Robert De Niro biography
Born in New York City on August 17, 1943, actor Robert De Niro left school at age 16 to study acting with Stella Adler. He then worked with many acclaimed film directors, including Brian DePalma, Elia Kazan and, most importantly, Martin Scorsese. De Niro's role in The Godfather: Part II (1974) brought him his first Academy Award. He went on to make several other critically acclaimed films, including The Deer Hunter (1978), and scored his second Academy Award for Raging Bull (1980). In the 1990s, De Niro saw continued success with such films as Goodfellas and Analyze This. He recently won acclaim for his work on Silver Linings Playbook (2012).
Robert De Niro Jr. was born on August 17, 1943, in New York City. His parents were both respected artists who had met while attending Hans Hoffman's famed Provincetown painting classes. His mother, Virginia Admiral, was a cerebral and gifted painter, a Berkeley graduate who made a significant name for herself in the 1940s and '50s New York art scene. His father, Robert De Niro Sr., was a painter, sculptor and poet whose work received high critical acclaim. Known as the "golden couple" of the New York art circle, Virginia and Robert Sr. nevertheless split ways in 1945, when young Robert was only 2 years old. As his father remained singularly devoted to his art, De Niro was raised primarily by his mother, who took on work as a typesetter and printer in order to support her son.
A bright and energetic child, Robert De Niro was incredibly fond of attending movies with his father when they spent time together. He was especially taken with films starring Swedish actress Greta Garbo. De Niro's mother worked part-time as a typist and copyeditor for Maria Picator's Dramatic Workshop, and as part of her compensation, De Niro was allowed to take children's acting classes for free.
At the age of 10, De Niro made his stage debut as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Soon after, he earned a scholarship to New York's prestigious High School of Music and Art, a private school specializing in visual and performance arts. However, feeling overwhelmed and unprepared for the intense and competitive atmosphere, he dropped out to attend public school after only a few days.
Not long after beginning courses at P.S. 41 in Greenwhich Village, De Niro proved to be uninterested in school altogether and, as a teenager, joined a rather tame Italian street gang that gave him the nickname "Bobby Milk," in reference to his pale complexion. While De Niro was by all accounts only a very modest troublemaker, the gang provided him with ample experience to skillfully portray Italian mobsters as an actor.
In 1960, after a soul searching cross-country trip to visit relatives in California, Robert De Niro decided to drop out of high school to study acting. Once asked in an interview why he decided to take up the profession, De Niro responded, "Acting is a cheap way to do things that you would never dare to do yourself." He enrolled at the Stella Adler Conservatory (later renamed the Stella Adler Studio of Acting), and though he continued to take high school classes at night, he never graduated.
Stella Adler was a strong proponent of the Stanislavski method of acting, involving deep psychological character investigation. An intense teacher, Adler was once described by The New York Times as someone who would "curse, cajole, rage, roar and, from time to time, even compliment her students." Adler, who had taught the likes of Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger, would later remember De Niro as one of the best students she ever taught.
With his mother's permission, De Niro took the money she had saved for his college education and put it toward his acting career. He studied briefly with Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio in New York City, and then began auditioning. As actress Sally Kirkland once recalled, instead of traditional headshots, De Niro showed up to auditions with "a portfolio of about 25 pictures of himself in various disguises to prove that he wasn't just an ethnic actor." After a momentary cameo in the 1965 French film Three Rooms in Manhattan, De Niro's real debut came in the 1968 film Greetings. His breakthrough performances came five years later in a pair of highly acclaimed 1973 films: Bang the Drum Slowly, in which he played a terminally ill catcher on a baseball team, and Mean Streets, his first of many collaborations with director Martin Scorsese, in which he played a street thug.
Leading Film Actor
In 1974, De Niro established himself as one the nation's finest actors with his Academy Award-winning portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II, a role for which he learned to speak Sicilian. Two years later, De Niro delivered perhaps the most chilling performance of his career, playing the vengeful cabbie Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976) alongside Jodie Foster.
De Niro later portrayed middleweight boxer Jake La Motta in the commercially unsuccessful but critically adored film Raging Bull (1980). The previously skinny De Niro had put on 60 pounds of muscle for his riveting turn as La Motta, and was rewarded for his dedication with the 1981 Academy Award for best actor. Other notable performances of the 1980s included his depiction of an aspiring standup comedian in The King of Comedy (1983), and his role as a Jewish mobster in the sprawling historical epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984).
De Niro opened the 1990s with Goodfellas, yet another acclaimed gangster film. In 1993, he made his directorial debut with A Bronx Tale, a film adaptation of a one-man play written and performed by Chazz Palminteri. Then, in 1999, De Niro struck out into decidedly different territory with Analyze This, a hilarious and highly popular spoof of the mob films that garnered him even more fame. He plays a crime boss who seeks help from a therapist (Billy Crystal) in the film.
In 2000, De Niro took on another comedy, Meet the Parents, starring Ben Stiller. He plays Stiller's future father-in-law in this smash hit. The film spawned two sequels: Meet the Fockers (2004) and Little Fockers (2011), both of which were also box-office successes.
De Niro continued to switch between comedic and serious roles over the next few years, reuniting with Billy Crystal for Analyze That in 2002, and starring in the spy thriller The Good Shepherd with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie in 2006. In 2009, he starred in the drama Everybody's Fine.
Now approaching his 70s, De Niro shows no signs of slowing down. He gave an Academy Award-nominated performance in 2012's Silver Linings Playbook, playing the father of a mentally troubled son (Bradley Cooper), and appeared in the comedy The Big Wedding with Diane Keaton and Katherine Heigl the following year. Later projects include the thriller Killing Season with John Travolta, and the comedy Last Vegas with Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman.
Robert De Niro married actress Diahnne Abbott in 1976. The couple had one son before divorcing 12 years later, in 1988. De Niro then had a long relationship with model Toukie Smith that produced twin sons in 1995. In 1997, De Niro married Grace Hightower, with whom he has one son.