Biography of Robert De Niro 2024

Robert De Niro was born on August 17, 1943 in Manhattan, New York City. His parents were both painters – his father Robert De Niro Sr. was an abstract expressionist painter, while his mother Virginia Admiral was a painter and poet.

De Niro was raised in the Greenwich Village and Little Italy neighborhoods of Manhattan. His parents divorced when he was young and he was primarily raised by his mother. De Niro was surrounded by a thriving artistic community growing up due to his parents’ involvement in the art world.

At age 10, De Niro was cast in a production of The Wizard of Oz put on by his school. This marked the beginning of his interest in acting. As a teenager, De Niro attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City, but he eventually dropped out to pursue acting full time.

Early Acting Career

De Niro began studying acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory and made his film debut in 1963, at age 20, with a small role in The Wedding Party. Throughout the 1960s, De Niro continued to study acting and take small film roles. He had a breakthrough performance in 1968, playing a small-time hoodlum in Greetings.

In 1973, De Niro had his first major role in Bang the Drum Slowly, playing a terminally ill baseball player. That same year, he also caught the attention of director Martin Scorsese, who cast him as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. De Niro’s brilliant take on the iconic role earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Rise to Stardom in the 1970s

After his success in The Godfather Part II, De Niro became a major star. He had a string of incredible performances in prestigious films throughout the 1970s that cemented his status as one of the era’s finest actors.

Collaboration with Martin Scorsese

De Niro’s most fruitful creative partnership was with director Martin Scorsese. Together they made several landmark films:

  • Taxi Driver (1976) – As troubled insomniac Travis Bickle, De Niro delivered one of his most iconic performances. The film examines loneliness and alienation in modern society.
  • New York, New York (1977) – De Niro played a cocky saxophonist opposite Liza Minnelli’s aspiring singer. The film was a box office flop but later became a cult classic.
  • Raging Bull (1980) – Arguably De Niro’s defining performance, he played volatile boxer Jake LaMotta from his promising youth to washed up middle age. De Niro won an Oscar for his intense physical and emotional transformation.
  • The King of Comedy (1982) – As wannabe comedian Rupert Pupkin, De Niro displayed his comedic chops in this satire on celebrity culture.

Other Major 1970s Films

  • The Deer Hunter (1978) – De Niro played a Pennsylvania steelworker whose life is torn apart by the Vietnam War. The emotionally grueling film won 5 Oscars including Best Picture.
  • 1900 (1976) – Epic historical drama by Bernardo Bertolucci starring De Niro as a peasant named Olmo. He struggles against the wealthy landowner Alfredo (Gérard Depardieu) across 20th century Italy.
  • The Last Tycoon (1976) – De Niro had a small but memorable role as Monroe Stahr, a movie executive modeled on Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg.
  • Mean Streets (1973) – One of De Niro’s early team-ups with Scorsese, playing a small-time hoodlum struggling with guilt and religiosity. Harvey Keitel co-starred.

By the end of the 1970s, Robert De Niro was considered one of the best actors of his generation due to these risky, intense performances.

Continued Success in the 1980s and 90s

In the 1980s, De Niro began expanding his range into comedic roles and mixed critical reception. He still earned acclaim for several roles:

  • Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – Sergio Leone’s 4 hour epic crime saga, with De Niro as a Jewish gangster.
  • Brazil (1985) – De Niro had an amusing cameo as a guerilla plumber in Terry Gilliam’s dystopian black comedy.
  • The Untouchables (1987) – As Chicago gangster Al Capone opposite Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness, De Niro was memorably menacing. His Capone went on to become an iconic screen villain.
  • Goodfellas (1990) – Another collaboration with Scorsese and possibly De Niro’s last great performance, as real-life mobster Jimmy Conway.

In the 1990s and beyond, De Niro continued working steadily in a mix of dramas, comedies, and crime films for top directors. Some highlights include:

  • Heat (1995) – Crime epic from Michael Mann, with De Niro as a master thief opposite cop Al Pacino.
  • Casino (1995) – De Niro’s final Scorsese mob film, playing ruthless Las Vegas casino boss Sam “Ace” Rothstein.
  • Wag the Dog (1997) – De Niro displayed deft comedy as a political spin doctor helping create a fake war to distract from a presidential scandal.
  • Ronin (1998) – As an icy freelance intelligence agent in John Frankenheimer’s crime thriller.
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012) – De Niro played a Philadelphia Eagles fan with obsessive compulsive disorder opposite Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. He earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

While De Niro lacked some of the critical prestige of his 1970s work, he remained one of the most prominent actors in cinema. His name still attracted top directors and co-stars eager to work with a bona fide screen legend.

Acting Style and Approach

Much of Robert De Niro’s success stems from his intense commitment to fully inhabiting the minds and worlds of the characters he plays. He is renowned for the diligent research he does for every role to capture the physicality and psychology of the person.

Extreme Physical Transformations

Particularly in his early career, De Niro went to extreme lengths to alter his physical appearance and bearing for roles. Examples include:

  • Gaining 60 pounds to play boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. The added girth helped convey LaMotta’s self-destructive later years.
  • Wearing prosthetic teeth to play homeless veteran Al Pacino in Bombast – he stayed in character as a streets dweller throughout filming.
  • Learning to play the saxophone for his role as musician Jimmy Doyle in New York, New York.
  • Bulking up through intensive weight training to play Al Capone in The Untouchables.

De Niro’s physical transformations indicate his total commitment to embodying a role, from the inside out.

Psychological Realism Through Improvisation

De Niro also does extensive psychological preparation for his characters. A crucial part of his process involves improvisation – fully improvising scenes in character to discover the emotional truth of the person.

Some examples of his improvisations include:

  • Spending weeks roaming the streets of New York as lonely insomniac Travis Bickle for Taxi Driver. De Niro even obtained a real NYC taxi license.
  • Improvising the mirror scenes as boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. De Niro captures LaMotta’s intense narcissism and insecurity in these unscripted moments.
  • Rehearsing an entire fake talk show scene as wannabe comedian Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy. It allows De Niro to fully envision Pupkin’s delusional hunger for fame.

Through immersing himself so fully into fictional worlds, De Niro delivers performances of stunning psychological realism.

Frequent Collaborator with Martin Scorsese

De Niro’s collaborations with director Martin Scorsese were especially fruitful. Scorsese’s often improvisational, method-inspired shooting style meshed perfectly with De Niro’s rigorous acting approach. Together, they created several career-defining films.

Scorsese allowed De Niro the space to rehearse at length, improvise, and find the emotional truth of his characters. Their partnership enabled them to consistently draw out career-best work from each other.

Personal Life

In his personal life, Robert De Niro has been married twice and has 6 children.

Marriages and Children

De Niro married actress and singer Diahnne Abbott in 1976. They had a son named Raphael before divorcing in 1988.

In 1997 De Niro married actress Grace Hightower. He had a son named Elliot with Hightower through a surrogate mother. De Niro and Hightower divorced in 2018.

De Niro also has 4 other children through surrogate mothers while with Hightower – twins Aaron and Julian (conceived in 1995), daughter Helen (conceived in 2011), and daughter Caroline (conceived in 2011).

Despite two divorces, De Niro maintains a friendly relationship with his ex-wives and remains close with his 6 children.

Businesses and Properties

In addition to acting, De Niro has several business ventures and properties. He co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival in lower Manhattan in 2002. He also co-owns several luxury hotels and restaurants.

Some of De Niro’s major business holdings and properties include:

  • The Greenwich Hotel in Manhattan.
  • Nobu Restaurant chain – co-owned with chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
  • Tribeca Grill Restaurant in Manhattan.
  • Share of the Tribeca Productions film and television company.
  • Paradise Found Nobu Resort in Barbuda – luxury beachfront hotel and resort.

De Niro is estimated to have a net worth of around $500 million thanks to his lucrative acting career and shrewd business investments.

Political Activism

Politically, De Niro is an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump. He has denounced Trump numerous times at public events and rallies. While presenting at the Tony Awards in 2018, De Niro declared “F*** Trump!” on live television.

De Niro is also an advocate for several social issues including advocating for the rights of LGBTQ individuals and speaking out against police brutality. He uses his platform as a world-famous actor to promote progressive causes.

Despite some controversy over his Trump comments, De Niro remains one of Hollywood’s most politically active stars. He continues to lend his voice to issues he believes in.

Legacy and Influence on Cinema

Robert De Niro leaves behind an incredible cinematic legacy thanks to his intensely committed acting style and work with top-tier directors like Scorsese, Bertolucci, Michael Mann, and Francis Ford Coppola.

Hollywood’s Greatest Method Actor

De Niro is considered one of the foremost practitioners of the Method acting technique in cinema history. The physical and psychological realism he brings to roles is largely unmatched.

Actors for decades to come will continue looking to De Niro’s transformative performances as the standard for full immersion into characters. His acting method has influenced generations of actors.

Defining Films of the 1970s American Renaissance

De Niro was a key player in the 1970s American film renaissance that saw visionary directors push the artistic boundaries of cinema. Films like Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, and Raging Bull captured the contradictions and complexity of America with unprecedented rawness.

De Niro was central to this movement’s spirit of gritty social realism fused with artistic experimentation. His body of ’70s work includes some of the most culturally significant films of the 20th century.

Greatest Actor Partnership with Martin Scorsese

The series of films De Niro made with director Martin Scorsese rank among the most fruitful actor-director partnerships. Together they consistently inspired career-best work from each other.

Films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas benefited enormously from the psychological depth De Niro brought to his characters combined with Scorsese’s dynamic direction. Their names will be forever linked in cinema history thanks to these landmark collaborations.

Permanent Pop Culture Icon

Beyond his artistic merits, De Niro has become one of the most ubiquitous pop culture figures thanks to his famous characters and lines. Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta, Rupert Pupkin, Al Capone and others remain permanent icons decades later.

De Niro’s “You talkin’ to me?” line from Taxi Driver is one of the most widely quoted and parodied movie lines. His name is still synonymous with the pinnacle of American film acting.

Few artists ever achieve the combination of unparalleled critical respect and long-lasting mass popularity that epitomizes Robert De Niro’s career. He is both a once-in-a-generation acting talent as well as a permanent fixture in global pop culture.


Robert De Niro is undoubtedly one of the most significant actors of the late 20th century. The commitment and realism he brought to some of cinema’s most indelible characters makes him a true icon. He will forever be linked to the 1970s American film renaissance and director Martin Scorsese thanks to their landmark collaborations.

Beyond his artistic merits, De Niro has become a ubiquitous pop culture figure whose films and lines are constantly referenced, parodied, and idolized. His name is still synonymous with intensely rigorous acting. At nearly 80 years old, De Niro’s incredible career continues today as he expands into producing, business ventures, and political activism while still taking on select acting roles.

De Niro has crafted an unparalleled cinematic legacy through his willingness to fully transform himself physically and mentally for parts. Future actors can only hope to capture a fraction of the mystery, gravitas, and psychological depth that De Niro brought to the screen. He remains an acting genius to be studied and marveled at for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions about Robert De Niro’s Biography

When and where was Robert De Niro born?

Robert De Niro was born on August 17, 1943 in Manhattan, New York City. He was born in the Greenwich Village neighborhood where he was primarily raised by his mother, Virginia Admiral, after his parents divorced.

What was De Niro’s first film role?

De Niro’s first ever film role came in 1963 at age 20 when he had an uncredited part in the film The Wedding Party. His first major credited role came 10 years later in 1973 when he played a dying baseball player in Bang the Drum Slowly.

How did De Niro prepare for his famous Taxi Driver role?

To play insomniac taxi driver Travis Bickle in the 1976 film Taxi Driver, De Niro actually obtained a real NYC taxi license and spent weeks driving taxis and roaming New York City alone at night to embody Bickle’s loneliness and isolation.

How much weight did De Niro gain for Raging Bull?

De Niro gained around 60 pounds of muscle and fat to portray middle-aged boxer Jake LaMotta in 1980’s Raging Bull. The dramatic physical transformation helped convey LaMotta’s self-destruction and decline later in life.

What was De Niro’s salary for The Godfather Part II?

De Niro was paid just $35,000 for his breakout supporting role as young Vito Corleone in 1974’s The Godfather Part II. At the time he was still an unknown actor. His brilliant performance made him an instant star.

Which director does De Niro most frequently collaborate with?

Martin Scorsese by far. De Niro and Scorsese have made 9 feature films together, starting with 1973’s Mean Streets. Their partnership has yielded some of cinema’s most acclaimed films including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas.

What political causes does De Niro support?

De Niro is an outspoken critic of Donald Trump and a supporter of progressive political causes. He advocates for LGBTQ rights, campaigns against police brutality, and raises money for the Democratic party. De Niro frequently speaks at rallies and events for causes he believes in.

How many Oscars has De Niro won?

De Niro has won 2 Academy Awards – Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II (1974) and Best Actor for Raging Bull (1980). He also has 7 other Oscar nominations for his acting.

What was De Niro’s highest grossing film?

De Niro’s highest grossing film is most likely 2001’s Meet the Parents, a comedy which earned over $330 million worldwide. Within his more acclaimed films, 1990’s Goodfellas was his most popular hit, earning $46 million.

Who influenced De Niro’s acting technique?

De Niro studied acting under Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, two of the most renowned American acting coaches who emphasized psychological realism. De Niro adapted their teachings on Method acting into his own famously intense, fully immersive approach to roles.