Growing Pains: The Dark Side of the Seaver Family

The cast of Growing Pains sure was a mixed bag of actors. You had undiscovered stars like Leonardo DiCaprio sharing the screen with established actors like Alan Thicke. Then, you had Kirk Cameron, who became a born-again Christian during his time on the show, which sure rubbed the other cast members the wrong way.

Joanna Kerns and Kirk Cameron on the red carpet in 1987 / Alan Thicke coming to his son Carter’s hair in front of a mirror / Leonardo DiCaprio and Kirk Cameron in the kitchen in a scene from Growing Pains / The cast of Growing Pains posing together

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With such a great collection of actors with polarizing ideologies starring on Growing Pains, it should come as no surprise that there are some crazy stories from the set. From Leo’s sleazy entourage to off-screen romances and internal struggles, these behind-the-scenes stories from Growing Pains reveal that the cast wasn’t always as happy as their characters on screen.

A Possible Costar Romance?

Both Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns walked onto the set of Growing Pains as recently divorced or soon-to-be-divorced from their significant others. It became clear to everyone that the two had great chemistry, but apparently, it wasn’t just for the cameras. Thicke later said that the two got their flirt on and even considered dating in real life.

Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns sitting at a dinner event

Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns. Photo by Donaldson Collection / Getty Images

But (luckily) they decided against it. Why? Because Thicke and Seaver realized how bad their working relationship would be if their romance fizzled out. How responsible of them! We’re glad that the two were able to keep their relationship strictly professional, or else we might not have had seven glorious seasons of Growing Pains.

Julie McCullough Caused Some Trouble

Actress Julie McCullough played Julie Costello, Mike’s girlfriend, in the fourth season of Growing Pains. But while the season ended with Mike proposing to Julie, fans were not treated to a wedding in Season 5 because Julie was abruptly written off the show.

Julie McCullough dressed up for the show Growing Pains / Kirk Cameron circa 1988 with two snakes around his neck posing in front of a red background

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It has been said that the actress’ photos in Playboy bothered actor Kirk Cameron so much that he got her kicked off the series. Cameron, on the other hand, has denied this rumor and still claims that Mike and Julie were never supposed to get married in the first place. Hmm. Sounds fishy to us, but we guess we’ll take his word for it.

Meeting Kirk’s Future Wife

So, not only did Cameron have McCullough kicked off the show but, in her final episode, Julie left Mike at the altar, making her look like the bad guy. Luckily for Cameron, his character got a new love interest, played by actress Chelsea Noble. The two actors fell in love and eventually tied the knot. (They are still married today, six kids later, but we’ll get to that in a bit.)

Chelsea Noble and Kirk Cameron posing in the street as they leave a hotel

Chelsea Noble and Kirk Cameron. Photo by Derek Storm / FilmMagic / Getty Images

But Growing Pains wasn’t the first time that the two actors met. Noble and Cameron were first introduced on the set of Full House, where Cameron made a guest appearance on the show thanks to his sister, Candace Cameron Bure, who played DJ Tanner. What a small world!

A Failed Late Night Talk Show Host

Before landing the role of Dr. Jason Seaver, Alan Thicke hosted his own late-night talk show, Thicke of the Night. The show was meant to rival The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but unfortunately, it didn’t do as well as the network had hoped. It was actually so bad that several stations began dropping the series mid-season.

Alan Thicke interviewing Lana Turner on Thicke of the Night

Alan Thicke and Lana Turner on Thicke of the Night. Source: Twitter

With no other options, the network decided to officially cancel Thicke’s show. However, the actor wasn’t out of a job for that long. The network suggested that the actor audition for the male lead of Growing Pains. By the following year, Thicke was already starring on the hit sitcom. Fun fact: Nearly 150 actors auditioned for the role of Dr. Jason Seaver.

Sandy’s Death Was Planned

Future Friends actor Matthew Perry played Sandy (Carol’s boyfriend) for three episodes in Season 4 of Growing Pains. But as every fan knows, Sandy died after drinking and driving in the episode Second Chance. A producer for the show thought of the idea for the episode after he caught his daughter drinking.

Matthew Perry posing for a portrait 1987

Matthew Perry 1987. Photo by Vinnie Zuffante / Getty Images

The producers decided that it would be a good idea to kill off a minor character in the show to warn young audiences against the dangers of drinking. Perry continued his rounds, making several guest appearances on primetime sitcoms before landing the role of Chandler in Friends.

Dan Lauria Has His Girlfriend To Thank

Actor Dan Lauria, who is famous for his role as Jack Arnold in The Wonder Years, actually landed the role thanks to his girlfriend at the time, Joanna Kerns. It all started when Neal Marlens, the creator of Growing Pains and the co-creator of The Wonder Years, began casting for his new show.

Dan Lauria posing on the red carpet / Joanna Kerns on the red carpet

Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Lauria was interested in auditioning, but for some reason or another, his agent couldn’t secure him an audition. So being the good girlfriend she was, Kerns put in a call to Marlens and got him an audition.

The Original Carol

It’s pretty hard to imagine someone other than Tracey Gold playing the part of Carol Seaver, but in the unaired pilot, that’s exactly what happened. Miss America pageant winner turned struggling actress Elizabeth Ward was originally cast as Carol.

Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold standing by lockers

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But at the last minute, producers decided they wanted to go in a different direction and decided to call Gold back to re-audition. Gold, however, wasn’t too optimistic about getting the part. “They called and asked if I would come back in and read for it, and I’m like, ‘no, you already saw me and didn’t like me,’” Gold later said.

Not the Sharpest Knife

When Kirk Cameron auditioned for the part of Mike Seaver, he had just turned 14-years-old! According to his mother’s memoir, A Full House of Growing Pains: A Hollywood Mother’s Journey, the only reason why her son landed the part was because producers thought that he wasn’t very smart. Really!

Kirk Cameron on the red carpet at the Emmy Awards in 1987

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Apparently, when Cameron’s audition ended, he asked one of the producers if the sit-com was a comedy. They, of course, laughed and told him yes. When the young actor left the room, the producers turned to each other and said, “He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he sounds like Mike.”

Cameron and Gold Played Siblings Before

Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold sure acted like real-life brother and sister, and maybe that’s because they had previously played siblings, not just once, but twice! Yep, that’s right. The two were cast as brother and sister in a McDonald’s commercial three years before Growing Pains aired.

Tracey Gold and Kirk Cameron on the red carpet in 1988

Tracey Gold and Kirk Cameron. Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Then, the following year, the two were cast as siblings in the made-for-TV movie Beyond Witch Mountain, which premiered in 1982. We bet the two actors were happy to find out that they already knew someone on set when they began filming Growing Pains! We know we would be.

Jeremy Miller Loved His TV Family

Jeremy Miller, who played the rambunctious Ben Seaver, was only eight years old when the show began filming. He became so attached to his TV family that when the earlier seasons wrapped and everyone went home for a few months, Miller would cry and cry because he didn’t want to leave his costars.

Candace Cameron Bure and Jeremy Miller holding hands playing dress up in a scene from Growing Pains

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While everyone had a great laugh about how cute Miller was for not wanting to go home, few people knew that he was battling alcoholism and that his home life wasn’t that great. “I began drinking at the age of four,” the child actor later confessed.

Maura Tierney Was Fired From Set

Before becoming a star on ER and NewsRadio, Maura Tierney was just another actress who began her career on a sitcom. But unfortunately for Tierney, she never made it to an episode because she was fired from the set on the second day of rehearsals for a Season 3 episode.

Maura Tierney posing in a high school uniform costume against a stone wall

Maura Tierney. Photo by George Rose / Getty Images

But to this day, Tierney isn’t sure why. “I think maybe I had a bad attitude,” she told the A.V. Club. “I really don’t know. The director kept saying, ‘Watch Kirk [Cameron]! Watch Kirk! Kirk knows what he’s doing! Watch Kirk!’ And then I got fired.”

Tracey Gold Was a Medical Liability

Over the course of her time on Growing Pains, Tracey Gold went from 135 pounds to only 83. Because of her battle with anorexia, the actress was suspended from the show. However, it is unclear whether this move was for her own good or because the network was unhappy with the way she looked.

Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold standing in front of a bookshelf in a scene from Growing Pains

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Producers wrote her out of most of the final season. “The last season of Growing Pains is like a blur to me,” the actress told The Los Angeles Times. “I can’t even remember the episodes.” When the producers told her that she could come back for the final episode, she was still very sick.

Boner’s Dad Was on Star Trek

For four seasons, actor Andrew Koenig played Mike’s best friend Richard “Boner” Stabone on Growing Pains. Like many stars in Hollywood, Koenig was the son of a famous actor: Walter Koenig from Star Trek. The young actor even had a minor role on his dad’s show in 1993, playing a character named Tumak.

Andrew Koenig standing in front of a window and a vase with purple flowers in it / Walter Koenig in Star Trek

Andrew Koenig in Growing Pains (left) and Walter Koenig in Star Trek (right). Source: Pinterest / MoviestillsDB.com, Copyright: Paramount Pictures, NBC

Koenig eventually made his way through Hollywood, working as a director, editor, and producer on several independent films in the early 2000s. While everything was going great for the actor career-wise, he had some internal struggles. Koenig took his own life in 2010. He was 41 years old.

A Chinese Following

Believe it or not, but Growing Pains had a huge fan base in China. The series was actually the first American sit-com shown in the country, and people loved the actors for it. Alan Thicke once told reporters that when he visited China, reporters always asked him about his parenting philosophy.

Alan Thicke, Kirk Cameron, Joanna Kerns, and Jeremy Miller toasting with glasses of ice water in a scene from Growing Pains

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They would ask how Thicke would punish Mike if he didn’t do his homework or Carol if she came home after curfew. Little did the actor know that the show had a huge impact on how the Chinese people parented their kids.

Cameron Had His Fair Share of Controversy

Actor Kirk Cameron became a born-again Christian at the age of 19, and his shifting religious beliefs had a huge impact on everyone else on set. After the actor “found God,” he began to have issues with the way his ladies’ man character was portrayed.

Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains posing at an awards show

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He also complained about the writing being too secular. Cameron often pushed back against sexual innuendos and sexual references, which caused some trouble with the producers. One time, Cameron called the president of ABC to tell him that the producers were “pornographers” because of the content they pushed.

Everyone Was Friends

Just as the Seaver family was super close-knit on the show, the actors were really close in real-life. “In the early days of Growing Pains, we communed all the time,” Alan Thicke told The Los Angeles Times in 2000. “Nobody would ever have a party without the whole gang being there.”

The cast of Growing Pains posing together in pajamas

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“And that did change.” Unfortunately, the hangouts began to slow down because of Kirk Cameron. The actor took a step back because the other actors’ lifestyles didn’t mesh well with his growing religious beliefs. “Kirk went through a slow withdrawal–a fade to black,” Thicke recalled.

No Wedding Invites?

With all the drama going on between Kirk Cameron and the rest of his castmates, he still managed to find his soulmate. He eventually proposed to Chelsea Noble, who also played his onscreen love interest. While this should have been a time for celebration, the proposal and eventual wedding put even more distance between Cameron and the rest of his costars.

Kirk Cameron and Chelsea posing on their wedding day

Chelsea and Kirk Cameron on their wedding day. Source: Pinterest

The actor didn’t invite anyone from the series to his wedding, and when his other costars found out, they were pretty upset. But Cameron says he had his reasons. “I shifted my focus from 100% on the show, to 100% on [my new life], and left 0% on the show,” the actor later explained.

Jeremy Miller Was Not Pleased With Leo

Actor Jeremy Miller later admitted to Oprah that the producer’s decision to cast Leonardo DiCaprio irked him. “There was a little bit of competition there,” Miller said. “It bothered me that the network felt it was necessary to bring him in rather than focusing on my character.”

Leonardo DiCaprio sitting behind a school desk in a scene from Growing Pains

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“[Ben] had now grown up and could now take over for Mike as the rapscallion. That was a little weird.” But while Miller was frustrated as a kid, he says that he doesn’t hold anything against Leo. It’s not like it was his fault, right?

The Birds and the Bees

With so many teenagers on set, the adults took it upon themselves to teach them a thing or two about life. In fact, Alan Thicke says that he was the one who taught little Leonardo DiCaprio how to pick up girls.

Alan Thicke and Leonardo DiCaprio posing for a promotional shot

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According to the actor, DiCaprio was infatuated with a girl from the wardrobe department, but he didn’t know how to ask for her number. Thicke reminded the young actor of the contact sheet posted on the wall with everybody’s information. “I was very helpful that way. I’m sure he feels he owes most of his adult social life to that tip,” Thicke later joked.

Bruce Willis as Dr. Seaver?

ABC had two big-name shows in 1985, Moonlighting and Growing Pains, and they were very busy trying to find the perfect leading man for both shows. Although it may be hard to imagine, the network actually wanted Willis to play Dr. Seaver.

Bruce Willis on the red carpet wearing a tux / Alan Thicke on the red carpet in 1985

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But after Alan Thicke threw his hat into the ring, they decided to give him a chance to audition. According to People Magazine, Growing Pains’ showrunners asked him to kiss Joanna Kerns to see if the two had chemistry. Well, the pair hit it off, and Thicke got the part.

The Infamous P*ssy Posse

Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns only had good things to say about working with Leonardo DiCaprio. However, Kerns remembers that DiCaprio’s friends, especially Tobey McGuire, were often on set while filming. “They were always on set. They always looked like they were in trouble or had been in trouble and were talking about it,” the actress told EW.

David Blaine and Lukas Haas holding Leonardo DiCaprio up posing for a photograph when they were young

David Blaine, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lukas Haas in 1995. Photo by Patrick McMullan / Getty Images

DiCaprio and McGuire were founding members of the so-called P*ssy Posse—a group of young, bad boy actors known to cause trouble around Hollywood. The boys were often spotted throwing things at passersby and having wild parties.

Brad Pitt Was a Guest Star

Hollywood legends Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio had never actually appeared together on a feature film until Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. That’s weird to think about! However, the two actors did have one thing in common: They both got their start on Growing Pains.

Brad Pitt posing in an empty studio apartment in 1988

Photo by Michael Putland / Getty Images

Before his breakout role in Thelma & Louise, Pitt guest-starred in two different episodes, the first was in Season Three when he played a new student at school (and Carol’s crush). He then came back in Season Four to play Ben Seaver’s all-time favorite rockstar.

The Cast Had a Gross Ritual

Alan Thicke later revealed that the cast had a pretty gross pre-show ritual. Before going on set to begin filming, every single cast member would take out their chewing gum and stick it on the same pile. “As you make your way onto the scene, you would stick your gum on this ever-growing wad,” the actor explained to ABC.

Jeremy Miller, Joanna Kerns, and Alan Thicke sitting around the breakfast table in a scene from Growing Pains

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“It ended up weighing about 11 pounds.” When the show wrapped, the cast was able to take a few souvenirs home. While Thicke opted for a few scripts of his favorite episodes, the rest of the cast began fighting over the giant wad of chewed gum.

Like Father, Like Son

In a 2015 interview with ABC, Thick revealed that both of his kids, Robin and Brennan, had minor roles in the show. “If you watch real closely in some episodes, you’ll see my son, Robin, at about the age of 11 and 12, participating as an extra in a classroom scene or at a party that Mike Seaver was throwing,” the actor said.

Alan Thicke with his sons attending a softball game

Alan Thicke with Brennan and Robin 1987. Photo by Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

“My son Brennan was also in some episodes,” Thicke said that his kids loved visiting him on set because most of the actors were around their ages. Robin and Brennan often showed up on set to hang out with everyone after school.

Alan Thicke (Dr. Jason Seaver)

After the series wrapped, Thicke stuck around the Hollywood scene. He made a brief appearance on the sitcom Hope & Gloria before hosting a Pictionary game show and guest starring on several popular TV shows, such as How I Met Your Mother, This Is Us, Scream Queens. He even made an appearance on the second season of Fuller House.

Alan Thicke posing in a promotional photograph for Growing Pains / Alan Thicke on the red carpet in 2016

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Thicke’s life sadly came to an end after he suffered a heart attack while playing hockey with his youngest son Carter. “The ambulance came, and the paramedics had stabilized him, and everything seemed fine,” he said in 2017, a year after his father’s death.

Their Last Conversation

Before the paramedics loaded Thicke into the ambulance, Carter unknowingly spoke to his father for the last time. “I got to give him a hug and said, ‘I love you,’” Carter recalled, “and that was the last time I saw him.”

Alan Thicke and his son Carter on the red carpet in 2014

Alan and Carter Thicke 2014. Photo by George Pimentel / WireImage / Getty Images

By the time Thicke reached the hospital, his aorta artery had torn and then ruptured. There was nothing the doctors could do. When news broke of Thicke’s untimely passing, emotional tributes from the actor’s family, friends, and costars began pouring in. “My father passed away today,” Robin Thicke shared on Instagram. “He was the best man I ever knew.”

“We Were a Family”

Thicke and his costars from Growing Pains had a special bond. After his death, everyone rallied around the Thicke family, fondly remembering their time on set. “We were a family,” Kirk Cameron told Today.com after his onscreen father’s death.

Alan Thicke on the red carpet with a few cast members from Growing Pains and his sons Brennan and Robin

Tracey Gold, Jeremy Miller, Joana Kerns, Alan Thicke, Brennan Thicke, and Robin Thicke. Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

“We laughed and cried together, shared birthday celebrations, Christmas parties, holidays, and worked together with the crew as a team to make a really special TV show. We weren’t just a TV family. In many ways, we were a real family.” Cameron added that Thicke was, in many ways, just like a real dad.

“It’s Hard to Grasp”

Although Cameron took a step back from the rest of his cast members in later years, he says that his friendship with Thicke never changed. “Meeting up with Alan, even after years had passed since we’d seen each other, we’d just pick up the conversation where we’d left off,” the actor recalled.

The cast of Growing Pains on the red carpet in 2006

Photo by Michael Buckner / Getty Images

Cameron wasn’t the only one who paid tribute to his TV dad. In 2018, Tracey Gold and Jeremy Miller joined Cameron on the Today Show. “It’s still surreal. It’s still hard to grasp, and when we’re together, it is a reminder,” Gold said.

A Seasoned Dad

Thicke was sort of the constant in everyone’s lives. Not only did Thicke make sure to check up on his former costars’ lives, but he made sure they knew that his door was always open. “No matter what was going on, I could just pick up the phone to call him and tell him the good news.”

Some of the cast of Growing Pains at a reunion in a garden

Source: Twitter

“[I could] call him to get advice, call him to just talk and see how he’s doing,” Jeremy Miller told Us Weekly in 2019. “He was my other dad, and I miss that connection, and he was the most loving, warm, caring man I’ve ever known.”

Joanna Kerns (Maggie Seaver)

After Growing Pains wrapped in 1992, Joanna Kerns starred in a handful of TV movies, as well as in feature films such as Knocked Up and Girl, Interrupted. Today, the former sitcom actress actually prefers to work behind the camera and has directing credits for episodes of Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Pretty Little Liars.

Joanna Kerns on the red carpet in 1986 / Joanna Kerns on the red carpet today

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In 2017, Kerns revealed she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy. Luckily for Kerns, she was “given an all clear, the best of the results I could’ve had.”

Kirk Cameron (Mike Seaver)

When Growing Pains wrapped, the teen heartthrob went on to star on a show called Kirk, as well as a number of films. Today, however, the bulk of Cameron’s work revolves around his Christian faith. He has appeared on a few shows with religious themes, such as Fireproof, Saving Christmas, and the Left Behind series.

Kirk Cameron posing in front of a brick wall in a photo for Growing Pains / Kirk Cameron at a home store today

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As for his personal life, Cameron is still married to Chelsea Noble. After tying the knot in 1991, the two began having children. Today, they are the proud parents of SIX kids: two biological kids (Olivia and James) and four adopted kids (Jack, Isabella, Anna, and Luke).

Tracey Gold (Carol Seaver)

After the show wrapped, Tracey Gold thankfully recovered from her battle with anorexia. She has been very open about her struggles and went on to write a book in 2003 entitled Room to Grow: An Appetite for Life.

A portrait of Tracey Gold in 1985 / Tracey Gold at a convention in 2018

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images / Bobby Bank, Getty Images

As for her personal life, Gold married Roby Marshall in 1994 after Joanna Kerns introduced the two. Gold and Marshall are still married today and share four children: Sage, Bailey, Aiden, and Dylan. Gold has also made her way to our TV screens in recent years when she nabbed some hosting gigs on Secret Life of a Soccer Mom and GSN Live.

Jeremy Miller (Ben Seaver)

Jeremy Miller has mostly avoided the spotlight (apart from a few small roles) since Growing Pains wrapped in 1992. In 2014, Miller revealed that he had struggled with alcoholism for years and actually began drinking when he was four years old.

A promotional shot of Jeremy Miller for Growing Pains / Jeremy Miller on the red carpet in 2019

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“My grandparents used to throw a lot of parties, and I would run around after the parties and finish off all the empty beers,” the former child star told Oprah in 2016. “There was something there. I never had that ‘off’ switch.” Luckily for Miller, he is currently sober, thanks to counseling, therapy, and an anti-alcoholism drug.

Ashley Johnson (Chrissy Seaver)

From 1990 until 1992, Ashley Johnson played the youngest Seaver child, Chrissy. The show launched her career, and by the time she was 12 years old, Johnson had been cast in eight different TV series. In 2012, Johnson appeared in The Avengers as Beth, the waitress who was saved by Captain America.

Ashley Johnson on the red carpet in 1991 / Ashley Johnson on the red carpet in 2012

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Johnson also did her fair share of voiceover work but is best known for voicing the super-intelligent Gretchen Grundler on Disney’s Recess. As for her personal life, the actress began dating Brian Foster in 2012 and announced their engagement in 2018.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Luke Brower)

Leonardo DiCaprio played homeless teen Luke Brower, who had been taken in by the Seaver family in the final season. After the series wrapped, Leo starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which earned him his first Oscar nomination.

Leonardo DiCaprio holding a bear sewed inside of a pink and white heart in a scene from Growing Pains / Leonardo DiCaprio on the red carpet today

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It’s been pretty much uphill for the actor ever since. He went on to star in blockbuster films, such as Titanic, Romeo + Juliet, Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street, just to name a few. DiCaprio is also a serial model dater and has been dating Camila Morone since 2017.