Robert De Niro has portrayed some of the most memorable characters in movie history across his amazing career, including some with tattoos. Does De Niro himself have tattoos?
Robert De Niro has at least one tattoo, a black panther on his right shoulder, though it is rarely visible. He has had other, temporary tattoos, most famously in his role as Max Cady in 1991’s “Cape Fear” but the panther tattoo is his only authentic one.
For a look at the one Robert De Niro tattoo we’re aware of, as well as a closer look at some of his temporary tattoos from “Cape Fear”, read on.
Robert De Niro is not well known as a tattooed celebrity, a far cry from a heavily tattooed younger actor such as Tom Hardy.
In fact, hints or glimpses of any sort of tattoo on De Niro are so rare that many have been left believing that he has no tattoos at all. In truth, De Niro does have one tattoo that we know of, though sightings of it are very uncommon.
On De Niro’s right upper arm, he has a tattoo of a black panther. He has had the tattoo since at least 1972, as it was visible on the set of Martin Scorcese’s “Mean Streets”, as uncovered by a De Niro fan page.
In the majority of De Niro’s films, the tattoo is covered by clothing or makeup but it is visible in “Cape Fear”. Max Cady, De Niro’s character in the film, has many tattoos but the panther tattoo is also visible, the only genuine piece of body art on the actor.
De Niro’s tattoo went mostly unseen for decades, although it does make rare appearances in paparazzi photos of the actor at the beach. The same fan page posted one such photo on their Instagram account, revealing that De Niro still has his panther tattoo, albeit a somewhat faded version after about a half-century.
When, where and why De Niro got his tattoo remains a mystery, other than the fact that he has had it for a very long time. Does it have some personal meaning or did De Niro just want a tattoo of a panther? Unfortunately, we don’t know.
By far De Niro’s most famous on-screen tattoos were those he wore in Martin Scorcese’s 1991 remake of “Cape Fear”. De Niro’s character, Max Cady, has extensive tattoos, with those on his upper body being frequently visible throughout the movie.
Unlike the actor’s real-life tattoos, we have plenty of information about, and photos of, Max Cady’s, thanks to extensive notes written by Scorcese during the production process.
The director wrote notes on a production photo of De Niro, describing each tattoo and how it should appear onscreen. Interestingly, these tattoos still aren’t final, with a couple more added to De Niro before filming.
The character has several Bible verses tattooed onto his body. In preparation for the role, De Niro read a King James Bible extensively to help inspire the character’s deluded sense of divine retribution.
His biggest tattoo, a crucifix and scales of truth and justice on his back, perfectly encapsulates the traits that define the character, at least in his own mind.
The juxtaposition created by an obviously evil character such as Cady frequently referring to the Bible and being adorned with verses was troubling for many in the audience on the film’s release.
These tattoos are shown in great detail, as well as the significance of Cady’s twisted religiosity, in an excellent article by the University of Texas, Austin.
Cady’s tattoos provided inspiration for one of the film’s most memorable quotes, when Lieutenant Elgart says “I don’t know whether to book him or read him.”