Robert Anthony De Niro took his first breath on 17 August 1943. His parents Virginia Admiral and Robert De Niro Sr. both artists who met during painting classes in Provincetown, Massachusetts would divorce when Robert was two. De Niro Sr was gay. His paternal grandfather was of proud Italian descent. Never the twain would be negotiable. During the divorce proceedings, Robert, still a small child was sent to stay with his grandparents who secretly had him baptized in the Catholic Church. Young Robert was returned and brought up in Greenwich Village of Manhattan under his mother’s care but visited his father often. De Niro Sr. lived within walking distance of his son.
Education began at a public elementary school in Manhattan where at 10 De Niro played the Cowardly Lion in a school production of The Wizard of Oz. It would become a lifetime passion that would eventually bury his innate shyness. He would later attend the Elisabeth Irwin High School where he was accepted into the School of Music and Art. It would be temporary. He was shortly transferred to a public junior high school. Unsettled due to the numerous transfers, De Niro never graduated but formed friendships with some of the street kids in Little Italy and many of them would remain lifelong friends.
At 16, he began to pursue his passion for acting and studied at the Stella Adler Conservatory and the Les Strasberg Actors Studio. His cameo film role was presented to him at 20 and he appeared in The Wedding Party(1963) however, the film was not released until 1969. By then, De Niro was about to appear in Bloody Mama(1970) and later harnessed popularity when he appeared as the dying major league baseball player in Bang the Drum Slowly(1973). After his role as Johnny Boy in Mean Streets(1973) De Niro was offered the role of Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II (1974). That performance earned him his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He rapidly created a reputation for playing streetwise villains and mobsters; a side of acting he wasn’t particularly fond of given its reflection of which he was totally opposite. He would continue on that same path for some little time, however, before changing over to pursue one of comedy in his later years. But for the time being, De Niro’s stage was set and he innately knew it. His films include Taxi Driver(1976) in which he played Travis Bickle wherein his famous, “You Talkin’ to Me?” which De Niro improvised, earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. There followed New York, New York(1977), Raging Bull(1980) The King of Comedy(1983), Goodfellas(1990), Cape Fear(1991) and Casino(1995).
Perhaps De Niro had a vision. Perhaps he inherently knew he would join the ranks of the greatest actors of all time. It was his predilection to study his characters’ backgrounds in order that he could reach inside and impersonate them from the soul out. His preparation for any role would be intensely adhered to and his portrayal of any fictitious character in any script was given its due. De Niro took his work seriously and whilst other actors were out playing tennis on a Sunday, Robert rehearsed. Meticulous and imaginative, he preferred his acting to be precise and never settled for less. Everything he did he calculated and as he acted, other personality traits were often adopted for his character in the film. One film critic is remembered as saying, “For De Niro, it is a role that surpasses even his brilliant and daring portrayal of Vito Corleonein The Godfather Part II. His performance deserves to be compared with the very finest.”
Among countless other films, De Niro appeared in the police action-thriller Heat(1995) alongside actor and friend Al Pacino drawing focused attention from fans. Now he was tired of mob films and tried his hand at comedy with Meet the Fockers(2004) and Little Fockers (2010). Not before however, he appeared as Master Chief Billy Sunday in the biographical film Men of Honor(2000).
De Niro wed African-American Diahnne Abbot in 1976 and adopted her daughter Drena and would later sire a son Raphael. He met Grace Hightower in 1987 and in 1988 his marriage to Abbot had ended. Ten years later, in 1997 De Niro married Grace Hightower with whom he remains. However, they filed for divorce in 1999 but the case was never finalized. De Niro won custody of their son Elliot and after the second set of vows, they renewed their relationship and have maintained their solid union ever since.
De Niro has been nominated seven times for the Academy Award. Twice for Best Supporting Actor and five times for Best Actor. Nominated six times for BAFTA Awards, he has also been nominated eight times for the Golden Globe Awards. In 2011 he was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award and the Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award. Never one to slow down and it appears it’s not going to happen soon, De Niro graces the screen with a strong, timeless presence.
He received an Italian passport in 2006. His Italian citizenship was granted by the Prime Minister despite strong opposition by the Sons of Italy, who believe that De Niro damaged the public image of Italians by portraying criminals. He has been blessed with six children and four grandchildren with whom he spends more time these days. A legendary actor who is a role model for those who are up and coming in the film industry Robert De Niro is a masterpiece.
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