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The Academy Award winner's parents are his biggest supporters
Leonardo DiCaprio shot to stardom with the release of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo + Juliet and Titanic in the 1990s, but two people have been there for him since the very beginning: his parents, George DiCaprio and Irmelin Indenbirken.
The pair raised their son in Los Angeles and exposed him to art and film at a very young age. Though his parents separated when he was an infant, Leonardo told Interview Magazine in 1994 he "sort of preferred it because I had two different worlds that I could connect with."
George, a comic book writer and distributor, and Irmelin, a legal secretary, always believed in their son's dream to be an actor. While Leonardo rarely arrives at an event without one of his parents – his mother was on hand for his first Oscars win in 2016, and his father attended the 2020 Oscars Nominee Luncheon – they also supported him during periods of rejection early on in his career.
"I can remember (as a kid) the casting session that I had where I was a break dancer. So I had a punk haircut and they rejected me, and I got really disillusioned with the business," Leonardo told PEOPLE in 2004. "I said, 'This is what it's all about? I haven't even gotten to read the line.' [George] said, 'Don't worry. Someday, we're going to get you back in the business and it's going to happen for you.' So I kind of took that to heart."
Although Leonardo keeps his personal life private, he is very open about his tight-knit relationship with his parents. At the 2016 SAG Awards, the actor made it a point to thank George and Irmelin for their role in his career while accepting the award for outstanding performance by a male actor.
"To my parents, thank you for listening to an overly ambitious, slightly annoying 13-year-old kid who wanted to go on auditions every day after school," he said in his speech. "I would not be standing here without you."
Here is everything to know about Leonardo DiCaprio's parents, George DiCaprio and Irmelin Indenbirken.
Irmelin was born in Germany during World War II
Irmelin was born in Germany in an air raid shelter during World War II and had a tumultuous start in life. In December 2004, Leonardo revealed to Vanity Fair that after his mother visited a German hospital for a broken leg as a toddler, she contracted several serious illnesses.
"All these refugees from the war and all the soldiers came into the hospital," he said. "She ended up contracting five or six major illnesses and stayed for two and a half, three years. 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," Leonardo continued. "It brings tears to my eyes knowing what she's been through in her life."
By the 1960s, Irmelin had moved to N.Y.C., where she first met George, per a 2004 Vanity Fair article. She attended City College before relocating to L.A. with George and taking up a job as a legal secretary.
They divorced when Leonardo was an infant
The couple relocated to California after Irmelin found out she was pregnant with Leonardo in hopes of creating a better life for him.
They settled in a neighborhood in Hollywood that the actor has often described as a rough area. "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. It really was like Taxi Driver in a lot of ways," he told Los Angeles Times in 2014. "And I'm not sure he believes me. It's hipster central, totally gentrified now."
A year after Leonardo was born, George and Irmelin separated before ultimately finalizing their divorce in the late '90s. Despite his parents' divorce, Leonardo told Vanity Fair that he remembers his childhood fondly.
"I think what I liked best about my childhood was the repetitiveness of the things we did," he told the outlet. "I think when you're a kid, and you do a whole bunch of things, see a thousand different things, it's all a blur and you really don't remember anything. But we did the same things — went to the same museums, took the same pony rides — and those things have become locked in my memory as one good experience."
He continued, "My parents are so a part of my life that they're like my legs or something ... And it wasn't like they created a false good time — that they went out of their way to show me fabulous things. It was just that they were around and they were great."
They gave Leonardo a "counterculture" childhood
During an earlier interview with Rolling Stone in March 2000, the actor explained how his father would take him to "a lot of hippie parades" when he was younger, where they would cover themselves in mud. Some of these parades even served as the locations for his early performances.
"The earliest memory I have is me at some hippie concert with my dad and the band hadn't come on," he told the magazine. "There was an audience of hundreds of people chanting for the band, and my dad scooted me on stage — I don't know how old I was, probably three or so — and I got up there and tap danced for hundreds of people."
Leonardo added that his parents "were not afraid to show me anything" and exposed him to a lot of alternative art. On weekends, he would accompany his father to comic book stores around town and meet his artist friends.
"We'd have artists come in for parties. There'd be Robert Williams and R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar. My dad was always showing me their art after I'd met them," he told Rolling Stone. "Instead of concentrating on baseball cards or even Marvel comics, my dad was saying, 'Check out the [Fabulous Furry] Freak Brothers.' "
George and Irmelin also allowed Leonardo to drop out of high school after his junior year to pursue acting. He later earned his GED, but his parents have always supported his choices.
"My dad always told me, 'Go out there, son, and whatever you do, I don't care if you're successful or not, just have an interesting life,' " The Wolf of Wall Street star told Parade in 2016.
George was an underground comic book writer
When Leonardo was growing up, George worked as an underground comic book writer and distributor. He has writing credits on two issues of Greaser and also published Yama Yama/The Ugly Head.
"He'd been an underground comic artist in New York in the '60s, and he's been distributing comics and records and books in L.A. for a while now," Leonardo told Interview Magazine in 1994. "I'd go on trips with him to all the comic-book stores around town when I was little."
In a 2020 interview for Comic-Con International, George shared how he tried to "lay aside a collection of what I felt were the best undergrounds so that my son would have some college money." He jokingly added that since he "bungled it so badly," Leonardo had to "become a movie star" instead.
They are very supportive of Leonardo
Leonardo is very close to his parents and has often discussed how supportive they are of his acting career. In November 2015, the actor took the opportunity to praise his parents during his acceptance speech for the Actors Inspiration Award at the Screen Actors Guild Foundation's 30th anniversary celebration.
"I was blessed with two incredibly supportive parents who listened to the harassment of their overly assertive son and drove him to auditions after school even though they had very little time for it," Leonardo said. "And I'm going to take one moment here because this isn't nationally televised to embarrass both of them, but they're sitting here tonight."
"Mom, Irmelin, George – I would not be receiving this award and I would not be the actor that I am or be able to do any of the philanthropy that this job has given me the opportunity to have, and I wouldn't be the person I am without the both of you, so thank you," he continued.
George gives Leonardo career advice
Leonardo has been a successful actor for decades and credits his father for helping him navigate his career. According to a 1995 New York Times profile, George worked for Leonardo's production company at the time and would read through scripts for his son before recommending which ones he should consider.
"My dad has been incredibly influential. I give him credit for so many of my choices as an actor, especially early on, steering me towards non-obvious sorts of characters and to take risks," Leonardo told British GQ in 2016. "My father says basically this: 'No matter what you do, two things matter. Try to lead an interesting life and no matter what your life is like, try to find a way to wake up every morning and just be happy you can put your pants on.' "
Speaking with GQ in 2011, the actor revealed that if it weren't for George, he wouldn't have starred in the 1995 film Total Eclipse.
"I had passed on a script about the French poet Arthur Rimbaud," he told the publication. "[George] explained to me that Rimbaud was the James Dean of his time– a radical who took on the institution of poetry and turned it upside down. I did the movie, and I loved playing him."
Irmelin watched Leonardo win an Oscar
At the 2016 Oscars, Irmelin was seated in the front row next to Leonardo and watched him take home his long-awaited award for Best Actor after five previous nominations.
The actor gave his parents a special shout-out during his acceptance speech, detailing how "none of this would be possible without you."
Later in the evening, she was seen at the Vanity Fair Oscars afterparty proudly clutching Leonardo's trophy with a big smile on her face while her son lovingly looked on. The pair were later joined by George for a celebratory dinner at Ago Restaurant in West Hollywood.
George had a cameo in Licorice Pizza
George landed a role in 2021's Licorice Pizza as a quirky waterbed salesman, despite his son not starring in the film. Director Paul Thomas Anderson opened up to the New York Times about the project in November 2021, and journalist Kyle Buchanan later revealed on Twitter how George's cameo came to be.
"I created a picture of a guy who owned a wig shop that sold these waterbeds, and I couldn't put my finger on it. I kept saying, 'Who do I know that looks like this?' " recalled Anderson. "And like a bolt of lightning, I remember, like, 'Leo's dad looks exactly like this' "
He continued, "So I tracked him down, asked him if he'd ever be interested in being in a film. He said, 'Sure.' I explained the scenario to him. He said, 'Sounds great. Did Leo tell you that I owned a waterbed company?' It was called Foggy Bottom.' It was one of those things. I said, 'Well, you're the right man for this job.' "
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