- Robert De Niro New Movie: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
- Who Is Robert De Niro?
- Quick Facts
- Early Life
- Early Career
- Acclaimed Movies: 'The Godfather Part II,' 'Taxi Driver,' and 'Raging Bull'
- 1990s Movies: 'Goodfellas' and 'Cape Fear'
- More Roles: 'Casino,' 'Heat,' and Comedies
- Later Performances: 'Silver Linings Playbook' and 'The Irishman'
- Personal Life: Girlfriend, Wives, and Children
- Net Worth
Robert De Niro New Movie: ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’
Robert De Niro’s newest movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, marks his 10th collaboration with iconic film director Martin Scorsese, who also acts in the upcoming film. It also reunites De Niro with Leonardo Di Caprio three decades after they starred together in A Boy’s Life (1993). Killers of the Flower Moon, releasing in theaters on October 6, depicts a real-life series of murders in the Osage Nation reservation in Oklahoma during the 1920s. De Niro portrays William “King” Hale, a millionaire cattleman and mastermind behind a plot to murder Osage people for the oil rights on their land.
Who Is Robert De Niro?
Actor Robert De Niro is widely considered to be one of the greatest performers of his generation. He has won two Academy Awards for his roles in The Godfather Part II and Raging Bull and has earned five additional Oscar nominations in acting for the movies Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Awakenings, Cape Fear, and Silver Linings Playbook. Well-known for his devotion to method acting and research he brings to his roles, De Niro left school at age 16 to study acting with coaches such as Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. He is particularly noted for his collaborations with director Martin Scorsese, including films like Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, and The Irishman. De Niro has seven kids, welcoming his youngest daughter this April with girlfriend Tiffany Chen.
FULL NAME: Robert Anthony De Niro Jr.
BORN: August 17, 1943
BIRTHPLACE: New York City, New York
SPOUSES: Diahnne Abbott (1976-1988) and Grace Hightower (1997-2018)
CHILDREN: Drena, Raphael, Julian, Aaron, Elliot, Helen, and Gia
ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Leo
Robert Anthony De Niro Jr. was born on August 17, 1943, in New York City. His parents were both respected artists who met while attending Hans Hofman’s famed Provincetown, Massachusetts, 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 1950s 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 De Niro was only 2 years old. (De Niro would later learn his father was gay.) 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 to support her son.
A bright and energetic child, De Niro was incredibly fond of attending movies with his father when they spent time together. He was especially taken with films starring Swedish actor Greta Garbo. De Niro’s mother had a part-time job 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 was accepted at New York’s prestigious High School of Music and Art, an institution 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 Greenwich 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 experience to skillfully portray Italian mobsters as an actor.
In 1960, after a soul searching cross-country trip to visit relatives in California, 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,” according to Untouchable: A Biography of Robert De Niro by Andy Dougan. He enrolled at the Stella Adler Conservatory (later renamed the Stella Adler Studio of Acting), and although he continued to take high school classes at night, he never graduated.
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.” Having also taught the likes of Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger, she later remembered De Niro as one of her best students. 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 actor 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 opposite Harvey Keitel. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that De Niro delivered “a marvelous performance, filled with urgency and restless desperation.”
Acclaimed Movies: 'The Godfather Part II,' 'Taxi Driver,' and 'Raging Bull'
In 1974, De Niro established himself as one the nation’s finest actors with his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II (1974), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. De Niro had previously auditioned for the role of Sonny Corleone (which went to James Caan) in the first movie from 1972 and was cast in a smaller role, but he asked to be released from The Godfather to make the movie The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971). Coppola remembered De Niro from the earlier audition and cast him in the sequel as a young version of Sonny’s father, Vito, in flashback scenes. De Niro learned to speak Sicilian for the role, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Two years later, De Niro delivered perhaps the most chilling performance of his career, playing a Vietnam veteran turned vengeful cabbie Travis Bickle in the Scorsese-directed Taxi Driver (1976), alongside Jodie Foster. To prepare for the role, Scorsese lost 30 pounds, took firearm training, and studied the behavior of both U.S. Army soldiers and taxi drivers, according to The Films of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro by Andrew J. Rausch. De Niro improvised his character’s line “Are you talkin’ to me?” after being inspired by something Bruce Springsteen had previously said during concerts. It is now one of the most famous movie quotes of all-time. The Taxi Driver earned De Niro his second Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Actor.
De Niro continued to work with prestigious directors over the next few years, including Bernardo Bertolucci on 1900 (1976), Elia Kazan on The Last Tycoon (1976), and Scorsese on New York, New York (1977). He continued to show his tremendous skill as a dramatic actor in The Deer Hunter (1978), portraying a steelworker whose life is forever changed by his experience serving in the Vietnam War with his friends. De Niro called Deer Hunter his most physically exhausting role and, according to The Films of Robert De Niro by Douglas Brode, said of the film: “I thought the war was wrong, but what bothered me [most] was that people who went to war became victims of it; they were used for the whims of others. I don’t think that the policymaker had the [necessary] smarts.” De Niro once again received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for the film, while his co-star Christopher Walken won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
De Niro later portrayed middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta in the commercially unsuccessful but critically adored film Raging Bull (1980), again helmed by Scorsese. The previously skinny De Niro had put on 60 pounds of muscle and even trained with LaMotta for his riveting turn as the famed boxer. De Niro said it was one of the most difficult roles to prepare for and was rewarded for his dedication with the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actor in 1981. Ron Pennington of The Hollywood Reporter wrote of De Niro’s performance: “There’s no denying the power and artistry of De Niro’s performance. It took courage from both Scorsese and De Niro to concentrate so intently on such a negative character without making any attempt to soften his personality. And seldom has an actor ever submerged himself so totally into a characterization.”
After 1981’s True Confessions, De Niro’s next roles were that of an aspiring standup comedian in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983) and as a Jewish mobster in the sprawling historical epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Other notable projects on the actor’s diverse roster for the 1980s included the sci-fi art film Brazil (1985), the historically-inspired The Mission (1986), and the action-comedy Midnight Run (1988). He also notably portrayed the infamous gangster Al Capone in the Brian De Palma crime drama The Untouchables (1987), opposite Kevin Costner as law enforcement official Eliot Ness. De Niro contacted Capone’s real-life tailors to have identical clothing made for the film and insisted on wearing the same type of silk underwear Capone wore, even though it was never shown in the movie.
1990s Movies: 'Goodfellas' and 'Cape Fear'
De Niro opened the 1990s with what became one of his most famous roles: the smooth-talking gangster Jimmy “The Gent” Conway in Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), which also starred Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci. Although De Niro’s character is a supporting role, Brode wrote in The Films of Robert De Niro that his willingness to take a smaller part is “indicative of his seriousness as an actor. The role of Jimmy is, though certainly not focal, vivid and unique. A demanding role, it is precisely the kind of work a superstar should do to prove he’s comfortable working within the complex tapestry of an ambitious story without necessarily taking over the entire film.”
De Niro next starred in a project that earned him another Oscar nomination, portraying a catatonic patient brought back to consciousness in Awakenings (1990), directed by Penny Marshall and co-starring Robin Williams as a character based on physician Oliver Sacks. The role was physically demanding for De Niro, as he had to master the physical characteristics and body tics of his character’s condition. Dramas continued to be the genre of choice for De Niro, as he played a blacklisted director in Guilty by Suspicion and a fire chief in Ron Howard’s Backdraft, both from 1991.
Soon afterward, the actor was once again reunited with Scorsese in a terrifying way, bulking up to become a tattooed rapist who stalks a family in the 1991 remake of Cape Fear. De Niro followed a strict diet and workout routine to add muscle for the role and paid a dentist $5,000 to grind his teeth down to help create his character’s menacing appearance. Originally a 1962 thriller starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake also featured Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, and Juliette Lewis. De Niro received his sixth Academy Award nomination for the movie, which became the highest-grossing collaboration between the actor and Scorsese, earning more than $182 million worldwide.
More Roles: 'Casino,' 'Heat,' and Comedies
After somewhat edgy, comedic outings like Night and the City (1992) and Mad Dog and Glory (1993), another drama followed in the form of This Boy’s Life (1993), in which De Niro portrayed an abusive father opposite a young Leonardo DiCaprio. That same year, De Niro made his directorial debut with A Bronx Tale, a movie adaptation of a one-man play written and performed by Chazz Palminteri. De Niro was so impressed after watching Palminteri perform the play that he called it “one of the greatest one-man shows I’ve ever seen, if not the greatest,” and acquired the rights for the film adaptation. In 1994, De Niro was practically unrecognizable as the monster in actor/director Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein.
The fall of 1995 saw another Scorsese telling of mob life, this time in Las Vegas. De Niro portrayed a character based on real-life figure Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal in Casino, co-starring Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci. Michael Mann’s Heat followed that same year, with De Niro re-teaming with fellow Godfather star Al Pacino in a well-received outing about a bank robber contemplating getting out of the business and the police detective aiming to bring him down. De Niro, along with co-stars Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore, visited Folsom State Prison to speak to inmates about their lives in crime as research for their roles, according to De Niro: A Life by Shawn Levy.
For the rest of the 1990s and into the new millennium, scarcely a year passed by that didn’t see De Niro featured in a big screen project as either a lead or supporting figure. At the turn of the century, De Niro struck out into decidedly different territory with Analyze This (1999), a hilarious and highly popular spoof of the mob movies that had garnered him fame. Analyze This earned more than $100 million domestically, with De Niro playing a crime boss who seeks help from a therapist, played by Billy Crystal. That same year, De Niro starred alongside Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Flawless, about a homophobic police officer who befriends a transgender woman.
In 2000, De Niro took on another comedy, Meet the Parents, with the screen icon playing Ben Stiller’s future father-in-law. The smash-hit 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 Crystal for the sequel Analyze That (2002) and starring in the spy thriller The Good Shepherd with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie in 2006. The following year, De Niro was featured as a secretive cross-dressing pirate with a heart of gold in the fantasy flick Stardust, while 2009 saw a return to De Niro’s dramatic fare with Everybody’s Fine.
Later Performances: 'Silver Linings Playbook' and 'The Irishman'
De Niro earned his seventh Academy Award nomination for his turn in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (2012), playing the father of a mentally troubled son (portrayed by Bradley Cooper). Film critic Justin Chang wrote for Variety, “It’s hard to remember the last time De Niro was this effortlessly endearing and relaxed onscreen.” De Niro then appeared in the comedy The Big Wedding with Diane Keaton and Katherine Heigl the following year. Other projects released in 2013 included the thriller Killing Season and the comedy Last Vegas, the latter with fellow veteran actors Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.
De Niro continued to collaborate with Russell, making an uncredited appearance as a mafia boss in the director’s 2013 film American Hustle and co-starring as the father of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano in the biopic Joy (2015), starring Jennifer Lawrence. That same year, De Niro starred as a widower who returns to the workforce in Nancy Meyers’ comedy The Intern. In 2016, he starred in another biopic, Hands of Stone, playing Ray Arcel, the trainer of Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán. That same year, De Niro received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama for his contribution to the arts.
In 2017, De Niro took on the role of Bernie Madoff, who earned infamy for swindling clients out of billions with his Ponzi scheme, in the HBO film The Wizard of Lies. De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, who played his wife, both earned Golden Globe nominations for their performances in the biopic. Following the announcement that he would earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2019, De Niro was prominently involved in two major features that year, playing a talk show host in Joker and the titular hitman and alleged killer of Jimmy Hoffa in Scorsese’s The Irishman. Along with Scorsese, De Niro co-produced The Irishman and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, his first Oscar nod as a producer.
De Niro and Scorsese collaborate for a tenth time with the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon, which will be released on October 6. Reuniting De Niro with his A Boy’s Life co-star Leonardo Di Caprio, the film depicts a real-life series of murders in the Osage Nation reservation in Oklahoma during the 1920s. De Niro portrays William “King” Hale, a millionaire cattleman and mastermind behind a plot to murder Osage people for the oil rights on their land.
Personal Life: Girlfriend, Wives, and Children
De Niro has been married twice and has seven children.
He married actor Diahnne Abbott in 1976. Abbott had a daughter, Drena, from a previous relationship, and De Niro adopted her. The couple also had a son named Raphael, a former actor turned real estate broker, before divorcing in 1988.
De Niro then had a long relationship with model Toukie Smith that produced twin sons, Aaron and Julian, in 1995.
Two years later, De Niro married Grace Hightower, with whom he has a son named Elliott and a daughter named Helen. In November 2018, De Niro and Hightower announced that they had split.
In April 2023, the 79-year-old De Niro had a seventh child with his girlfriend Tiffany Chen. Three months later, his grandson, Leandro De Rodriguez, died at age 19 as the result of a drug intoxication.
The American actor has also held Italian citizenship for roughly two decades. He is of Italian, Irish, French, Dutch, and German ancestry.
A noted Democratic supporter, De Niro took umbrage at 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s combative style, stating that he wanted to punch the New York businessman in the face. He was even harsher during a profanity-laced speech at the National Board of Review Annual Awards Gala in January 2018, saying, “This f––ing idiot is the president. It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. The guy is a f––ing fool... our baby-in-chief.” De Niro again blasted Trump with four-letter salutes at the Tony Awards in June 2018, though the president fired back this time, calling the actor “a very low IQ individual” on Twitter.
As of May 2023, Robert De Niro had a reported net worth of $500 million. Outside of his highly successful acting career, De Niro has a few business ventures that add to his wealth. He co-founded Tribeca Enterprises in 2003, which includes a production company and Tribeca Film Festival.
De Niro is also in the hospitality industry. He partially owns The Greenwich Hotel in New York City and the Nobu Hotels chain, as well as Nobu restaurants and Tribeca Grill. The first Nobu, a Japanese-Peruvian venture with celebrity chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa and Meir Teper, opened in 1994.
- Acting is a cheap way to do things that you would never dare to do yourself.
- After I give an interview, I spend all my time trying to explain what I meant. After my first movies, I gave interviews... then I thought what’s so important about where I went to school and hobbies? What does any of that have to do with acting, with my own head? Nothing.
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Colin McEvoy joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.