Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio finally snagged Oscars gold on Sunday, 22 years after his first Academy Award nomination – proving he really is not just a pretty face.
Though one of the world’s biggest and most bankable stars – “Titanic” rocketed him to the A-list in 1997 – the 41-year-old had been unable until now to take home the golden statuette despite four previous acting nominations.
This year, however, his intense portrayal of 19th century fur trapper Hugh Glass in the survival epic “The Revenant” – large sections of it without words – won immediate praise, making his victory seen almost a foregone conclusion.
DiCaprio earned a standing ovation from the crowd at the Dolby Theatre, and used his speech to drive home a message about stopping climate change, but also acknowledged the importance of the moment.
“Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted,” he said.
Later, he told reporters, “This is a journey I will never forget with Alejandro. We have a great film to look back on for years to come.”
DiCaprio bested a tough field – fellow nominees were Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Michael Fassbender and last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne.
In the past, his Oscar dreams – his nominated roles came in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Aviator,” “Blood Diamond” and “The Wolf of Wall Street”- had faded in the face of stiff competition.
But this time, his all-out effort to bring Glass to the screen – eating raw bison liver, wading into icy rivers – rang true for Oscars voters.
The victory on Sunday only adds to the glow of the life of Leo, which is the stuff of Hollywood films.
The confirmed bachelor is known for dating supermodels, raises millions of dollars for charity and had an audience with Pope Francis last month to talk about climate change.
Born on November 11, 1974 to a hippie couple in Los Angeles, DiCaprio has credited his parents – who separated shortly after he was born – with encouraging him while keeping his feet squarely on the ground.
He once almost quit acting because he felt he was made to feel like a “piece of cute meat” – but he has since put his fame, money and prestige to use for humanitarian causes, especially environmental protection.
DiCaprio’s climb to the top of Hollywood’s A-list didn’t come easy.
He had humble beginnings as an actor, starring in television commercials and a soap opera before landing bit roles in a number of television series including “Roseanne” and “Growing Pains.”
In 1991, he was cast in the low-budget horror movie “Critters 3” – which didn’t even make it to the big screen and went straight to video.
But though the film did little to showcase his acting abilities, it set him on the road to becoming a teenage heartthrob and mega-star.
His breakout role came in 1993 when he played the handicapped brother of Johnny Depp in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” – a role that brought him his first Oscar nomination for best supporting actor at just 19.
He was then cast in a number of diverse roles, including as a young gunslinger in “The Quick and the Dead,” a drug addict in “The Basketball Diaries” and French poet Arthur Rimbaud in “Total Eclipse” – all in 1995.
The following year, his role in Baz Luhrmann’s reinvention of “Romeo + Juliet” alongside Claire Danes elevated him to true Hollywood stardom.
He became a matinee idol for millions of teenage girls. And it led to even better offers.
His next film, “Marvin’s Room,” put him on the screen with Hollywood royalty — Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton.
Then came the epic romance “Titanic” (1997), in which director James Cameron made DiCaprio the lead, co-starring with Kate Winslet.
The film secured 14 nominations and 11 wins, but no nod for DiCaprio. Yet he acknowledged that the success of “Titanic” gave him a freedom to pick and choose roles he might not have had otherwise.
That was reflected by roles in films as diverse as Woody Allen’s 1998 comedy “Celebrity” and Randall Wallace’s period drama “The Man in the Iron Mask.”
In 2002, after three years without a hit, DiCaprio starred in a couple of blockbusters: Martin Scorsese’s bloody “Gangs of New York” and Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can,” about a con man who assumes multiple identities.
He teamed up again with Scorsese to portray eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes in 2004’s “The Aviator.” Yet still he missed out on an Oscar, losing to Jamie Foxx in “Ray.”
Then came “Blood Diamond” in 2007 and “The Wolf on Wall Street” in 2013, but the Oscar eluded him again both times.