Leo goes the green mile

We had planned on mocking the boyish screen god for his part-time activism. He proved us wrong.

By Alicia Montgomery
Published April 21, 2001 10:52PM (EDT)

This time last year, professional actor and part-time environmental crusader Leonardo DiCaprio was vigorously promoting the 30th anniversary of Earth Day. He wrote an essay for Time magazine, conducted a very green and widely ridiculed interview with then-President Clinton for a special ABC News Earth Day special and headlined the Washington Earth Day celebration on the National Mall. In a speech there, DiCaprio warned the hundreds of thousands gathered on the Mall: "Our planet's alarm is going off, and it is time to wake up and take action!"

Well, is Leo taking action? In a Yahoo Internet chat conducted in November 1999, DiCaprio promised he would do his part to improve the environment, "not only for the future of mankind, but for all living things," by buying a hybrid car, one that runs on both gasoline and electricity, within the year.

Feeling cynical and petty, we decided to find out whether he kept his promise, expecting to catch another full-time celebrity, part-time activist whose commitment had the weight of a faxed press release. We expected to mock him.

Turns out he actually did buy a hybrid car, says his spokesman, Ken Sunshine. "He bought one and his father bought one," Sunshine declares. Since last summer, DiCaprio has been the proud owner of a Toyota Prius, which has earned California's "super ultra low emissions vehicle" rating and the "Award for Excellence in Environmental Achievement" from the Sierra Club. Though Sunshine is unsure how much DiCaprio paid for his Prius, Toyota lists its starting sticker price as $20,450. The color of DiCaprio's car can't be released "for security reasons."

Aside from driving a clean machine, DiCaprio hasn't had a lot of time to repeat his big Earth Day crusade of last year, Sunshine says. For the last eight months, he has been in Rome starring in the forthcoming Martin Scorsese drama "Gangs of New York." But even though he's not on American soil, he's still trying to do his part, devoting a choice hunk of his official Web site to encouraging Earth Day. Go to LeonardoDiCaprio.com, and you're greeted -- center screen -- by a bouncing image of our planet. In the background, the screen scolds: "Celebrate the Earth this month by challenging yourself. Make or break a habit that you think will help the Earth. If you don't, the Earth will eventually go crazy and start bouncing around like this ... and we'll all fall off!"

OK, mock him if you must. But you can't say he hasn't paid a price for his activism.

Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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