Al Pacino Biography

Film Actor, Actor, Theater Actor, Director(1940–)
Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino has kept moviegoers riveted since the 1970s, with roles in films like 'The Godfather,' 'Dog Day Afternoon,' 'Serpico,' 'Dick Tracy' and 'Scent of a Woman.'

Synopsis

Alfredo James Pacino was born on April 25, 1940, in New York City. He began studying acting in his teens and eventually made his way from the stage to the big screen. During his career he has brought a brooding seriousness and explosive rage to gritty roles, including those of gangster Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and drug lord Tony Montana in Scarface (1983). 

A versatile performer, he has starred in a diverse range of projects during his prolific career, appearing in countless stage productions and directing several films as well. He received an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of a blind man in Scent of a Woman (1992) and in 2007 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. 

Early Life & Path to Stardom

Alfredo James Pacino was born in New York City on April 25, 1940. He was the only child of Italian immigrants from Sicily who separated when he was a toddler. After they split, Pacino’s father moved to California and Pacino was raised by his mother and grandparents in the Bronx. Though somewhat shy as a child, in his early teens Pacino developed an interest in acting and was later accepted at the High School of Performing Arts. However, he proved to be a poor student, failing most of his classes before he eventually dropped out at age 17.

After leaving school, Pacino worked a variety of jobs before moving to Greenwich Village in 1959 to pursue his dreams of becoming an actor. He began studying theater at the Herbert Berghof Studio and soon landed parts in off-Broadway productions, including a 1963 role in the William Saroyan play Hello, Out There. In 1966, Pacino made the next step forward in his career when he was accepted at the Actors Studio, where he studied under renowned coach Lee Strasberg. Pacino’s work there led to more-significant projects in 1969; namely, the Broadway production of Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?—for which he received a Tony Award—and a part in the coming-of-age film Me, Natalie

'The Godfather'

But it would be Pacino’s performance in a little-known 1971 movie called The Panic in Needle Park that would set his career on a path to new heights. Pacino’s portrayal of a heroin addict caught the eye of Francis Ford Coppola, who was in the midst of casting for his upcoming picture The Godfather, based on the novel by Mario Puzo. Although he had been considering such superstars as Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson for the part, Coppola ultimately chose the more or less unknown Pacino to play Michael Corleone. Released in 1972, The Godfather was a massive success and is widely considered (along with its first sequel) to be among the greatest films of all time.

Telling the tale of the Corleone crime family and Michael Corleone's rise to power, Pacino was just one of many actors—including Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton—to receive critical acclaim for their performances. The Godfather dominated the 1973 Academy Awards, winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and adapted screenplay while receiving nominations for direction, sound, costume design, and editing. Caan, Duvall and Pacino each received a supporting actor nomination, but, angered over not receiving a nod from the Academy in the category of lead actor, Pacino boycotted the event.

More Acclaim With 'Serpico'

In the wake of The Godfather’s success, Pacino quickly became a sought-after leading man. Following a co-starring role with Gene Hackman in Scarecrow (1973), Pacino starred in three successive hit films, each of which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In 1974 he starred in Serpico, the true story of police officer Frank Serpico, whose undercover work during the 1960s helped expose corruption in the NYPD. The film was both a critical and commercial success. 

That same year, he appeared again as Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II, which also starred Robert De Niro and received as many accolades as its predecessor. And in 1975 Pacino starred in Dog Day Afternoon, playing a much more unusual role as John Wojtowicz, who in 1972 attempted to rob a bank in Brooklyn to pay for his boyfriend's sex change. The actor next starred in the box-office failure Bobby Deerfield before returning to form in the legal drama …And Justice for All (1979), earning himself yet another Academy Award nomination.

Down to Earth and Back to the Stage

Given his dazzling success during the 1970s, Pacino’s film-acting career experienced a relative lull in the decade that followed. With the exception of his role as crazed drug dealer Tony Montana in the Brian De Palma–directed hit Scarface (1983), Pacino’s other films from this era were significantly less successful and his roles less memorable. Cruising (1980), Author! Author! (1982) and Revolution (1985) were all commercial and critical flops.

But during this time Pacino also returned to the stage, where he achieved more-notable results. In 1983 he received a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance in the David Mamet play American Buffalo, and in 1988 he received favorable reviews for his portrayal of Marc Antony in a New York Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar. Then Pacino returned to the screen in the 1989 thriller Sea of Love, which ultimately reestablished his star power. Many more films were to follow, and many more accolades along with them.

A Star Is Reborn

In 1990, Pacino appeared in two films—The Godfather: Part III and Dick Tracy. His role in the latter earned him his first Academy Award nomination in more than a decade and marked the first in a steady string of roles in hit movies in the years to come. In the first half of the 1990s Pacino earned favorable reviews for his work in outings such as Frankie and Johnny (1991), with Michelle Pfeiffer, and Carlito's Way (1993). And he received his first Academy Award for his lead role as a blind man in 1992’s Scent of a Woman, while also being nominated in the supporting actor category for his role in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). 

In the latter half of the decade, parts in such films as Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), gangster film Donnie Brasco (1997), supernatural thriller The Devil's Advocate (1997), Oliver Stone’s football classic Any Given Sunday (1999) and Academy Award–winning The Insider (1999) helped keep Pacino both busy and relevant. He filled in his schedule by writing, directing and performing in the documentary Looking for Richard, an exploration of William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Staying Power and Emmys

In 2000, Pacino turned 60. However, this did little to slow his prolific career. Entering the new century with an exclamation point, in 2002 he appeared in four films: the Christopher Nolan thriller Insomnia and the only moderately successful films People I Know, S1m0ne and The Recruit. The following year he won an Emmy Award for his role in the HBO adaptation of the Tony Kushner play Angels in America, and in 2004 he once more indulged his love for the works of Shakespeare by appearing in a film version of The Merchant of Venice.

The year 2007 proved to be an important one for Pacino. He was part of an all-star cast in the blockbuster hit Ocean’s Thirteen, released the DVD box set Pacino: An Actor’s Vision (a collection of some of his more personal and lesser-known projects) and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. Since then he has continued to appear on screens big and small as well as on the stage. He co-starred with De Niro in the 2008 film Righteous Kill, portrayed Jack Kevorkian in the HBO movie You Don’t Know Jack (2010)—for which he received his second Emmy Award—and revisited the David Mamet play Glengarry Glen Ross, this time in a 2012 Broadway production that also starred Bobby Cannavale

The following year he collaborated with Mamet on the HBO film Phil Spector, in which Pacino portrayed the famously troubled musical producer. Now well into his 70s, Pacino continues to ply his trade, as witness by his lead roles in indie projects like Manglehorn (2014) and Danny Collins (2015). In the latter film, co-starring Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner and Christopher Plummer, Pacino plays a rock star who seeks out his son (Cannavale) after learning of an undelivered letter from John Lennon.

In December 2016, Pacino and his acclaimed performances were celebrated at the 39th Kennedy Center Honors. 

Personal Life

Al Pacino is a lifelong bachelor. He is, however, the father of three children. He has one daughter from a relationship with his former acting coach Jan Tarrant and a daughter and a son from a long-term relationship with actress Beverly D’Angelo. Over the years, Pacino has also been romantically linked with Diane Keaton, Penelope Ann Miller and Lucila Sola.

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