Yes, we're talkin' to you. Here, to celebrate Robert De Niro's birthday, are 20 facts that may surprise you about the legendary star of movies ranging from "Taxi Driver to "Silver Linings Playbook."
He Had an Unusual Nickname
Robert Anthony De Niro was born August 17, 1943, and grew up in Greenwich Village in downtown Manhattan. His complexion was so pale that other kids called him "Bobby Milk."
He Got an Early Start
De Niro landed his first role at the age of 10 (several years after this photo of him with his dad was taken). He played the Cowardly Lion in P.S. 41's production of "The Wizard of Oz."
His Father Was a Distinguished Artist
Both of his parents were artists. They divorced when Bobby was two, after his father revealed that he was gay. Paintings by Robert De Niro Sr. are in a number of museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and also hang in some of the restaurants and hotels owned by his actor son.
He Was Baptized in Secret
His mother, Virginia Admiral, was an atheist, his father a lapsed Catholic. But De Niro's grandparents had him secretly baptized while he was staying with them during his parents' divorce.
He Worked Cheap
Between 1968 and 1970, De Niro was paid just $50 for co-starring in each of three early Brian De Palma films: "Greetings," "The Wedding Party" and "Hi, Mom!" Years later, he commanded $20 million for a picture.
He Has Some Famous Friends From Way Back
In the old days, De Niro would spend Thanksgivings at Shelley Winters' place, along with other struggling actors, including Al Pacino. "I'm his Jewish mama—or is it Italian?" Winters once said. "Just say we are close, close friends."
He and Marlon Brando Have a Unique Distinction
They are the only actors to win Academy Awards for the same role: Vito Corleone. Brando won an Oscar for playing him in "The Godfather," De Niro for portraying Vito as a young man in "The Godfather Part II."
He's Not Entirely Italian-American
De Niro (seen here on location in Italy during the filming of the 1976 historical drama "1900") had both Irish and Italian grandparents. One summer back in the '60s, he hitchhiked and took boats from Ireland to Italy in an effort to trace his roots. In Campobasso, between Naples and Rome, he found the De Niro family.
He and Scorsese Crossed Paths Before They Knew Each Other
De Niro and and Martin Scorsese lived only blocks apart when they were growing up. But the actor and the director didn't meet until they were introduced at a party in 1972—and instantly realized they'd seen each other many times before. They went on to work on eight movies together, including "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas."
He Really Was a Taxi Driver
To prepare for the role of Travis Bickle in 1976's "Taxi Driver," De Niro applied for a hack license and reportedly worked 12-hour shifts as a New York cab driver.
He and Jodie Foster Avoid the Same Subject
De Niro was devastated to learn that John Hinckley's 1981 attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan was inspired by his portrayal of Travis Bickle. Like his co-star Jodie Foster, he doesn't like to talk about. it. "Do not ever bring up the subject of 'Taxi Driver' with Robert," director Ulu Grosbard once warned a journalist. "He gets extremely upset."
He's Had Long Marriages (by Hollywood Standards)
De Niro—seen here with his first wife, Diahnne Abbott—has been married twice. His first marriage lasted from 1976 to 1988, when he and Abbott divorced. Since 1997, De Niro has been married to Grace Hightower (although they broke up in 1999, the couple got back together and renewed their vows in 2004). He has six children and four grandchildren.
He Supported Fellow Actors
After seeing Meryl Streep in a play, De Niro suggested her for the role of his girlfriend in 1978's "The Deer Hunter." Her real-life boyfriend John Cazale (Fredo in "The Godfather") was already cast when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but the studio decided to drop him because insuring him would be prohibitive. De Niro paid for the insurance.
He Gave Joe Pesci a Body Shot
During a sparring scene in 1980's "Raging Bull," De Niro—playing middleweight champion Jake LaMotta—accidentally broke one of Joe Pesci's ribs. That's the take that appears in the movie.
He Was One of the Last People to See John Belushi Alive
At 3 a.m. on March 5, 1982, De Niro visited his friend at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, but left when he found Belushi strung out on drugs. Robin Williams had visited the SNL legend about an hour earlier. Belushi was found dead from an overdose later that day.
He Paid a Dentist to Mess Up His Smile
For the role of Max Cady, the sadistic ex-con in 1991's "Cape Fear," De Niro reportedly paid a dentist thousands of dollars to make his teeth look bad—and an even larger sum to have them restored when the filming was done.
He Went to Bat for Bill Clinton
In 1998, De Niro phoned members of Congress and tried to persuade them not to impeach President Clinton. "This was something that he did on his own," a spokesman for the actor told the BBC. "He was not asked to do it." A year earlier, De Niro had played a Washington spin doctor in "Wag the Dog," a movie often referred to during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
He Became Furious With France
"I will never return to France," De Niro (seen here with his wife Grace Hightower) vowed in 2008. He then told the country to take back his Legion of Honor medal. The reason for his outrage: French authorities had accused De Niro involvement with a prostitution ring and, according to the BBC, questioned him for nine hours before he was released. (The actor apparently got over it: He served as a juror at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011.)
He's an Italian Citizen
In 2006, De Niro received an Italian passport. He now has dual citizenship.
He Ad-Libbed His Most Famous Line
"You talking' to me?"—No. 10 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest movie quotes of all time—wasn't in the "Taxi Driver" script. De Niro came up with it while improvising a scene that grew out of a single sentence in the screenplay: "Travis looks in the mirror."
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