So things were getting a little sketchy for Martin Scorsese in the late '70s and very early '80s. He'd already released Mean Streets and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and Taxi Driver—all hits—but followed them up with the giant bomb that was New York, New York. He didn't take the failure very well. He spiraled into a vicious depression, a state of mind that wasn't helped by his already insanely high levels of cocaine use—like so high (excuse the pun), that when he ran out of blow at Cannes once while he was partying with The Band, he chartered a plane to have more flown in from Paris. Another time, he over-dosed so badly that he arrived at the hospital with blood pouring from his eyes. His family fell apart. His career was a mess. His whole life was on the skids.
But then his friends stepped in to save him. First it was Robert De Niro, at his bedside in the hospital convincing him to kick coke and make Raging Bull. Scorsese threw himself into the film as if it was going to be the last movie he ever made—and he came out the other side with a masterpiece. Then, in the wake of that triumph, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel arranged a tribute to Scorsese's films at the 1982 edition of the Festival of Festivals—the fledgling Toronto event which would soon be renamed the Toronto International Film Festival.
It was a big deal. The festival was only a few years old, but it was already attracting the biggest names in the business. Two years earlier they'd held a similar tribute to honour Jean-Luc Godard. It had been a smashing success; Scorsese's would be no different. He was hailed as an artist and surrounded by all the friends who had come to support him—including superfamous actor people like De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Robert Duvall. Scorsese still says the tribute was a turning point in his recovery.
But really that whole story is just a way for me to get to tell you the bit you've been waiting for since you saw the title of this piece: To celebrate their director's new, sober success, De Niro and Keitel hit the town. According to Toronto Life, they ended up at an after-hours club "snort[ing] more coke than Tony Montana on a tear." High and horny, Robert De Niro got a film festival staffer to guard the bathroom door. Then he and "a new female friend" slipped inside to fuck.
It was a Toronto Life article on the festival's most memorable moments that tipped me of to this, which you can read here. Oh and as a weird bonus, I should mention that at the same festival exactly 19 years later, Harvey Keitel would meet and fall in love with his second wife. On September 11, 2001.
Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post originally appeared on the Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog, which tells stories about the history of Toronto. You can read more highlights from it here, or visit it yourself here.
Photo: Robert De Niro
Photo: Robert De Niro