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DiCaprio was born in Los Angeles, California, the only child of Irmelin (née Indenbirken), a former legal secretary, and George DiCaprio, an underground comic artist and
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producer/distributor of comic books. His mother moved from Oer-Erkenschwick at the Ruhr, Germany, to the U.S. during the 1950s, while his father is a fourth-generation American of half Italian and half German descent. His maternal grandmother, Helene Indenbirken, who was born Yelena Smirnova, was a Russian immigrant to Germany. DiCaprio's parents met while attending college together and subsequently moved to Los Angeles. He was named Leonardo because his pregnant mother was looking at a Leonardo da Vinci painting in a museum in Italy when DiCaprio first kicked. His parents divorced when he was a year old and he lived mostly with his mother, although his father was around intermittently. During his childhood, DiCaprio was interested in baseball cards, comic books, and frequently visited museums with his father.

DiCaprio and his mother lived in several Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Echo Park, and at 1874 Hillhurst Avenue, Los Feliz district (which was later converted into a local public library), while his mother worked several jobs to support them. He attended Seeds Elementary School and graduated from John Marshall High School a few blocks away, after attending the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies for four years.