He calls his 20s "my darkest period. I felt lost."
Decades ago, when an eighth-grade student picked up the Bible and read a passage for the school assembly, he had no idea it would be the beginning of a journey that would take his name to the corners of the globe.
As he read the passage, the boy's junior-high-school drama teacher saw the spark in him and climbed five flights of stairs, just to tell the boy's grandmother that he deserved to be on stage. Thanks to that teacher, the boy grew up to be one of his generation's most famous actors, and his name, Al Pacino, appears in the film credits of some of the most iconic movies in Hollywood.
To get to where he is today, Pacino had to overcome a number of struggles. He grew up without a father ever since his parents split when he was two years old. He also called himself a "dunderhead" when it came to academics, but he made up for it by showing what he's capable of on stage.
"I wasn’t out of control, but I was close," he told The New Yorker of his school days. "My mother had to come to school to talk to the teachers. Their conclusion? That I needed a dad."
When his junior high school drama teacher, Blanche Rothstein, told his grandmother about his acting skills, it was "the first time I ever had encouragement," he said.
"The world we came from, the encouragement just wasn’t there," he continued. "We weren’t seen. Or we weren’t regarded. Do you think ever, once in my life, my mother or any adult ever said, ‘How was school today?’ Never! It was unheard of."
After hearing Pacino read the Bible passage at the school assembly, Ms. Rothstein began casting him in school plays, and he later got accepted into Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts. However, he eventually dropped out and began supporting his mother.
"Acting isn’t for our kind of people," she told him when he was young. "Poor people don’t go into this."
"I didn’t know what she was talking about," Pacino said. "On an unconscious level I did, but it didn’t mean anything to me. I’m a survivor. Survivors only hear what they want to hear."
His 20s became an extremely difficult period in his life after two of the closest people to him, his mother and grandfather, died a year apart. "And I had no father," he said. "I think that was my darkest period. I felt lost."
Despite having no money at the time and taking odd jobs to survive, Pacino said, as quoted by Interview Magazine, "There was poverty of course, but when you’re young like that, you get through poverty, it’s no big thing. You just have yourself to deal with. A piece of pizza goes a long way... You extract every bit of that piece of pizza."
While speaking to The Guardian, the award-winning actor said, "There were times when I was young when I could have used money: after college I was often unemployed and at one time I slept in a storefront for a few days. But I’ve never been materialistic..."
By the latter half of the 1960s, Pacino appeared in different theatre productions and even made a small appearance in a film. In 1969, he won a Tony Award for his performance in Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie?
Soon, he got his first leading role in the 1971 film, The Panic in Needle Park, and within no time, he had a string of hit movies attached to his name.
As they say, the rest is history.
For Pacino, it always seemed like he went after the joy of the art and not the fame it came with. "It’s never been about money for me," he told The Guardian. "...The joy of work is what keeps me going."
After establishing himself as one of the most recognizable faces in the world, Pacino was once asked how he would like to be remembered, according to Interview Magazine.
He said, "The best thing I heard about that once is, ‘I don’t want you to miss me. I want you to remember me.'"
Cover image source: Getty Images | Photo by Gareth Cattermole