Robert De Niro opens up about his gay father

Newsweek/Robert De Niro
Newsweek/Robert De Niro

Usually, when it comes to any of the high-profile coming out stories that have popped up in the headlines, it’s involving an athlete on the rise, a music artist or the child of a celebrity. But in a surprising turn, film titan Robert De Niro is now sharing the once private story of his late father, Robert De Niro Sr., who was an openly gay man.

In deeply personal interview with Out Magazine, De Niro recalls the life of his late father, a figurative painter who passed away in 1993 from cancer, and takes the magazine to his father’s home studio in New York City’s Soho, which he kept preserved for years after his death.

“It was the only way to keep his being, his existence alive,” De Niro said of keeping up with his father’s old home. “To me, he was always a great artist.”

De Niro decided to open up to the public about his father’s life after he made the decision to create a documentary about his dad, “Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr.,” which will premiere on HBO on June 9.

“It was my responsibility to make a documentary about him. I was always planning on doing it, but never did. Then Jane Rosenthal, my partner at Tribeca [Enterprises] said, ‘We should start doing that now.’ It was not intended to be on HBO. It was just something I wanted to do,” De Niro explained.

For the documentary, De Niro lets viewers in on his father’s private life, which includes a longheld struggle with his sexuality.

“He probably was [conflicted] about his homosexuality, being from that generation,” the actor admitted. “Especially from a small town upstate. I was not aware,much, of it. I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.”

“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 may be 20 years from now—and that’s too late,” he added.

De Niro explains that he didn’t spend much time with his father after his parents divorced, but they did form a special bond with each other regardless of their time apart.

“We were not the type of father and son who played baseball together, as you can surmise,” De Niro continued. “But we had a connection. I wasn’t with him a lot, because my mother and he were separated and divorced. I looked after him in certain ways.”

As he spoke about his father, De Niro became emotional and would visibly shake throughout the interview, even coming to the point of sobbing as he talked about his father. And though he says he hasn’t strugged with talking about his father’s sexuality, it has been quite the emotional ride reliving every facet of his father’s life.

“No, no. I think it’s time. I thought about it, of course, but if you’re going to do something, you have to do it all the way. You can’t hide anything. That’s the whole point—the truth,” said De Niro.

We commend De Niro on sharing his father’s life with the world and we’re definitely intrigued to see the documentary when it premieres next month. – nicholas robinson

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