Robert De Niro biography

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Robert De Niro biography

Actor, director, producer. Born Robert De Niro Jr., on August 17, 1943, in New York City. His parents, both artists, separated when he was two years old; De Niro lived mostly with his mother, who started a typesetting and printing business. While attending high school in New York, De Niro began taking drama classes. He studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory as a teenager, dropping out of high school at age 16 to act professionally and continue his studies at the prestigious Actors Studio. He later studied with noted acting teachers Luther James and Lee Strasberg.
De Niro made his feature film acting debut in 1966, appearing in Brian De Palma’s The Wedding Party (which wasn’t released until 1969). His first released feature, 1968’s Greetings, was also directed by De Palma. In Greetings, De Niro starred as a young man who goes off to fight in Vietnam, a role he later reprised in the 1970 sequel, Hi Mom!.

Though De Niro was featured prominently in all of his early films, it was not until his ninth feature, the emotional baseball film Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), that he received a considerable measure of recognition. The release of Mean Streets later that same year marked De Niro’s true ascendance into the ranks of America’s most acclaimed young actors. The film marked his first collaboration with the up-and-coming director Martin Scorsese, a boyhood acquaintance who would become one of De Niro’s most important professional allies.

In 1974, De Niro won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in director Francis Ford Coppola’s sequel, The Godfather: Part II, based on the novel by Mario Puzo. In preparation for his portrayal of the young Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando’s character in 1972’s The Godfather), De Niro dedicated himself to learning a Sicilian dialect, as he spoke only eight words in English during the film. The Godfather: Part II co-starred Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and Robert Duvall; it also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

De Niro reteamed with Scorsese in 1976 for Taxi Driver, a bleak, violent film in which the actor portrayed the deranged cabbie Travis Bickle, who becomes obsessed with protecting a teenage prostitute, played by Jodie Foster. De Niro’s intense performance garnered him a Best Actor Academy Award nomination.

His third film with Scorsese, the 1977 musical New York, New York, marked a departure from his usual dark fare—he played a jazz musician who becomes romantically involved with a singer, played by Liza Minnelli. De Niro’s potrayal of a Green Beret in The Deer Hunter (1978) earned him a second Best Actor nod. In 1980, De Niro took on his most challenging part yet (at least physically), gaining 50 pounds to play boxer Jake LaMotta in Scorsese’s Raging Bull, based on LaMotta’s autobiography. The role garnered him an Academy Award for Best Actor. The film, now considered a classic, was nominated for eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci, who played LaMotta’s brother).

For the next 10 years, De Niro branched out into a number of different types of films, with varying degrees of success. He co-starred with Jerry Lewis in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1983) and with James Woods and Pesci in the mob drama Once Upon a Time in America (1984). He gamely tried his hand at romantic drama (starring opposite Meryl Streep in 1984’s Falling in Love); science-fiction/fantasy (1985’s Brazil); and historical drama (1986’s The Mission).

De Niro had more success in 1987, when he reunited with De Palma in The Untouchables, appearing as Al Capone opposite Kevin Costner as FBI agent Eliot Ness. The next year, he scored a huge hit with the action-comedy Midnight Run (1988), co-starring Charles Grodin as the white-collar criminal De Niro’s bounty hunter attempts to bring from New York to Los Angeles after he jumps bail.

In 1988, De Niro bought a former coffee factory just a few blocks from his loft in the TriBeCa neighborhood of Manhattan and converted it into the TriBeCa Film Center, headquarters for Tribeca Films, the production company that he founded with Jane Rosenthal. De Niro’s first project as an executive producer was a disappointing 1989 remake of We’re No Angels, written by David Mamet and co-starring De Niro and Sean Penn. De Niro earned a fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 1990 for Penny Marshall’s Awakenings, in which he starred as a patient who regains consciousness after 30 years in a coma. Robin Williams co-starred as the doctor who treats him; the film also earned nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. He had even more success that same year with Scorsese’s Goodfellas, co-starring Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta—the story of three friends moving their way up in the hierarchy of the Mafia in New York.

In 1991, De Niro scored yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination for his frightening performance as the murderous Max Cady in Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear, co-starring Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange. De Niro made his directorial debut in 1993 with the critically acclaimed but underseen film A Bronx Tale. He also produced and acted in the film, playing the concerned father of a young man (played by Lillo Brancato) growing up in a Mafia-dominated neighborhood in New York. The film was based on a play written by Chazz Palminteri (who also co-starred as the neighborhood’s resident crime boss). In addition to his production work in film, De Niro also produced the short-lived television anthology series TriBeCa, which aired in 1993.

Even as De Niro began to build up his record as a producer and a director, he continued to work tirelessly as an actor—the realm in which he had found the greatest success. After a rare romantic turn in the offbeat Mad Dog and Glory (1993), co-starring Uma Thurman and Bill Murray, De Niro starred as “the Creature” in Kenneth Branagh’s ambitious adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein (1994). The much-hyped film was a critical and commercial failure. De Niro had more success returning to familiar territory in Heat, a slick crime drama that marked his first on-screen pairing with Al Pacino (the two had co-starred in The Godfather: Part II, but had no scenes together). The film, directed by Michael Mann, received good reviews, but was ultimately a commercial disappointment. In 1995, De Niro reunited yet again with Pesci and Scorsese in the violent Las Vegas gangster drama Casino, co-starring Sharon Stone.

The indefatigable De Niro continued to act in and produce a steady stream of films throughout the 1990s. In 1996, he starred as a psychotic man stalking a famous baseball player (played by Wesley Snipes) in the immensely forgettable The Fan. That same year, he turned in strong supporting performances in Sleepers and Marvin’s Room, a family drama starring Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, and Leonardo DiCaprio (De Niro also produced the latter film). He had more success in 1997 with Jackie Brown, directed by Quentin Tarantino and co-starring Samuel L. Jackson, and Wag the Dog, a black comedy that De Niro produced and co-starred in alongside Dustin Hoffman. He also had a supporting role in Cop Land, starring Sylvester Stallone and Harvey Keitel.

After a small role in a critically-panned film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and a high-intensity performance in the action-thriller Ronin (both 1998), De Niro scored a huge hit in 1999 with Analyze This, a comedy that he also produced with TriBeca Films.

In the film, the famously villainous De Niro earned laughs as a Mafia don plagued by anxiety; Billy Crystal co-starred as the terrified psychiatrist who unwillingly treats him. Later that year, De Niro returned to drama in the decidedly less commercial Flawless. In 2000, he starred as Fearless Leader in the combined live action/animated The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which he also produced, and as a disapproving father-former CIA agent in the comedy Meet the Parents, costarring Ben Stiller and Blythe Danner.

After costarring with Cuba Gooding Jr. in Men of Honor (2000), De Niro headlined 15 Minutes (2001), an action thriller costarring Ed Burns. He also starred alongside Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, and Marlon Brando in The Score (2001).

De Niro entered the restaurant business with the opening of the TriBeCa Grill in 1988 (based on the ground floor of the TriBeCa Film Center). He is also a partner in Nobu, a high-profile Japanese restaurant with branches in New York, London, and Las Vegas, among other cities.

Notoriously private about his personal life, De Niro was married to the actress Diahnne Abbott from 1976 to 1988. The couple had one son, Raphael, and De Niro adopted Abbott's daughter from a previous marriage, Dreena. A lengthy romance with model-turned-restaurateur Toukie Smith produced twin sons, Aaron and Julian, through a surrogate mother. In 1997, De Niro married longtime girlfriend Grace Hightower, a former flight attendant. The couple had a son, Elliott, in 1998. De Niro reportedly filed for divorce in the summer of 1999.

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