LEONARDO DICAPRIO; Scumsville Superstar; HIS PARENTS WERE HIPPIES AND HE GREW UP IN THE POOREST PART OF TOWN

By Earls, John | The People (London, England), April 19, 1998 | Go to article overview

LEONARDO DICAPRIO; Scumsville Superstar; HIS PARENTS WERE HIPPIES AND HE GREW UP IN THE POOREST PART OF TOWN


Earls, John, The People (London, England)


We know all about Leonardo's life since he found stardom. But what was he like when he was growing up? Leonardo has experienced the best and worst of Hollywood, having lived as a child among drug addicts in an area of Tinseltown he calls Scumsville. His parents separated when he was a baby and, as JOHN EARLS reports, while Leonardo now gets pounds 12 million a movie, his dirt-poor childhood has left a lasting impression on his attitude to money. Often mistaken for a girl because of his long blond hair, Leonardo was unpopular at school and had to act the class clown to escape bullies. But it wasn't all misery. He says his parents made sure he didn't suffer from their break-up - and his acting helped him win girls...

EONARDO Wilhelm DiCaprio was born in Los Angeles on November 11, 1974, making his starsign Scorpio. Leonardo's parents, George DiCaprio and Irmelin Idenbirken, met and fell in love while studying at a New York college in 1963.

Irmelin, a legal secretary until she became Leonardo's manager, had moved with her own family from Germany when she was four. George, who is half- Italian, was on the fringes of America's early hippies, the Beat Generation.

He was friends with leading writers of the time like Charles Bukowski.

George, who still grows his grey hair down to his waist, had also lived with Sterling Morrisson, guitarist with influential Sixties rock band Velvet Underground. George and Irmelin married in 1965 and travelled around America as hippies.

It was while they were on a second honeymoon in Italy, celebrating Irmelin's pregnancy, that the fateful moment came which decided what George and Irmelin should call their unborn son. "My mom felt me kicking while they were looking at a Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Uffizi gallery in Florence and they took it as a message," said Leonardo.

Having travelled for so long, the DiCaprios decided to settle down before Leonardo's birth. They ended up in Los Angeles, in the poverty-stricken East Hollywood suburb.

"My parents moved to Los Angeles when they had me," Leonardo said. "They'd heard it was such a great place and they chose Hollywood because they figured that's where all the great stuff was going on in this town. Meanwhile, it was the most disgusting place to be..."

Sadly, the domestic life didn't suit George and Irmelin after so long as free spirits. Although the couple have never officially divorced, they split up when Leonardo was just a year old.

Leonardo had just learned to walk and talk and his parents tried to ensure that the toddler wasn't affected by their separation.

They sent him away on a Russian cruise ship with Irmelin's parents, Wilhelm - from whom Leonardo got his middle name - and Helene.

By the time Leonardo returned from his first holiday, George and Irmelin had moved their belongings into separate homes.

Although the couple were determined to stay on good terms for the sake of their child, Irmelin - now 53 - had to take George to court before he would pay any maintenance for Leonardo's upbringing.

Even more into the hippy lifestyle than his ex-wife, George earned little money from a succession of hand-to-mouth jobs. He distributed tattoo magazines, arranged public readings by cult authors such as William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg but earned most of his little money selling comic books from his garage. A sympathetic court decided that George, now 54, could only afford to pay Irmelin 20 dollars a week for Leonardo. Although he couldn't contribute financially, George spent as much time as possible visiting his son at home with Irmelin.

"My dad has always been there for me," said Leonardo. "I never missed out on a so-called normal father-son relationship because I saw him any time I wanted.

"He took me to all my auditions and helped start my career. We have always had a lot of fun together."

Leonardo says his parents' separation has never affected him. …

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