Broke Robert De Niro 'has to take every project that comes along to pay for ex-wife's £850k diamond rings'

Broke Robert De Niro 'has to take every project that comes along to pay for ex-wife's £850k diamond rings'

April 20, 2021

HE is the Hollywood titan behind some of the industry’s biggest-ever hits – but also some of its most cringeworthy misses.

Now film fans finally know why Robert De Niro — star of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver — also features in flops such as Last Vegas and Dirty Grandpa.

De Niro’s lawyer has said the Oscar winner takes “every project that comes along” in order to pay for his ex-wife’s “thirst for Stella McCartney” and £850,000 diamond rings.

The embarrassing revelation came in the midst of his bitter divorce from US socialite Grace Hightower, after their 21-year marriage collapsed in 2018.

His lawyer Caroline Krauss said the costly divorce may explain why he has gone from The Godfather Part II and The Deer Hunter to The War With Grandpa and fronting an ad for British breadmaker Warburtons.

She told a Manhattan judge: “Mr De Niro is 77 years old. While he loves his craft, he should not be forced to work at this prodigious pace because he has to. When does that stop?

“When does he get the opportunity to not take every project that comes along and not work six-day weeks, 12-hour days, so he can keep pace with Ms Hightower’s thirst for Stella McCartney?

“He could get sick tomorrow and the party’s over.”

De Niro was once said to be worth an estimated £350million, built up during a 50-year Hollywood career.

He won the Best Actor Oscar for Raging Bull and the Best Supporting Actor award for The Godfather Part II, along with nominations for films including The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver.

But despite his stardom, founding the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002 and entering the restaurant business, De Niro’s finances have been decimated in recent years, his lawyers claim.

They said he is forced to take every project offered to him to keep up with his ex’s lifestyle.

On Friday, Ms Krauss also told a divorce hearing in Manhattan that her client’s next two movie paychecks will go to the taxman.

De Niro was hit with a £4.5million tax bill in 2015 and is again millions behind on his taxes.

Ms Krauss also said the pandemic has ravaged his finances. The row revolves around how much Ms Hightower should get from her ex while they sort the divorce.

According to their 2004 prenuptial agreement, she gets $1million (£716,000) annually as long as he is making at least $15million (£10.7million).

The lawyer claimed that in the years leading up to their separation, Ms Hightower’s spending grew.

She described her demands as “rich with indulgence and waste and greed” and claimed she spent £850,000 on a diamond from jewellery store Kwiat in 2019.

That contributed to her spending almost £1.2million that year, the court heard.

Kevin McDonough, Ms Hightower’s lawyer, denied the diamond claim as De Niro listened in on the phone and Ms Hightower watched by video link.

Mr McDonough alleged that De Niro flies to brunch from his home in Montauk, New York state, in a helicopter and regularly charters private jets — showing he is far from poor.

He said that until the pre-nup agreement goes into effect, De Niro is supposed to pay her so she can “maintain the status quo” lifestyle she had when they were married.

The lawyer said: “If he wants to direct or compel his family to leave their long-time home while he’s spending millions and millions and millions on himself, on his own homes, on renovating what his lawyers’ tongue-in-cheek call his cottage, which he has poured millions and millions into over the past couple of years, he can take that position.

“There have been no cutbacks and no slowdowns in Mr De Niro’s lifestyle whatsoever. When Mr De Niro goes to brunch Sunday in Connecticut, he charters a helicopter up there.

"When he flies down to see his friends in Florida or wherever else, it’s a private jet.”

Ms Krauss denied her client took a helicopter to brunch.

Mr McDonough, however, argued that since filing for divorce in 2018, De Niro has unfairly continued to cut the amount of money he has been sending his wife.

It included her credit-card expenses going from £268,000 a month to “just” £71,000 from January.

In response, De Niro’s lawyer warned that Ms Hightower and their two kids may have to move out of their £14million New York apartment if her lavish spending continued.

The pair’s pre-nup calls for them to sell the home, split the profits and then have De Niro buy his ex a £4.3million new home.

Ms Krauss said: “If the choice is selling the apartment and following the agreement or paying pursuant to Ms Hightower’s demands — which are rich with indulgence and waste and greed — then we would go with the former.”

The arguing left Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper distinctly unimpressed.

He said: “I want to get these parties divorced. I want to get Ms Hightower and Mr De Niro to go their separate ways. They will still come out of this richer than almost any human being who walks this earth.

“There is nothing ordinary about these expenses. For 99.9999 per cent of the world, these are extraordinary to an almost unimaginable degree.”

De Niro, who played the infamous US gangster Al Capone in The Untouchables, met Ms Hightower, 66, in 1987 when she was working as a hostess at upmarket Chinese restaurant Mr Chow in London.

She had grown up in poverty, in the US state of Mississippi, working odd jobs to support her family before becoming a flight attendant.

The pair tied the knot in 1997 and had a son, Elliott, 23, and a daughter, Helen Grace, nine, who was born by surrogate in 2011.

Ms Hightower is now described as a philanthropist and socialite, although she has sometimes taken on small acting and singing roles.

Her list of credits include minor parts in 2009 Oscar-nominated film Precious and 2012’s The Paperboy, starring Matthew McConaughey.

She also had a small role in US TV series NYPD Blue in 1994 and performed the lead vocals for the track Somethin’s Comin’ My Way for the Precious movie soundtrack.

Ms Hightower and De Niro split two years after marrying but reunited, renewing their vows in 2004. They split for good in 2018.

De Niro’s choice of roles has long been a fascination for critics, who have warned he is tarnishing his hard-earned legacy.

Los Angeles Times critic Betsy Sharkey wrote: “One of our greatest working actors has lost himself in crummy, mindless comedy.”

His huge flops since the mid-1990s include 2016’s Dirty Grandpa, a comedy starring Zac Efron, in which the acting great played a sex-pest pensioner.

Other failures include The Bag Man, Heist, Killing Season, Red Lights and Being Flynn — all of which failed to break into seven figures at the box office.

In 2013’s Last Vegas, he acted alongside Morgan Freeman and Michael Douglas.

The trio played three retirees who travel to Sin City for a stag do — but the film was derided as The Hangover for OAPs.

One critic said that last year’s comedy film The War With Grandpa would leave “a lot of questions about what this talented cast was thinking”.

As well as movies, De Niro has also popped up in a string of high-profile advertisements, even spoofing some of his most famous characters.

He appeared in commercials for car firm Kia, Santander bank and credit card giant American Express.

There was also widespread surprise when he starred in a British ad for Warburtons bagels — where the Goodfellas star declares himself the “new boss of Bolton”.

He turns into a mafia kingpin and serves up “Goodbagels”. After making the ad, De Niro said: “It was a pleasure to fly to the UK to film this ad with the Warburtons family.

“Getting into the bagel business has been great fun and I hope everyone enjoys the final cut.”

And now, it seems, he enjoyed getting the breadmaker’s dough.

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