A few days shy of his 75th birthday on Aug. 17, Robert De Niro hit the beach in Santa Monica, CA and took a dip in the Pacific. Though he’s marking his 50th year as a movie star, he’s never gone Hollywood — his hometown is where his heart is. “Hollywood is a place, an industry, and a state of mind,” Robert has said. “But New York, New York is home.” That’s where the most important people in his life are. “To me, family is everything,” he shared. “My wife, Grace, my children, my grandkids [are] my entertainment, my art, my passion.”
Family has always come first for Robert, even though his parents — painters Robert De Niro Sr. and Virginia Admiral — divorced when he was only two years old. His dad came out as gay, and the family remained close; when Robert Sr. was stricken with cancer, Virginia cared for him, and their son bought them apartments close to each other in NYC. She was by her ex-husband’s bedside when he died in 1993 at 71, and she passed in 2000 at 85. Robert’s parents taught him about the importance of art as well. A shy kid, he gained confidence after he discovered acting, making his debut at 10 as the Cowardly Lion in a school production of The Wizard of Oz.
He joined forces with another native of Manhattan’s Little Italy, director Martin Scorsese, on 1973’s Mean Streets, and their collaborations on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull established him as the finest actor of his time. “Bob’s legacy will endure for generations,” Martin, who also directed him in New York, New York; The King of Comedy; GoodFellas; Cape Fear; Casino and the upcoming gangster pic The Irishman has said. “The world of cinema is all the better for his brilliance.”
He’s experienced his share of turmoil in his personal life, weathering splits from actress Diahnne Abbott and model Toukie Smith, with whom he shares two children each. He later worked through a separation from wife Grace Hightower, the mother of his two youngest kids. “Robert says his daughter Helen, who’s six, keeps him young,” an insider exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “He gets a workout keeping up with her.”
In recent years, Robert has displayed a lighter spirit on-screen in comedies like Meet the Parents and its sequels, Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers. But when it comes to helping out friends and loved ones, he’s dead serious. Ben Stiller, his Parents co-star, reached out to Robert, who survived prostate cancer in 2003, after getting a similar diagnosis. “He said, ‘It’s OK, you’ll take care of it, it’ll be fine,’ and maybe because he’s a great actor, I believed him,” Ben, who’s had a full recovery, has said. “I really feel like the cancer heard Bob and knew not to f-ck with him.”
He’s a man in constant motion, owning numerous restaurants (including the Nobu sushi chain) and luxury hotels as well as heading the Tribeca Film Festival, which he started after 9/11 as a way to attract visitors back to downtown Manhattan. “The greatest thing Robert has learned is to live life to the fullest,” said the insider. “Losing his father at 71 means he’s outlived his dad, and it’s made him aware he shouldn’t put off doing what makes him happy.”
Retirement doesn’t seem to be a word in his vocabulary. He’s recently been in talks to co-star with Joaquin Phoenix in a movie centered around Batman’s archenemy, The Joker. “My main interest has always been movies — making them, directing them, being involved,” Robert, who also co-directed the Broadway-musical version of his filmmaking debut, A Bronx Tale, has said. “I have never lost the passion for that.” And that’s no joke. “I don’t really think of retirement. I don’t know what else I would do other than what I’m doing.”
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