Less Than Zero in 1987 and he has been nominated for two Academy Awards (Chaplin and Tropic Thunder). His career was infamously in a tailspin in the years leading up to Iron Man, the first Marvel Studios film, but the role of a billionaire who must find his inner hero launched the actor (and the upstart studio) toward the top reaches of the industry.
Stark didn’t survive Avengers: Endgame his sacrifice wasn’t in vain: Endgame surpassed Fox’s Avatar (2009) to become the highest-grossing film (unadjusted dollars) in Hollywood history.
“Playing Tony over these many years and that thematic idea that technology can guide out species toward enlightenment or destruction, it’s been really worthwhile and it’s an ongoing meditation and it’s been a great gift. So I want to thank the fans who made all this possible starting back in 2008.”
Downey ended his speech with a nod to what’s next for him now that he’s taken off the battle armor for good. “So here’s what I get to do: I get to remain a fan of the first inclusive and evolving cinematic universe ever, so far, and, yeah, here’s to the future.”
Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger hosts the ceremony each year and it’s become one of the more impressive show-biz tributes during an annual calendar that’s oversaturated with awards galas.
“The Disney Legends Award is the highest honor we can bestow; it’s a recognition of talent, a celebration of achievement, and an expression of profound gratitude to the remarkable men and women who have made an indelible mark on our company and our creative legacy,” Iger said.“This year’s honorees have earned a place in our hearts and our history for their significant contributions in film, television, and our theme parks around the world.”
This year’s full class, alphabetically, are Disney resorts executive Wing Chao, actor Robert Downey Jr., filmmaker Jon Favreau, actor James Earl Jones, singer Bette Midler, choreographer Kenny Ortega, choreographer Barnette Ricci, broadcast journalist Robin Roberts, broadcast journalist Diane Sawyer, actor Ming-Na Wen, and composer Hans Zimmer.