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Source: Youtube.com/KatieCouric - Youtube.com/SpecialOlympics - Getty Images

Robert De Niro Teared Up While Sharing Challenges Faced by Autistic Son Who He Fought to Get Custody Of

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Jul 21, 2022
07:00 A.M.
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Robert De Niro and his ex-wife had a turbulent 21-year marriage. They endured a messy custody battle for their son Elliot. Years later, De Niro confessed that Elliot is autistic, but the 78-year-old continues to be a devoted father of six.

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Robert De Niro and his 2nd wife, Grace Hightower, met in 1987 at a nightclub in London. De Niro left the restaurant manager a note relaying how he felt about her to ensure he met her again.

De Niro's plan worked because the couple started dating, although they were on and off. In 1988, the actor divorced his first wife, Diahnne Abbott 1988; they share a son Raphael, and a daughter Drena.

Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower in New York 2005. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower in New York 2005. | Source: Getty Images

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While Hightower and De Niro took a break in the 90s, the actor moved on with model and restauranteur Toukie Smith and has twin sons, Aaron and Julian.

The relationship did not last, but De Niro started getting serious with Hightower again, and the couple got married at their home in New York in 1997.

Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower in Beverly Hills 1998. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower in Beverly Hills 1998. | Source: Getty Images

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Shortly after the wedding, the couple revealed they were expecting their first child together, which was De Niro's fifth. In 1998, their son Elliot was born.

ROBERT DE NIRO AND GRACE HIGHTOWER'S MESSY CUSTODY BATTLE

Robert De Niro with Grace Hightower in New York 2016. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro with Grace Hightower in New York 2016. | Source: Getty Images

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Unfortunately, when Elliot was 17 months, De-Niro and Hightower split, and the news came as a surprise to friends and fans of the couple.

A close source told people it was shocking because Hightower constantly spoke about how great they were and how much they love the baby.

The separation bred a heated custody battle between the couple. People reported that the first motion filed allowed De Niro to see his son three times a week with a nanny or anyone personally assigned by Hightower.

Robert De Niro in New York 2017. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro in New York 2017. | Source: Getty Images

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However, the actor was not in agreement; he contested his wife's demands and filed to have overnight stays with his son. However, Hightower denied this because she felt she needed to protect her son.

Both parents were caught up in the stress of their separation, but they both wanted what was best for Elliot. Eventually, Hightower and De Niro reached common ground, and the divorce also never got finalized.

ROBERT DE NIRO AND GRACE HIGHTOWER MAKE UP

Robert De Niro and Grace Water in New York 20918. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro and Grace Water in New York 20918. | Source: Getty Images

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Just as the split between De Niro and his wife was unexpected, the couple surprised fans and family again when they reconciled.

To make it official, the singer and actor decided to renew their vows in an intimate setting with close family and friends.

The ceremony had two judges on hand, to which De Niro jokingly said, "So they can make sure this one sticks," The vow renewal ended with champagne and food from the actor's Nobu restaurant.

Robert De Niro with Nobu founders Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Meir Teper in Houston Texas. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro with Nobu founders Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Meir Teper in Houston Texas. | Source: Getty Images

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In 2011, the couple expanded their family and had their daughter Helen via surrogate. The actor told People he was happy to have the early needy moments with her daughter as his children are older now. He said:

"It's like when you walk your kids to school, and they get older, and they don't want to hold your hand or kiss you goodbye…It's the good stuff now."

Robert De Niro, Grace Hightower, Helen De Niro and Chilina Kennedy in New York 2015. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro, Grace Hightower, Helen De Niro and Chilina Kennedy in New York 2015. | Source: Getty Images

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Despite being one of America's most famous actors, De Niro has kept his personal life private. He and Hightowers have prioritized keeping their children away from the limelight, especially their son Elliot.

Di Niro could barely speak when asked if he related to the David O. Russell script.

De Niro and Hightower have made a few Holywood appearances with their children, but the Di Niro kids have also chosen the low-key life as they have grown older.

ROBERT DE NIRO OPENS UP ABOUT PARENTING STRUGGLES

Robert De Niro in New York 2018. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro in New York 2018. | Source: Getty Images

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"The Irishman" star might have mastered the tough guy roles in his films, but he is a private family man off-screen. De Niro, a father of six, expressed that being a parent is not always easy; it has its ups and downs, but it is still a rewarding process.

In an interview with People, the award-winning actor spoke about the honorary documentary about his father, "Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr."

He said he created it to instill the importance of family and spending time with them while they are still around.

Robert De Niro in New York in 2019. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro in New York in 2019. | Source: Getty Images

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Di Niro lost his father to cancer in 1993 and confessed he wished he had spent more time with him. Thus he always tells his kids to make time for their loved ones, even when they think they are not up for it.

During an interview about the film "Silver Lining," which was based on the director's personal story of his son who battles Bipolar, Di Niro could barely speak when asked if he related to the David O. Russell script.

Robert De Niro in New York 2018. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro in New York 2018. | Source: Getty Images

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Di Niro burst into tears immediately and eventually said he fully understood what the dictator was going through. Russell also stepped in and confirmed that the actor had the exact reaction when he gave him the script for the first time.

However, a few years later, De Niro's emotional reaction made sense when he revealed that his son Elliot has autism. He said:

"Grace and I have a child with autism, and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined,”

ROBERT DE NIRO AND GRACE HIGHTOWER CALL IT QUITS AFTER 20 YEARS

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Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower in New York 2016. | Source: Getty Images

Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower in New York 2016. | Source: Getty Images

After giving their marriage a second shot, De Niro and Hightowers called it quits. In 2018 a close friend of the couple confirmed that they were not living together anymore. "They are done," said the source.

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The singer and actor remain devoted parents to their two children, Helen, 11, and Elliot, 24. Elliot is a grown 24-year-old man who is into tennis. He started playing the sport from a young age and now plays in the Special Olympics.

De Niro and Hightowers said playing tennis helped the 24-year-old develop mentally, emotionally, and physically. His parents are constantly doing their best to support their son's needs.

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