Robert De Niro Talks Openly About Having a Gay Father, “I Wish We Had Spoken About It Much More”
Robert De Niro is a Hollywood legend known for his iconic roles in films like The Godfather Part II, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. But recently, he also opened up about a personal aspect of his life that he’s kept private for decades — his relationship with his father, Robert De Niro Sr. The elder De Niro was a renowned artist who kept his homosexuality hidden throughout his life.
Robert De Niro Sr. felt guilty about being gay.
Robert De Niro Sr. was a renowned artist and art dealer who had a career that spanned several decades. He was known for his bold use of color in his paintings, which often incorporated elements of abstraction and expressionism. Despite his success in art, he struggled to reconcile his artistic passions with his personal life, particularly his sexuality. He was gay, something that wasn’t discussed openly during his lifetime and that he had to keep hidden for most of his life.
In his book Things I Wish I’d Known: Reflections on a Life, Robert De Niro Sr. wrote about the guilt he felt about his sexuality, which added to the complexity of his life. He struggled to come to terms with his feelings and wrote in his journal about his feelings of fear and discomfort, as well as his desire for acceptance.
Robert De Niro wasn’t aware of his father’s struggles.
Robert had a complex relationship with his father. He separated from his wife, Robert De Niro Jr.’s mother, when the actor was just 2 years old, but the couple didn’t officially divorce until a decade later when De Niro Jr. was 12. Despite their separation, he considered his father a good dad and described him as a loving and devoted father who was always present in his life.
However, growing up, he didn’t realize his father’s torment over his sexuality. It was only later in life, as a young adult, that his mother opened up to him about it, albeit in a vague and ambiguous manner. The revelation confused him, as it was not an openly discussed topic in his family.
The lack of open communication and understanding weighed heavily on him, and he recently opened up in an interview, “I wish we had spoken about it much more,” he said. “My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.”
Robert De Niro Sr. passed away in 1993, leaving a precious legacy in the form of 4 journals filled with his reflections and inner thoughts.
In one of his journals, he wrote, “I am full of fear... of the discomfort caused by my own thoughts, feelings, sensations. There is so much I have left out of this journal... My laments, wailings, self-pity, and complaining are much greater than I have [indicated] here.”
De Niro delves into his father’s personal musings by reading parts from De Niro Sr.’s journals. They provide an in-depth look into his father’s internal struggles, particularly regarding accepting his sexuality.
Through reading these journals, De Niro has gained a deeper understanding of his father and the challenges he faced. He reflects on this, saying, “Obviously, I realize now that it was hard for him. He had a lot of what seem like classic conflicts about all that.”
He does everything in his power to honor his father’s legacy.
De Niro has kept his father’s artist studios almost just as he left them, filled with half-finished canvases and paintbrushes. He also produced an HBO documentary in tribute to his father’s life and work.
Robert De Niro’s story is a reminder that even the most successful and accomplished individuals have their demons to battle. It also serves as a call to action for us to have open and honest communication with our loved ones and to appreciate and preserve the legacies of those who have come before us.
In the words of Robert De Niro, “Again, for my kids, I want them to stop and take a moment and realize that you sometimes have to do things now instead of later because later, maybe 20 years from now — and that’s too late.”
Have you ever experienced a similar situation with a family member where a topic was not discussed openly?