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Putin praises DiCaprio as 'real man' after harrowing journey to tiger summit

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio narrowly escaped two plane crashes en route to a five-day tiger summit hosted by Putin, who is no stranger to derring-do himself.

By Correspondent / November 24, 2010

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (l.) listens to actor Leonardo DiCaprio during their meeting, dedicated to a five-day 'tiger summit,' in St. Petersburg, Nov. 23.

Alexei Druzhinin/Ria Novosti/AP

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Moscow

Leonardo DiCaprio faced his share of airborne thrills and spills playing the legendary airman, tycoon Howard Hughes, in the 2004 bioepic "The Aviator."

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But on his way to attend the global "Save the Tiger" summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, Mr. DiCaprio nearly met with real-life aviation disaster twice: first when his Moscow-bound flight had to turn back to New York with its engine reportedly in flames, and again when the private aircraft he chartered was so severely buffeted by winds that it had to make an emergency landing in Finland.

For his perseverance, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – who knows a thing or two about looking macho – awarded DiCaprio the highest accolade a Russian guy can offer: he called him a nastoyachshi muzhik, which is a particularly rustic way of saying "a real man."

"I would like to thank you for coming," Mr. Putin told the actor when he belatedly arrived Tuesday night, bearing a $1 million gift for the tiger preservation program. (See video.)

"A man with less strong nerves might have refused and thought [your brushes with disaster] were a sign that you should not come," Putin said.

DiCaprio's close calls in the skies

DiCaprio's first attempt to reach St. Petersburg on Sunday failed when the Moscow-bound Delta Boeing 767’s engine flamed out, and the crippled plane returned to New York.

The next day he switched to a small Gulfstream private jet, but it nearly ran out of fuel battling unexpectedly strong headwinds over the Atlantic, and barely made safe haven in Helsinki.

"DiCaprio didn't just come to St. Petersburg, he busted into St. Petersburg across the Front Line.... Permit me to say this. In our country, that's what we call a real man," Putin said.

Putin's own derring-do

Since becoming Russia's president a decade ago Putin, a former KGB spy and judo master, has periodically indulged in somewhat more stage-managed feats of macho derring-do.

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