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Why The Burger In Iron Man Is More Important Than You Think

With an estimated $22.5 billion in revenue raked in since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become an entertainment titan, gargantuan enough that the stories behind the creative process that birthed it read as apocryphal, even legendary. That said, Robert Downey Jr. claims that the fast food in the first Iron Man movie was included because the featured restaurant chain saved his life, and if you can't trust a movie star touting the benefits of eating Burger King, what can you trust?

The backstory here is important. Folks old enough to remember what it was like to be scared of Y2K might also recall that there was a time when Robert Downey Jr. wasn't the most valuable asset in the Disney vault. In the '80s, he was a Brat Pack kid and a one-season Saturday Night Live cast member. In 1992, he starred in a biopic that really brushed over some of the more problematic aspects of Charlie Chaplin's life. And between 1996 and 2001, the future Avenger was best known for his frequent arrests for cocaine, Valium, and heroin possession. Despite hiring the same team of lawyers that got OJ off the hook and a compelling court speech (BBC quoted the actor describing his addiction, saying, "It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth, with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal"), he wound up with a three-year sentence in 1999 after multiple high-profile run ins with the law. That's where Burger King comes in.

No word yet on how donuts changed Robert Downey Jr.'s life

Downey has been forthright about his struggle with addiction in the years since his big comeback, touting the importance of rehabilitation and persistence. But it was a 2008 interview with Empire that saw the actor explaining exactly what inspired him to finally get clean. The tipping point, he claimed, was a really bad burger.

The interview, which has since been removed but was quoted by the New York Daily News, revealed that Downey was in a car loaded with "tons" of drugs when he pulled into a drive through for refreshments. "I have to thank Burger King," Downey said. "It was such a disgusting burger I ordered. I had that, and this big soda, and I thought something really bad was going to happen." After that, he claims to have tossed his stash into the ocean, much to the delight of LA's itchier fish.

These events went on to inspire the scene in 2008's Iron Man in which Tony Stark experiences an epiphany after his time as a hostage of the Ten Rings. Stateside once again, he states that he wants "an American cheeseburger," which he gets courtesy of Burger King, before holding a press conference to announce that he's turning his life around, ceasing all weapon development at Stark Industries. This turning point even gets a callback when Avengers: Endgame brings Tony's character arc full circle — "Your dad liked burgers, too," Happy Hogan tells Morgan Stark during the closing funeral scene. It's a poignant moment made all the more potent because it's delivered by Iron Man director (and certified gourmand) Jon Favreau.

Of course, it's not exactly a backstory that reflects all that kindly on Burger King. Is there a lesson here about the importance of double checking the artist's intent before shelling out money for product placement? Sure. But the real takeaway is more along the lines of "be grateful RDJ didn't pull over for Arby's or he might have given up the Hollywood lifestyle altogether."