Hollywood heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio, 41, may be known for his lavish life and dating beautiful Victoria’s Secret models, but many might not know that he grew up in a rough part in Los Angeles surrounded by crime, poverty, drug use and prostitution. DiCaprio has stated on many occasions that he would never have survived growing up if it wasn’t for the incredible support of his mother, Irmelin DiCaprio.
The Oscar-nominated actor is known for his poignant roles in classic films including “Titanic,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “The Revenant.” He has earned recognition for his work at the Golden Globe Awards, the Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA and countless more.
Behind DiCaprio’s incredible success is a tough and unglamorous childhood growing up in a rough neighborhood near Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue in Los Angeles. During an interview with the L.A. Time’s Envelope, DiCaprio described his early life living next to Le Sex Shoppe and The Waterbed Hotel:
“I grew up very poor and I got to see the other side of the spectrum. I try to tell my godson, who lives close to that area, what it was like, how there used to be a major prostitution ring on my street corner, crime and violence everywhere … And I’m not sure he believes me.”
DiCaprio didn’t grow up in a typical household either. He was an only child to his father George DiCaprio, a comic book artist, and his mother Irmelin, a legal secretary born in Germany. His parents divorced as a toddler, but decided to raise their son together by renting adjacent bungalows with a shared garden.
Though the young DiCaprio spent divided time between his parents, he has on several occasions expressed his filial devotion to his mother. After earning the title for Best Actor BAFTA this month, DiCaprio dedicated his winning to his 73-year-old mother. He said:
“Lastly, there’s one person I have to thank. I would not be standing up here if it wasn’t for this person. I didn’t grow up in a life of privilege. I grew up in a very rough neighbourhood in east Los Angeles.
“This woman drove me three hours a day to a different school to show me a different opportunity. It’s her birthday today. Mom, happy birthday. I love you very much.”
Indeed, it was his mother who he turned to when he made the decision to pursue a career in acting. DiCaprio recalled to the Times about the bullying he faced in public school:
“When I went back to the public school system it was like — boom — this is reality. I got beat up the day I arrived because I had the attitude of everyone living harmoniously with one another. That was the motivational thing that happened to me in my life. I was 15, and I said to my mom, ‘I want to be an actor. Please take me to auditions.’ Because I had to get out of that public school system.”
Lisa Arcella, DiCaprio’s biographer, remarked upon DiCaprio’s devotion to his mother as a son. Arcella told the Daily Mail:
“Leo often takes his mother as his date to awards shows. She loves all the glamour and excitement, and he loves to spoil her. He wants to repay her for all the sacrifices she made when he was growing up. But it runs deeper than that. They are extremely close.”
His mother Irmelin worked hard to give her son the opportunities that may not have presented themselves had he not ventured outside his neighborhood, which he nicknamed “Scumsville.” She applied for a scholarship for her son at a private Montessori-style school at UCLA, drove him to school and took him to auditions while juggling her secretarial jobs.
Irmelin, a daughter of a Russian refugee and a German coalminer, was born in a German air raid shelter in 1943. She suffered a broken leg and then contracted subsequent infections that led to severe malnutrition. At 11 years old, DiCaprio’s mother emigrated to the U.S where she would endure through hardships aspiring for the American dream. DiCaprio described in previous interviews:
“When you see a picture of my mother, it’s heart-breaking. It brings tears to my eyes, knowing what she’s been through in her life.”
DiCaprio’s big break came when he starred in the 1993 film “This Boy’s Life.” His career launched from there and he went on to star in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” later that year and eventually “Romeo + Juliet” in 1996 and “Titanic” the year after — the rest is Hollywood history.
His rise to stardom has been in part due to his mother’s sacrifices and DiCaprio has never forgotten that.
As a Hollywood A-list celebrity, DiCaprio has dated a handful of beautiful actresses, celebrities and artists, but the number woman in his heart is arguably his mother. She has been by his side at a number of Oscar and Golden Globe events and escorted him to his movie premiers.
DiCaprio has and will always be a momma’s boy for the best reason.