Robert De Niro, born August 17, 1943, left school at age 16 to study acting with Stella Adler. He then worked with many acclaimed film directors like Brian DePalma, Elia Kazan, and, most importantly, Martin Scorsese. His roles in The Godfather, Part II
Actor. Robert De Niro was born 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 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, Admiral and Robert Sr. nevertheless split ways in 1945, when young Robert was only two 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 the films of the Swedish film star 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 ten, he made his stage debut as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz; soon after, he earned a scholarship to the prestigious private High School of Music and Art. However, feeling overwhelmed and unprepared for the intense and competitive atmosphere, he dropped out to attend public school after only a few days. De Niro proved uninterested in school and as a teenager he 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, De Niro decided to drop out of high school to study acting. 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 in Stella Adler's acting conservatory, and although 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 and began auditioning. Actress Sally Kirkland recalls that instead of traditional headshots, De Niro showed up to auditions with "a portfolio of about twenty-five 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. The next year, 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.
Since then, De Niro has turned in an endless string of heavyweight performances that reaffirm again and again his status as one of the greatest actors of his generation and all time. In 1976, he delivered perhaps the most chilling performance of his career as the vengeful cabbie Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. In 1980, he portrayed middleweight boxer Jake La Motta in the commercially unsuccessful but critically adored film Raging Bull, a role for which the previously skinny De Niro put on 60 pounds of muscle. He remarked at the time, "I see so many fight movies where the actors are out of shape, I don't believe them& I've got Sylvester Stallone's trainer." De Niro was rewarded for his dedication with the Academy Award for Best Actor. His most notable performances of the 1980s also include 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 adapted from 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 made him famous. The next year another comedy, Meet the Parents, also proved a smash hit. Sequels to those films, Analyze That (2002), Meet the Fockers (2004) and Little Fockers (2011) were all also box office successes.
Robert De Niro married actress Diahnne Abbott in 1976. They had one son before divorcing twelve years later in 1988. After his divorce from Abbott, De Niro had a long relationship with model Toukie Smith that produced twin sons in 1995. In 1997, De Niro married Grace Hightower and they have one son together.
Robert De Niro's career includes so many masterful performances that it is hard to isolate only a few highlights. He has played at least a half dozen roles that would stand out as the crowning jewel of almost any other actor's career. De Niro is nevertheless a very private and humble man who loathes talking about himself. "Why do people want to know what I eat for breakfast?
" he once quipped to an inquisitive interviewer. In order to get an honest appraisal of De Niro's career, it is necessary to turn to his colleagues in Hollywood. Matt Damon described him this way: "As an actor he's the one pretty much everyone worships."