As Robert De Niro and Al Pacino Become New Dads, What Are the Health Risks When Older Men Conceive Children?
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino attending the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020. Both actors will become new fathers this year, with De Niro having a daughter in April and Pacino expecting a child in the next month. Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images
How old is too old to have a child?
For women, the question is moot. Nature dictates — and enforces — a strict, non-negotiable timetable. Not so for men. Witness recent bombshells from actors Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.
Last week, TMZ broke the news that Pacino, 83, and 29-year-old girlfriend Noor Alfallah were eight months pregnant with their first child together (and Pacino’s fourth overall). This came on the heels of De Niro, 79, confirming to ET Canada among others that he recently had a child, his seventh, with 45-year-old girlfriend Tiffany Chen.
Gia Virginia Chen-De Niro arrived April 6, but news of the birth wasn’t spilled until De Niro hit the promotional trail for his just-released comedy, About My Father.
When asked by People magazine recently about Pacino’s new bundle of joy arriving soon, De Niro said, “What a guy. Go Al, God bless him.”
The pair join a surprisingly robust club that includes Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, who became an eight-time father at age 73 in 2016 with his then 29-year-old partner, ballerina Melanie Hamrick. Jagger, coincidentally, used to date Pacino’s girlfriend Alfallah. Make of that what you will. Hollywood actors Clint Eastwood, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and Richard Gere and Canuck-born music producer David Foster have also fathered children when north of age 60.
The more germane question about late-in-life parenthood is clearly not “can they?” but “should they?”
It’s unlikely Pacino or De Niro will live long enough to witness milestones like graduations or marriages in their youngest kids’ lives. That may seem reckless until you stop to consider that, in fairness, there’s absolutely no guarantee that super-fit millennial won’t get creamed by a bus on his morning run and miss their own young child’s milestones.
Then again, millennials generally aren’t putting their offspring at a higher risk of a genetic disorder right out of the gate.
According to the American National Library of Medicine, “older paternal age may be harmful to the offspring’s health in terms of genetic mutations, telomere length, and epigenetics.” That’s because, “as fathers age, they are exposed to various environmental risk factors, which are involved in the formation and maintenance of epigenetic patterns; these epigenetic modifications have serious consequences for offspring, often contributing to the early onset of diseases.”
Meanwhile, a 2018 Stanford University School of Medicine study of more than 40 million American births over the course of a decade “links babies of older fathers with a variety of increased risks at birth, including low birth weight and seizures,” as well as posing the increased risk of diabetes for the mother. The study considers “older fathers” as being over the age of 35, and does note that the overall risk of these health issues occurring remains “relatively low” — though births involving fathers over the age of 45 were at a 14 per cent greater risk of some birth issues than fathers in the age range of ages 25 to 34.
A 2019 Rutgers study of more than 40 years of research resulted in similar findings, adding that “infants born to older fathers were found to be at higher risk of premature birth, late stillbirth, low Apgar scores, low birth weight, higher incidence of newborn seizures and birth defects such as congenital heart disease and cleft palate.”
Later in life, the children were reportedly at higher risk for everything from autism to cognitive disorders. The study’s author, Gloria Bachmann, was quoted by Science Daily as saying that “with age, in men, sperm also tend to lose ‘fitness’ over the life cycle.” She added that, “In addition to decreasing fertilization potential, this can also influence the pregnancy itself, as is noted by increased pregnancy risks when conception is successful.”
Of course, beyond science, other minuses — and pluses — to geriatric fatherhood abound. Babies Pacino and De Niro will never get to know their paternal grandparents, but they’ll almost certainly have funds available for private and/or post-secondary education and myriad other bells and whistles as they grow up.
Both children will be denied the opportunity to ask their dads existential questions about their lives and careers as adults, yet both have a wealth of adult siblings to offer guidance, to babysit or to toss a frisbee around the park if papa is off shooting another film.
True, horseplay may be out, but these semi-retired stars can (hopefully) be expected to be more present and focused on their children given they aren’t still climbing the Hollywood ladder trying to secure fame and fortune. Plus, nepo babies are destined to remain hot long into the future.
As a rather amusing and potentially instructive aside, the two highly influential, Oscar-winning actors coincidentally popped up in the same breath of late not for their procreational prowess but for their vintage good looks. In mid-May on Twitter — the zenith of pop culture ephemera — writer Ashley Reese (@offbeatorbit) asked the masses to vote on who was hotter in their prime: Young Al Pacino or Young Robert De Niro.
A staggering 277,000-plus votes were cast over 24 hours. The winner? Neither. It was a tie with 50 per cent cheering for the star of Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather and the other 50 per cent opting for the star of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver — an outcome so impossibly even that TMZ and Today covered it.
The rationale for the votes — impassioned explanations noted by Today included, “Young De Niro had a certain je ne sais quoi. Rugged yet graceful. This is the working man’s choice,” and “[Pacino] is literally the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen in my life, sorry” — suggests fan worship for these two cinematic titans remains undimmed half a century after they became certifiable stars in the early ’70s.
It’s hard to imagine denizens of the web being quite that fevered about recent fellow Best Actor Oscar winners Casey Affleck or Brendan Fraser pitted against Rami Malek or Eddie Redmayne in the year 2073.
That’s about the time when De Niro Jr. and Pacino Jr. will be contemplating the final third of their lives from behind the wheel of a fancy car, doubtless provided by their sizeable inheritance.