As the blonde, blue-eyed icon for millions of teenage girls and more than a few boys everywhere, Leonardo DiCaprio emerged from relative television obscurity to become perhaps the hottest under-30 actor of the 1990s. After leading roles in William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet and James Cameron's Titanic, the actor became a phenomenon, spawning legions of websites and an entire industry built around his name.
Born in the town that would later make him famous, DiCaprio came into the world on November 11, 1974 in Hollywood, California. The son of a German immigrant mother and an underground comic book artist father who separated shortly after his birth, DiCaprio was raised by both of his parents, who encouraged his early interest in acting. At the age of two and a half, the fledgling performer had his first brush with notoriety and workplace ethics when he was kicked off the set of Romper Room for what the show's network deemed "uncontrollable behavior." After this rather inauspicious start to his career, DiCaprio began to hone his skills--and, presumably, his professional behavior--with summer courses in performance art while he was in elementary school. He also joined The Mud People, an avant-garde theatre group, with which he performed in Los Angeles, earning the title of "The Littlest Mud Person."
In high school, DiCaprio acted in his first real play and began doing commercials, educational films, and the occasional stint on the Saturday morning show The New Lassie. In 1990, after securing his first full-time agent at the age of fifteen, DiCaprio landed a role as a teenage alcoholic on the daytime drama Santa Barbara. He also continued to appear on other TV shows such as The Outsiders and Parenthood, and made his film debut in the 1991 horror film Critters 3. The actor got the first of many big breaks with a recurring role on the weekly sitcom Growing Pains. His portrayal of a homeless boy won him sufficient notice to get him an audition for Michael Caton-Jones' upcoming screen adaptation of Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life. DiCaprio won the film's title role after beating out 400 other young actors, and it proved to be his career breakthrough. The 1993 film, and DiCaprio's performance, won raves, and the actor further increased the adulation surrounding him when, later that year, he played Johnny Depp's mentally retarded younger brother in Lasse Hallstr?m's What's Eating Gilbert Grape. DiCaprio won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, and, at the tender age of nineteen, found himself being hailed as an actor to watch.
Subsequent roles in three 1995 films, Sam Raimi's western The Quick and the Dead, Total Eclipse, in which he played the bisexual poet Rimbaud, and The Basketball Diaries, in which starred as a struggling junkie, all put the actor in the limelight, but it wasn't until the following year that DiCaprio became a bona fide star. This transition was made possible by his portrayal of Romeo in the hugely popular William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, in which he starred opposite Claire Danes. The success of the film gave DiCaprio international fame, many lucrative opportunities, and a slew of comparisons to actors such as James Dean. After starring with Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, and Robert DeNiro (his father from This Boy's Life) in Marvin's Room (also 1996), DiCaprio was further catapulted into the stratosphere of international fame with his starring role in James Cameron's epic about a big boat and a bigger piece of ice. Starring opposite Kate Winslet in the 1997 smash Titanic, DiCaprio got to be part of film history, as, in addition to being the highest-grossing movie ever, the film garnered fourteen Oscar nominations, winning eleven, including Best Picture and Best Director. DiCaprio's much discussed exclusion from the nominations did nothing to hurt his popularity, and, somewhat ironically, he next chose to parody his own celebrity with an appearance in Woody Allen's
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