LOS ANGELES — There are a number of celebrity cameos in “Iron Man 2” that will inspire some audience giggles (Bill O’Reilly has a memorable moment, for instance, and comics icon Stan Lee shows up with a particularly inspired disguise), but there’s also one that might be met with some gasps: The late Adam Goldstein, a.k.a. DJ A.M., is at the center of a key scene in the film, a fact that gives the summer blockbuster a bittersweet backbeat.
The decision to leave the scene in the film’s final cut was a difficult one for director Jon Favreau, who invited Goldstein to the set last spring and found a fast friend in the turntable auteur. After the jolting death of Goldstein in late August, Favreau was unsure whether the cameo would be perceived as a fitting farewell or just a crass distraction amid a popcorn adventure.
“We tried to make it respectful, and for people who know him, they’ll get a kick out of it and for people who don’t, it will sort of slide by without much notice,” Favreau said Wednesday, still choosing his words carefully.
In the scene, a boozed-up Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is celebrating his birthday with a wild party at his Malibu oceanfront estate and there, behind the turntables, is Goldstein. The billionaire, in his superhero armor, is shown dancing to 2Pac’s hip-hop classic “California Love” as Goldstein tends to the vinyl. Then, as the party tilts into a nasty direction, the hero makes a request: “Adam, I need a phat beat ...” For what happens after that, you’ll just have to wait to see the film, which opens May 7.
The film is also dedicated to Goldstein, with his name and his trademark lightning-bolt symbol in the end credits. The 36-year-old music figure died on Aug. 28 of last year in New York, and the autopsy finding was that an accidental drug overdose was the cause of death. About two months before that, Goldstein was an extended visitor on the set of the superhero film, where he made quite an impression.
Favreau, who likes to work the turntables himself at home and for friends, said “there was never any doubt” that the movie would be dedicated to the late star, not after the impact he had during his time as talented tourist on the set.
“I was just a fan of his, just an admirer of his work, and it was supposed to be a one-day bit,” Favreau said. “But Robert took a real shine to him, as we all did. His energy was amazing, he was such a inspiring guy and there was a lot of depth to him and this positive energy. He ended up staying on with us for about a week and it was just great;, we set up this turntable and between takes he would give me pointers.”
Goldstein was born in Philadelphia but became a signature figure in the elite circles of L.A. night life and the rare DJ to achieve true cross-media fame. He lent his turntable skills to albums by acts such as Madonna and Will Smith and played on stage with Jay-Z; there were also his varied business pursuits, the prominent gossip-page profile created by his romances with Nicole Ritchie and Mandy Moore and accolades such as being named DJ of the year at the 2009 BET Hip-Hop Awards.
That celebrity prompted intense coverage of the September 2008 plane crash that left him with bad burns and, according to some friends, set him up for a relapse after more than a decade away from drugs. Goldstein had numerous television appearances too, but none more controversial than “Gone Too Far,” the MTV reality show that presented him as a recovering addict helping families stage interventions with loved ones who were in the grip of addiction. That show was filmed before his relapse but aired after his death.
The news of the Goldstein’s death was a bitter shock for Favreau and for Downey — the filmmaker had found a common rhythm with his new friend while the actor was understandably hushed by the sight of someone who had been in recovery falling so far, so fast and so hard.
“When he passed, it was very difficult for a lot of us,” Favreau said.
Don Cheadle, one of the other stars of ‘Iron Man 2,” said Wednesday that he was surprised to see Goldstein on the set last year and that it made word of his death especially grim. “It was just really sad for everyone, and it made it strange too. It’ll be interesting to see it on the screen.”
When it came time to edit “Iron Man 2,” Favreau sought out the counsel of people close to Goldstein about the delicate matter of how much — if any — footage of the late star should be used in a film that is intense in its action but is also, at its heart, lighthearted in tone. Everyone asked agreed that DJ A.M. should have one more chance to energize a crowd — his biggest ever, in fact — so Favreau kept the sequence in the film.
Also, Kevin Scott, one of Goldstein’s close friends, advised on a mash-up that plays over the sequence and pulls together the music of Queen, Rob Bass and Daft Punk with a flair that the filmmaker hopes falls in line with DJ A.M.‘s work. It was a bit of a challenge securing use of the music in that form, but Favreau said it was worth it to make the scene a special one.
“Our heart goes out to his family and friends,” the director said, “and we hope what we’ve done is pleasing to them and to the many, many people who held Adam in high regard.”