The Leonardo I knew

By: Clare Averill

Leonardo DiCaprio was a childhood buddy of mine. We played together occasionally for a year or more, until just after he starred in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. If you were to ask me anything about what his life is like today, I wouldn’t know. I don’t hardly watch movies or television, and certainly don’t mix with Hollywood types since I escaped from LA as a teenager.

Leonardo lived across the street, and our mothers were friends. Many of the homes on our street were apartment buildings, but his mother had a little bungalow set back away from the street. There was a concrete play area in front of the bungalows, and a row of Australian “Lilly Pilly” bushes. We used to eat the berries and I vaguely recall some grownups being concerned about it, but we just knew they were edible! He was a very good break-dancer, and one day I watched him dance on that concrete play area with a piece of cardboard under him for the head-spin. I had never seen anything like it, and have loved break dancing ever since. Another small detail is that on my tenth birthday, he gave me a soft cover Cyndi Lauper fan book. Probably his mom picked it out, but perhaps he did. I don’t know if he knew about my Cyndi Lauper karaoke dancing, or if his mother had heard about it. All I remember is that his handwriting on the inside cover was tall and scrawly. The book itself was lost years ago.

The reason I’m sharing this though, is that there were several aspects to him and his family that stood out as being of good character. For instance, years after Leonardo became famous (in 1991), his mother invited my mother to go skiing with her. She knew my mom didn’t have extra money, and offered to pay her way. (Which, by the way, since my mom was too proud and embarrassed, she declined.)

I was a pretty shy little girl in many ways, and the years I spent growing up on that street were important to me. Years and years later (1999) I went back to that street to look for old friends. I had heard that Leonardo (or rather, his mom) had chosen the Carrillo family to caretake their bungalow. Although no one said that this was free of rent, I figured that this would have been the case because the Carrillos were good people, and I knew how much that family had been struggling financially. They went to our church. I really respected the elder son, Jesus (pronounced hey-zeus). He was smart and calm and handled crises without losing his temper, and probably deserves his own stories written about him! So, I knocked on the door of Leo’s old house, but by that time, Jesus had moved on. The new resident gave me his number though. He’d become a cop with LAPD — good job for a good man. I tried calling the number, but his wife might not have passed on the message, because they never called back, and then I lost the number.

Addendum: I just did an internet search on Jesus Carrillo, and here he is, winning the LAPD medal of valor in 2009!