Robert De Niro Details Heartbreaking Moment He Learned of Grandson Leandro's Death

Robert De Niro is remembering his late grandson Leandro De Niro Rodriguez seven months after the 19-year-old’s death from an accidental overdose.

By Hayley Santaflorentina Feb 07, 2024 7:33 PMTags
Watch: Robert De Niro Calls Death of Grandson Leandro “A Shock”

Robert De Niro is reflecting on his family's devastating loss. 

More than seven months after the Academy Award winner's 19-year-old grandson Leandro De Niro Rodriguez died from an accidental drug overdose, he recounted the moment he learned of the tragedy. 

"It's just a shock," Robert told People in an interview published Feb. 7 of hearing the news. "Never thought it would happen."

The 80-year-old added, "And I just then started thinking about all the things I could have, should have done maybe with him. I don't know if that would've made a difference. And so that's always playing through my mind. It shouldn't have happened."

In July, Leandro—who was the son of Robert's daughter Drena De Niro—was found unresponsive inside a New York City residence where he was pronounced dead. A month later his cause of death was attributed to the "toxic effects of fentanyl, bromazolam, alprazolam, 7-aminoclonazepam, ketamine, and cocaine," New York City's chief medical examiner confirmed to TMZ.

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Around two weeks after Leandro's death, NYPD arrested Sofia Haley Marks, 20, was arrested on "federal drug distribution charges," law enforcement sources told NBC New York 4 at the time. According to the outlet, she was expected to make an appearance in federal court July 14, though no updates on her case have been shared publicly at this time. 

Arturo Holmes / Staff (Getty) & Instagram

On the seven-month anniversary of her son's passing, mother Drena—who shared Leandro with artist Carlos Mareshared a moving tribute, where she also reflected on her grief journey. 

"Today marks 7 bleak & lonely months since you left this world ," she captioned her Feb. 2 post. "7 months full of tears, anger, sadness and regret. Life is completely empty without you. Life isn't fair nor did it ever promise to be fair and I try to figure out how to accept that every day."

Drena continued, "I miss you beyond comprehension kid. I love you more than all the words in the human vocabulary can convey. My only comfort in this nightmare is that I know you always knew that. @carlosmare I'm so sorry our beautiful story with Leo ended too soon."

Keep reading to see more of the De Niro family tree...

First Wife Diahnne Abbott

Robert De Niro met his first wife, Diahnne Abbott, while making Taxi Driver, in which she had a bit part as the ticket taker at a porn theater Travis Bickle patronizes in the gritty 1976 classic.

They tied the knot April 28, 1976.

Daughter Drena De Niro

The actor adopted Diahnne's daughter Drena, born Sept. 3, 1971, when they got married.

Son Raphael De Niro

De Niro and Abbott's son Raphael was born Nov. 9, 1976. Raphael later recalled the family moving from Los Angeles (where his father was born) to New York (the city his dad is most associated with) when he was about 10, telling The Real Deal it was a major "culture shock."

Raphael's parents divorced in 1988.

Drena and Raphael

Drena, whose first Instagram post is a black-and-white snap of her as a child out to dinner with her parents and then-couple Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston ("at this point all I wonder is WTF was I doing there ???" she wrote), has remained in show business as an actor and producer. 

Growing up, "it definitely wasn't the typical family lifestyle," she told Everything Zoomer, "but there was a lot of warmth, fun, craziness." She described her father as "a non-judgmental, open-minded person, always accepting of what people feel their paths are."

Raphael went into real estate, which also runs in the family. Per his website, he leads The De Niro Team at Douglas Elliman in Manhattan, and he's a partner in TriBeCa's Greenwich Hotel. 

The 46-year-old shares three kids with ex-wife Claudine de Matos and has been married to stylist Hannah Carnes since March 2020.

Acknowledging his last name alone turned him into fodder for tabloid coverage, Raphael told The Real Deal, "I just try to keep my head down and keep my private life private."

Grandson Leandro

Leandro De Niro Rodriguez, Drena's son with artist ex Carlos Rodriguez, died of a suspected overdose on July 2, 2023. He was 19.

A 20-year-old woman was arrested two weeks later on federal drug distribution charges in connection with Leandro's death, which his mother had quickly attributed to fentanyl-laced pills.

On Aug. 11, 2023, which would have been her son's 20th birthday, Drena wrote on Instagram, "Thank you for the happiest and most profound 2 decades of my life, little angel. I hope you are at peace and your spirit is filled with joy today and always."

Twin Sons With Touki Smith

De Niro and model-actress Touki Smith are parents to twin sons Julian and Aaron, born Oct. 20, 1995.

The actor and Smith, who at one point also owned a catering business that handled the food for then-couple Sean Penn and Madonna's anniversary party, split up in 1996 after eight years together.

Son Julian De Niro

While Aaron leads a private life, Julian is an actor who most recently appeared on Broadway in the Tony-nominated The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. In 2022 he played a young Barack Obama in the Showtime limited series The First Lady.

"For my kids, I tell them, 'If you want to be an actor or you want to do this or that, that's fine as long as you're happy. Just don't sell yourself short,'" De Niro told People in January 2020. "That's the most I would say—push yourself a little more and reach for what you really think it is you want to do. Don't be afraid."

Son Elliot and Daughter Helen With Second Wife Grace Hightower

De Niro is dad to son Elliot, born March 18, 1998, and daughter Helen Grace, born via surrogate on Dec. 23, 2011, with second wife Grace Hightower.

He married the Precious actress on June 17, 1997. De Niro filed for divorce barely two years later, but they reconciled before the split was official and renewed their vows in 2004.

They again began divorce proceedings in 2018.

When promoting Silver Linings Playbook, in which he played a father of an adult son with bipolar disorder, De Niro opened up about having a child with special needs, telling Katie Couric in 2013, "I don't like to get emotional, but I know exactly what [my character] goes through." In 2016 he shared that Elliott has autism.

Daughter Gia Virginia Chen-De Niro With Tiffany Chen

De Niro's seventh child was born April 6, 2023.

CBS Mornings anchor Gayle King got to do the name-reveal honors on her show May 11. "How cute is this baby?" she said about the photo of the 1-month-old. "Robert De Niro and his partner, that's Tiffany Chen, are over the moon about this little girl."

The now 80-year-old first told ET Canada that he'd become a father for the seventh time.

"My kids disagree with me at times, and they're respectful," he shared when asked if his children considered him a cool dad. "My daughter [Helen], she's 11, she gives me grief sometimes and I argue with her. I adore her, but, you know. And my youngest now, that'll be more to come. But that's what it is."

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