Leonardo DiCaprio: The Biography

Leonardo DiCaprio: The Biography

by Douglas Wight


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781782197270
Publisher: John Blake Publishing, Limited
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Pages: 310
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Douglas Wight is a former reporter for the Sun. He held news and features editor positions for the News of the World, and for the last three years before its closure he was Books Editor. He is now a writer.

Read an Excerpt

The Biography Leonardo DiCaprio

By Douglas Wight

John Blake Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Douglas Wight
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85782-959-4



Life for Leo really began not on the mean streets of Los Angeles where, famously, he was raised, but back in semi-rural Germany during the Second World War. For an episode then was to have a massive bearing on whether the world would ever be blessed with his talents at all.

Helene Indenbirken was a young mother whose daughter Irmelin was just two when she suffered a broken leg and had to be admitted to hospital. The local infirmary near their home in Oer-Erkenschwick, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, was understaffed and over-stretched. As little Irmelin lay in bed supposedly recuperating, as the nurses believed, no one took the time to notice that she was actually, silently, wasting away.

As the wards became flooded with more refugees and war-wounded, the nurses on duty had less time to deal with the apparently non-life-threatening cases. Only Helene, who'd arrived in Germany as a Russian immigrant called Yelena Smirnova, recognised something was gravely wrong with her infant child. Seeing that resources were stretched to breaking point and realising if something wasn't done quickly then her daughter could die, Helene took it upon herself to diagnose and administer the care Irmelin so desperately needed.

What should have been a routine recuperation turned into an agonising ordeal for Helene as Irmelin developed infection after infection and spent a staggering two-and-a-half years in hospital, fighting for her life. Emaciated and malnourished, her stomach became distended and at times, Helene feared she would not make it. But, thanks to her dedication and determination, the youngster gradually recovered and eventually was strong enough to leave hospital while the war raged on.

When Helene's sole concern was her daughter's life she could never have believed that the outcome of those crucial first few months in hospital would have had such a bearing on the family's fortunes but it is something Leonardo has never failed to appreciate.

Speaking of his mother's battle for life, he said: 'She ended up contracting five or six major illnesses and stayed for two-and-a-half, three years [in hospital]. My grandmother basically came every day and nursed her back to health because the nurses didn't have time; they basically left her for dead. When you see a picture of my mother, it's heartbreaking. It brings tears to my eyes, knowing what she's been through in her life. I have a picture of her – her first photograph, with this tiny little skirt – and she's emaciated, with a belly like this,' he adds, gesturing to indicate the size of a beach ball. 'She had a belly full of worms.'

Incredibly, given her tender years, that episode wasn't the first brush with death Irmelin had experienced. Born in an air-raid shelter, she might not have survived beyond her first few breaths had the aim of Allied fighter pilots been off. That innate sense of survival may have fostered in Irmelin a desire to make the most of the chance her mother had given her. When she was 11, her family left Oer-Erkenschwick and moved to the United States to start a new life in New York. She enrolled at City College and in 1963 it was there that she met and fell in love with an enigmatic young beatnik called George DiCaprio. Born in 1943, George was an American hippie whose ancestors hailed from Naples, in Italy, and Bavaria in southern Germany. He had long, straggly hair and a bohemian air about him.

George's grandfather had made the perilous journey from Italy to America in a wooden boat and the young DiCaprio was to inherit much of that pioneering free spirit. George was emerging as a leading light in the alternative literature scene and would go on to count Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist William S. Burroughs as friends, as well as fellow cartoonist Robert Crumb and the writer Hubert Selby Jr. He was rooming with Sterling Morrison, the guitarist from The Velvet Underground and had already published a comic of his own – Baloney Moccasins – with Laurie Anderson, a former girlfriend of his who was also a performance artist.

Despite their initial differences in personality – George was gregarious and outgoing, while Irmelin was more reserved, yet strong-willed – the pair hit it off immediately and discovered a shared a sense of adventure along with a desire to see the world. Two years later they were married and spent the remainder of the sixties immersing themselves in the underground counter-culture. It appeared to be the natural progression of things when Irmelin fell pregnant in early 1974, but cracks were already beginning to show in their relationship. Believing West was best for a young family, they moved to Los Angeles 'in hopes of the great western ideals of a better life', as Leo told Vanity Fair in 2004. Landing in Hollywood, they scraped by with enough to pay the bills but their choices were limited and so they ended up in one of Hollywood's poorest districts. The couple had chosen Hollywood thinking it was the exciting centre of Los Angeles. Instead, their son recalled in an LA Times interview, 'they wound up by Le Sex Shoppe and the Waterbed Hotel'. George earned what little cash they had by installing asbestos – still a popular component in heat insulation, fireproof roofing and flooring in the sixties and seventies. In his spare time he distributed comics and beatnik books to local bookstores and arranged public readings for the likes of Burroughs and Ginsberg. Meanwhile, Irmelin found work as a legal secretary.

As if to perhaps convince themselves that their wandering spirit could not be curtailed by diapers and feeding schedules George and Irmelin travelled to Italy on what has been described as a second honeymoon. Visiting Florence, they stopped by the Uffizi Gallery, where they took the opportunity to appreciate the Renaissance art. As Irmelin paused to admire a painting by Leonardo da Vinci she felt a strong kick inside her. Was her baby expressing its first opinion of the arts? Irmelin certainly thought so. She decided there and then that if the child were a boy she'd name him after the Italian genius. George was delighted – his father's middle name was Leon and he loved the artistic element of the moniker.

Sadly, however, the holiday ultimately failed to save the marriage and by the time Irmelin gave birth to baby Leonardo, she and George were drifting apart. It has been well reported that Leo's parents separated before he was one, but the reality seems to be that they were apart before then, certainly on an emotional level at least.

Leonardo himself said: 'My parents were divorced before I was even born, but that's never bothered me. As far as my family is concerned, my parents were the rebellious ones – they're people who have done everything and have nothing to prove.'

Little Leo was born on 11 November 1974 and was 'the cutest kid,' according to doting grandmother Helene, who at that point remained in New York (in a quarter popular with German immigrants). Three weeks after he was born she flew to California to see the new arrival for herself. She recalled: 'Irmelin brought him to the airport in her arms. He had the roundest little face.'

Leonardo's parents might still have been living as man and wife at this stage but it was not to last. George felt stifled by domesticity and before his son's first birthday, had made plans to leave. As his parents did their best to work out how to manage things for Leonardo's sake and moved into separate households, the youngster was packed off to Russia on a cruise ship with Irmelin's parents.

By the time he was returned to his parents, George had already moved out but the solution was as unconventional as their lifestyle had been up until that point. So that they could raise their son together, George and Irmelin each moved into twin craftsman's cottages with a shared garden in the downbeat LA suburb of Echo Park. Before too long, George had met and moved in a new girlfriend called Peggy Farrar and her son Adam, who was three years older than Leo.

Peggy had recently divorced from her husband – and Adam's father – Michael Farrar, who'd managed a dairy farm in northern California. She'd met George in San Francisco, where he'd been on a business trip and she was performing with a theatre company. While Peggy was arguably saddled with the same commitments as Irmelin (though six years younger), George nevertheless must have felt his options were better with this new woman. However, so as not to deprive Leonardo of a constant father figure in his life, the compromise was to continue living next-door. Somehow, the two families managed to co-exist in relative harmony.

The only early disagreement they had to overcome was settling on a sum of maintenance for George to pay towards the upkeep of his son. Both George and Irmelin were struggling to make ends meet and she felt strongly that her estranged husband should face up to his responsibilities. When his initial offer was deemed unacceptable, Irmelin had to take her husband to court to force him to pay just $20 a week for little Leo's upkeep – all George could afford.

Life was tough for a struggling single mother. Even things that most moms would today take for granted – such as finding a suitable day care nursery, while Irmelin juggled her legal job – turned out to be a trial, particularly when her young son proved to be a handful. The infant Leo wasn't shy about making himself heard and therefore his mother found it difficult to find a nursery that would take him. On one occasion she drove to an outer district of Los Angeles to visit his new pre-school.

Leonardo remembers starting to cry, wailing, 'Am I going to stay all the way out here all day? I wanna stay home!' In the end Irmelin had little option but to solve the problem by becoming a childminder herself, taking in local kids from the neighbourhood.

Getting his own way was something Leonardo was quickly getting used to and an early episode gave him a flavour of what it could be like to be an entertainer. He recalls: 'I was taken to a performance festival when I was two. I had my red jumpsuit on and my tackiest shirt. My father suggested, "Hey, go up on stage."

'I remember looking out at a sea of expectant faces. After a moment or two, I began to dance – tappity, tappity, tappity ... the crowd loved it. And I thought, "That's me getting that attention, me!" There was no stopping me and my dad had to pull me off the stage.'

He was to have less success with his television debut, which came two years later on the educational favourite Romper Room. The show, effectively a televised nursery session, saw several sugared-up kids bounce around with a mumsy presenter and a guy dressed as a bumblebee. It seemed an impossible gig to mess up but Leonardo's dream debut was cut short when he became too boisterous.

'It was my favourite show at the time,' he later admitted. 'I used to sing the songs at home. So I went on Romper Room and I got completely excited. They had a little circle and they were all singing and dancing, and stuff like that. I was too excited to be on camera. I was running up and slapping the cameras, trying to pull my mom onstage. So they kicked me off.'

Such an experience might have crushed a less-confident toddler but Leonardo said: 'I got to see myself on television. I went completely neurotic, it was beautiful.'

Although George remained close by, it fell to Irmelin to effectively raise the boy on her own. But the area they lived in – Hollywood Boulevard – was not dubbed 'Syringe Alley' for nothing. The earliest memories for most children revolve around playgrounds and parks, but for the young Leonardo those images are forever slightly tarnished.

He recalled: 'We were in the poorhouse. I would walk to the playground and see a guy open up his trench coat with a thousand syringes. It was a bit of a shock. I lived in the ghettos of Hollywood, right near the old Hollywood billiards. It was the most disgusting place to be.

'My mom, who thought Hollywood was the place where all the great stuff was going on, took great care of me but I was able to see all sorts of stuff at an early age. It was pretty terrifying – I saw people have sex in the alleys.'

With prostitutes and junkies as neighbours, it was impossible for Irmelin to shield her son from the raw life that raged around them. When he was just five, he witnessed two men having sex outside a friend's balcony. This was an image that would have a profound effect on him, especially when it came to tackling homosexual roles later in life.

While his mother was doing her best to limit Leonardo's exposure to more adult experiences, George was doing exactly the opposite. He continued to hang out with the likes of Charles Bukowski, Robert Crumb and The Velvet Underground. He also made an acquaintance of drugs guru Timothy Leary, then only recently released from prison on drug charges. Leary had been an early advocate of LSD and at one stage was labelled 'the most dangerous man in America' by then President Richard Nixon and facing 95 years in jail for a series of drug convictions. Despite his notoriety, he was feted by hippies and the art community, inspiring John Lennon to write 'Come Together', so it was perhaps unsurprising that George would soon be taking little Leo to meet him. Years later, in 1994, it was said Leary even officiated at a marriage ceremony for George and Peggy, but given the suggestion that Leo's parents never legally divorced, this may have only been a spiritual blessing.

Unwilling to modify his hippy tendencies, George would take Leo to new-age parades, the two of them dressed in their underwear, covered in mud and carrying sticks.

Although Leonardo was used to the alternative lifestyle from an early age, one experience when he was six was something he felt was a step too far.

'We were sitting in a car,' he recalled. 'Dad suddenly announced, "The first time I had sex, I was your age. You should try it." But I wasn't interested. I told Dad, "Shut up, Dad, I don't want to try it. I'm gonna do all my homework instead."'

George later explained himself by saying: 'Leonardo was never excluded from conversations about sex or drugs. He's still on a quest to find out how many things he can do in life and not do them straight.'

It might seem the unlikely ingredients for a successful life but Leo's parents found an educational blend from the anti- establishment scene and the mainstream. By this time, young Leo was attending Corinne A. Seeds Elementary School, an innovative teaching establishment at UCLA, but Irmelin was committed to getting her son the best education and two years later she enrolled the budding star into the specialised magnet school called the Center for Enriched Studies.

The school attracted kids from all over Los Angeles and boasted one of the top performance records in California.

'She drove 45 minutes there every day and back,' Leo recalled. 'So she spent every day, every weekday of her life, three hours a day, to make sure that I didn't go to just any normal school.'

Cocksure and confident the youngster may have been, but those attributes often made things worse in the rough neighbourhood he grew up in. He might have been attending one of the area's top schools but he was still the victim of beatings by thugs on the estate.

'I was small, and I was a smart-ass – that's a deadly combination,' said Leonardo, who by this time was developing his own style, which in the mid-1980s was a punky haircut teamed with leather gloves and silver trousers. He was developing into quite the cute little boy.

His stepbrother Adam shared Leo's contempt for the neighbourhood and its inhabitants. 'East Hollywood was the most disgusting place to live in,' he said. 'We called it Scumsville.'

Adam and Leonardo got into several scrapes together. And DiCaprio needed his older stepbrother to come to his aid during one particularly gruesome episode that would live with him for many years to come.

He explains: 'I remember vividly – for some reason this has been in my thoughts – killing a pigeon. The pigeon was limping and my friend had a gun, so we decided to shoot it and put it out of its misery. And it wouldn't die, so we had to shoot it at least ten or fifteen more times, and it was this gruelling torture of the goddamned pigeon. And I was sitting there, and I was crying, looking at this pigeon who just kept getting shot in the head and the back, and who just kept wobbling. And finally my stepbrother just took a board and went "crkkkk!" and killed it.'


Excerpted from The Biography Leonardo DiCaprio by Douglas Wight. Copyright © 2012 Douglas Wight. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue VII

Chapter 1 Scumsville 1

Chapter 2 Introducing Lenny Williams 11

Chapter 3 Early Rejections 22

Chapter 4 Catching the Eye 31

Chapter 5 Making a Killing 39

Chapter 6 Following the River 48

Chapter 7 A Double Tragedy 58

Chapter 8 A Modern Day Romeo 68

Chapter 9 Leo Rising...and Falling 78

Chapter 10 Creating a Monster 85

Chapter 11 The Launch of 'Leo-Mania' 101

Chapter 12 Losing It 118

Chapter 13 Trouble in Paradise 129

Chapter 14 The Leo Tamer 140

Chapter 15 Owning December 151

Chapter 16 Becoming The Aviator 162

Chapter 17 The Parted 174

Chapter 18 Best Bar None 185

Chapter 19 Going Green 193

Chapter 20 Under Fire 205

Chapter 21 Barometer of Truth 213

Chapter 22 Are They, Aren't They? 222

Chapter 23 Dream Man 233

Chapter 24 Looking Lively 244

Chapter 25 The Most Powerful Man in America 249

Chapter 26 The Modeliser 260

Epilogue 266

Filmography 270

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Leonardo DiCaprio: The Biography 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leo is so cute!!!!!! Anyway, this is great if u love him! I loved the pics in this book, too!!! This is a must have!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leonardo Dicaprio is REMARKABLE!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leonardo is sooooo sexy!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i noticed leo is in many romance movies. The only reason i presume that is because of how hot he is!! I LOVE YOU LEONARDO DICAPRIO!!! <3