Robert De Niro Jr. was born on August 17, 1943, in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan. Both of his parents were accomplished artists. De Niro’s father was a secret homosexual who divorced his wife in 1945.
When De Niro (Jr.) was in the 7th and 8th grades, he attended Elisabeth Irwin High School, a Manhattan institution famous for its radical politics and commonly known as “The Little Red Schoolhouse”; most of its teachers were members of the American Communist Party. Other prominent alumni of this school include the former Weather Underground terrorist Kathy Boudin; lifelong Communist Angela Davis; Michael and Robert Meeropol (sons of atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg); The Nation publisher Victor Navasky; and folk singer Mary Travers.
Developing a love for theater at an early age, De Niro in 1960 dropped out of high school to study acting. After debuting in the 1968 film Greetings, he achieved stardom with breathrough performances in two 1973 productions: Bang the Drum Slowly and Mean Streets. De Niro went on to become one of the most successful and acclaimed actors in Hollywood, appearing in such movies as The Godfather: Part II (1974), The Deer Hunter (1978), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), Analyze This (1999), Meet the Parents (2000), and Meet the Fockers (2004). By 2019, he had ammasssed a net worth of approximately $500 million.
In a December 2006 television appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews, De Niro was asked who he hoped would become the next president of the United States, to which he replied: “Well, I think of two people: Hillary Clinton and [Barack] Obama.” By early 2008, he was actively campaigning for the latter. At an Obama rally that February, De Niro addressed the claims of critics who had said that Obama’s political resumé was too thin to qualify him for the White House. “Barack Obama doesn’t have the experience to run for President of the United States,” said De Niro sarcastically, “and I can prove it. He did not have the foresight to vote for the Iraq War. You know: that’s the kind of inexperience I can get used to. That’s the kind of inexperience our country deserves.”
When receiving a Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony in January 2011, De Niro, in his acceptance speech, used humor to mock U.S. immigration laws: “I’m sorry more members of the Hollywood Foreign Press aren’t with us tonight, but many of them were deported right before the show, along with most of the waiters … and [Spanish actor] Javier Bardem…. For the rest of you, I hope your papers are in order, because Homeland Security will be checking them just as soon as they’re through with the full body scans of [actress] Megan Fox.”
At a March 2012 fundraiser for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, De Niro listed the wives of several Republican presidential candidates—“Callista Gingrich, Karen Santorum, Ann Romney”—and joked: “Now, do you really think our country is ready for a white First Lady?”
In a May 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked De Niro if he felt “as inspired” by President Obama, who was seeking re-election, as he had felt four years earlier. De Niro replied: “… I think he’s done a good job … as far as [killing] bin Laden and other things that he stepped up—being a liberal president, supposedly—that were effective…. I give him credit and I know he’ll do better in the next four years, when he won’t have to worry whether he’s going to be elected or not.” De Niro also exhorted Republicans to be more supportive of the president’s agenda: “… [G]ive us some faith in your behavior and don’t make preposterous statements, don’t get into all this posturing and silliness. Try to be—try to move forward and help the president, even though you’re from another party, the other party. Try to stop criticizing so much. Try to move it forward.”
De Niro gave Obama a ringing endorsement in a September 2013 interview published in Du Jour magazine: “He’s a good person, period…. [H]e represents, I think, the best of the type of people that I would like to see running the government.”
That same year, De Niro appeared—along with luminaries like Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Naomi Watts—in The World Must Stand Together, a video produced by Global Zero, an organization whose mission is to eliminate all nuclear weapons from the earth.
In August 2014, De Niro and his wife, Grace Hightower, were among the specially invited guests who attended Barack Obama’s three-day U.S.-African Leaders Summit for African heads of state and their spouses.
In April 2015, De Niro was asked whether he thought Hillary Clinton would become the next U.S. president. He replied: “Hopefully it will be her, yes. I think that she’s paid her dues. There are going to be no surprises, and she has earned the right to be president and the head of the country at this point. It’s that simple. And she’s a woman, which is very important because her take on things may be what we need right now.”
In an October 2016 interview, De Niro called Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “a dog,” “a pig,” “a con,” “an idiot,” and “a bulls—t artist … who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” “He [Trump] talks [about] how he wants to punch people in the face?” De Niro said. “Well, I’d like to punch him in the face.” When Trump subsequently won the election in November 2016, De Niro said that he was “very depressed” and felt “like I did after 9/11.”
While presenting actress Meryl Streep with a “Best Actress” award at the National Board of Review Annual Awards Gala on January 9, 2018, De Niro went off script to characterize President Donald Trump as a “fu**ing fool,” a “fu**ing idiot,” the “baby-in-chief,” and the “jerk-off-in-chief.”
Speaking to the New York Times in December 2019, De Niro said that he would never agree to play Donald Trump in any acting role because he viewed Trump as an “awful person” with “nothing redeemable about him.” “The president is supposed to set an example of trying to do the right thing,” the actor elaborated. “Not be a nasty little bitch. Because that’s what he is. He’s a petulant little punk. There’s not one thing that I see in him or his family, not any redeeming qualities. They’re out on the take. It’s like a gangster family.” Regarding Trump’s supporters, De Niro said: “Trump has people who follow him who are crazy and want to do crazy things. What we’re doing in film, it’s like a dream. We know it’s not real. There are people who will take anything to be real and that we have no control over.”
Further Reading: “Robert De Niro” (Biography.com).