Robert De Niro will be honored with the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) Life Achievement Award at the 26th annual SAG Awards on January 19, 2020. The award-winning actor and producer is currently married to, but separated from, his second wife, Grace Hightower.
Hightower and De Niro have been married for over two decades. They met when Hightower was working as a hostess at Mr. Chow restaurant. She told Yahoo! News that she didn’t know who he was at the time, but De Niro kept asking her questions, causing her to be annoyed and brushed him off at first before realizing who he was.
The couple’s last public appearance together was in 2018. They announced their intention to separate in November 2018. De Niro was previously married to actress Diahnne Abbott from 1976 to 1988.
Here’s what you need to know about Hightower:
1. Hightower is a Philanthropist
Hightower is an entrepreneur and philanthropist. In 2013, she launched Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda, which is now simply called Coffee of Grace, with the mission of improving lives in Rwanda by marketing its products on an international scale. In a 2019 interview with Observer Research Foundation Online, Hightower talked about why she started the business.
“I happened to fall into the business of coffee when I was looking for ways to make a contribution here to the people of Rwanda and I found out that coffee is one of the high producing resources,” she said. She later continued on to talk about the important role women play in the business. “I don’t want to say ‘playing’, I want to say ‘doing’. And so, that has enabled me to work here in Rwanda — my second home — and be able to see how the women here and around the world have opened up that power and others are connecting to it.”
Hightower is also a board member of the New York Women’s Foundation and the New York Fund for Public Schools. She has been honored for her philanthropy by the American Cancer Society of New York City.
2. She Has Held a Variety of Jobs
Prior to becoming an actress and philanthropist, Hightower held a number of jobs. She grew up in a poor family in Kilmichael, Mississippi, and she worked a variety of jobs to help support the family. She had 10 siblings. They all lived on a farm where the family produced all the food they ate; she told Coffee Universe in 2013 that the only thing they bought at the supermarket was sugar.
She later became a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines, attracted by the possibility of traveling and expanding her horizons. Hightower settled down in Paris for a while, where she spent time working on her French.
Later, she moved to London, where she worked as a mutual fund trader and restaurant worker. She met De Niro while working at Mr. Chow, and upscale London Chinese restaurant that was a celebrity hangout at the time.
3. Hightower and De Niro Have Two Children Together
In 1998, at the age of 42, Hightower gave birth to her first child, Elliot. Amidst a 2017 scandal regarding showing a documentary that claimed there was a link between vaccines and autism, De Niro revealed that Elliot has autism.
De Niro said in a statement:
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. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.
While they did eventually pull the film in question from the line-up, De Niro said he believes Vaxxed should be seen and there should be a discussion about vaccines and autism.
In 2011, Hightower and De Niro had their second child, Helen, via surrogate. Helen became De Niro’s sixth child. The couple recently battled for custody of Helen amidst their divorce, arriving at an agreement in January 2020.
“My understanding is the parties have reached an agreement as to the terms of a parent agreement for their child,” Justice Matthew Cooper told New York Daily News. “Their daughter is very happy that is what has occurred today.”
4. They Originally Split After Two Years of Marriage
In August 1999, just over a year after Elliot was born, De Niro filed for divorce from Hightower. Friends of the couple said at the time that De Niro was not working hard enough at his marriage, which led to the split.
The couple co-parented Elliot until June 2001, when the couple began to disagree about the custody agreement. People Magazine reported in 2001 that Hightower accused De Niro of drug and alcohol abuse, while De Niro claimed that Hightower once fractured one of his ribs. However, the two reconciled and never finalized the divorce that was filed at the time.
In 2004, five years after they separated, De Niro and Hightower renewed their vows. They held a small ceremony at De Niro’s farm near the Catskill Mountains. They stood up in front of friends including Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Ben Stiller, and other celebrities to do so.
5. Their Divorce Hearing is Scheduled For Valentine’s Day
The couple remained largely private about their life together in the years following Helen’s birth; however, details of their divorce have begun to come to light as they prepare to finalize the separation.
The New York Daily News reported that De Niro is worth over half a billion dollars and the two are battling over how the 2004 pre-nuptial agreement should be interpreted. According to Judge Matthew Cooper, Hightower believes she is entitled to 50 percent of De Niro’s fortune.
De Niro’s attorney, however, said that under terms of the agreement, Hightower is entitled to a $6 million apartment, $500,000 in cash, $1 million per year and half the value of their home.
Page Six reports that the next hearing on the matter has been scheduled for February 14. They reported that the judge joked “Happy Valentine’s Day” as he delivered the news.