DAVOS, Switzerland - Actor Robert De Niro has never really been known as a man of mystery--maybe a bit quirky, maybe a successful restaurateur, but not really mysterious. Until he disappeared on Wednesday, quite literally, from the Davos agenda.
It was late afternoon on Wednesday when a hush fell across the 2,000 delegates seated in the grand hall of the Davos Conference Center at the opening ceremonies of the World Economic Forum's 2011 annual meeting. The President of Switzerland had just delivered a brief and graceful welcome to the delegates, and Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos forum had just thanked the Swiss for their hospitality in English, French, and German, and now it was time for the Crystal Award Ceremony to begin, a sort of humanitarian award for "artists who have used their art to improve the state of the world."
Three artists were to have been honored Wednesday, including opera singer Jose Carreras, whose work in raising funds to battle leukemia was worthy of the award, and Slumdog Millionaire film composer A.R. Rahman, whose work with Save the Children and the United Nations was equally worthy.
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But the big draw was De Niro, though it was not clear to many people what his humanitarian achievements in life had been aside from an offering an excellent performance as the young Vito Corleone in the Godfather series, or creating the Tribeca Film Festival of the Tribeca Grill, an acclaimed New York eatery.
De Niro was in the Davos program handed out to all delegates, until just shortly before the opening ceremonies, when I noticed it had disappeared from the online version on my iPad. Had it been deleted?
And then, suddenly, the ceremony began, just a few minutes before the arrival of President Medvedev of Russia. Rahman thanked the crowd, and the 130-string delegation from his native India seemed to cheer, Carreras said thank you with an aria. But no De Niro. Where was De Niro?
There was no explanation, not a word, and delegates began buzzing with speculation as to why he had pulled out at the last minute. Was he ill? Did he have a tantrum? Was his plane late? There was nothing, nada, niente!
Not since Sharon Stone captivated the Davos crowd a few years back with her mere presence in a front-row seat, had Hollywood intruded so prodigiously on the solemn proceedings here, in this case by absentia. The mystery, so far, remains unsolved.