His parents were also in show business; his father Morton Downey was a popular singer, and his mother Barbara Bennett was a singer and dancer. His aunts included Hollywood film stars Constance Bennett and Joan Bennett, and his maternal grandfather was the celebrated matinée idol Richard Bennett.
Downey was the host of the highly controversial program "The Morton Downey Jr. Show". He rose to intial fame in 1987 when his program featured screaming matches between Downey, his guests, and his audience members.
In 1989, Downey was involved in an incident in which he claimed to have been attacked by neo-Nazis who painted a swastika on his face. Because police could not find evidence that the event actually took place, many did not believe it, feeling that it was just another controversial stunt.