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Robert Downey Jr. Becomes First Former “Saturday Night Live” Cast Member to Win an Oscar

Several former ‘SNL’ cast regulars have scored Oscar nominations, but Robert Downey Jr. is the first to win

<p>Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times via Getty; Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty</p> (Left-right:) Robert Downey Jr. in 2024; on "Saturday Night Live" in 1986

Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times via Getty; Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

(Left-right:) Robert Downey Jr. in 2024; on "Saturday Night Live" in 1986

Robert Downey Jr. has become an Oscar winner — and the first former Saturday Night Live cast member to do so.

The Oppenheimer actor joined SNL’s ranks from 1985 to 1986 as a main cast member on its 11th season. Also hired that year were Joan Cusack, Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Danitra Vance and Damon Wayans.

For many of those performers, the conclusion of that 18-episode season also marked the end of their SNL tenure. Downey, 58, called it “arguably the worst season in its history” in a 2020 interview with fellow alum Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show.

“The only thing I wrote that made it almost close to air was this ridiculous sketch called ‘Suitcase Boy,’ where I came out with a suitcase zipped up around my neck and said a bunch of non sequiturs,” he recalled at the time. “And it was so not funny, except to me and my weirdo friends.”

For playing Lewis Strauss in director Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Downey won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at Sunday’s ceremony. The Iron Man star had previously been nominated for 1992’s Chaplin and 2008’s Tropic Thunder.

Related: Robert Downey Jr. Thanks His 'Veterinarian, I Mean Wife' Susan in Oscars Speech: 'You Loved Me Back to Life'

<p>PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images</p> Robert Downey Jr. wins Best Supporting Actor for "Oppenheimer" on March 10, 2024.

PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Robert Downey Jr. wins Best Supporting Actor for "Oppenheimer" on March 10, 2024.

Though he is the first to win an Oscar trophy, Downey joined the list of nine SNL cast regulars who have also received nominations, which stretches back to the first: Randy Quaid, a Supporting Actor nominee for the 1973 Jack Nicholson movie The Last Detail. Quaid, now 73, also starred on SNL’s 11th season with Downey. 

The late George Coe was another main cast member whose Oscar nod predated his time on SNL; before appearing on the show throughout 1975 and 1976, he earned a Best Live-Action Short Film nod for 1968's The Dove, a parody of Ingmar Bergman's films.

<p>NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty</p> (Left-right:) Nora Dunn, Danitra Vance, Randy Quaid, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, Terry Sweeney, Joan Cusack and Jon Lovitz on "Saturday Night Live"

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

(Left-right:) Nora Dunn, Danitra Vance, Randy Quaid, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, Terry Sweeney, Joan Cusack and Jon Lovitz on "Saturday Night Live"

Cusack, one of Downey’s season 11 costars, launched her screen career in the years following her time on the sketch show. The actress is a two-time Supporting Actress nominee, for 1988’s Working Girl and 1997’s In & Out.

Related: See the SNL 1975 Cast Side by Side with the Real-Life Saturday Night Live Actors

Dan Aykroyd, one of SNL’s most prolific alumni following his 1975-1979 run on the show, earned a Supporting Actor Oscar nod for 1989 Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy. Overlapping with him from 1977 to 1980 was Bill Murray, an Oscar-nominated lead actor for 2003’s Lost in Translation

Michael McKean has the rare distinction of hosting and being a musical guest on SNL prior to joining its cast as a regular. After his 1994-1995 tenure, the actor earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song — for 2003’s A Mighty Wind ditty “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," which he wrote with wife Annette O'Toole.

Finally, Eddie Murphy received his Academy recognition as a Supporting Actor nominee in 2006’s Dreamgirls, years after getting his start on SNL from 1980 to 1984. And Kristen Wiig, the show’s regular cast member for an impressive seven-year run starting in 2005, scored an Oscar nod for Bridesmaids Original Screenplay toward the end of that run in 2011.

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<p>Al Levine/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty</p> Robert Downey Jr. on "Saturday Night Live" in 1986

Al Levine/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

Robert Downey Jr. on "Saturday Night Live" in 1986

In a 2019 Off Camera with Sam Jones interview, Downey revealed it was his friendship with fellow “Brat Pack” member Anthony Michael Hall that got him a foot in the SNL door. 

“He, in a way, was my first Jon Favreau,” he said of the Breakfast Club star, who also joined the show’s 11th season. “He was someone who said to me, 'I'm going to go do SNL and I'm gonna get you an audition. I bet you're gonna get yourself on the show too, and they'll be lucky to have us.’”

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