Jake LaMotta, the boxer who inspired Martin Scorsese’s classic 1980 biopic Raging Bull, passed away Tuesday at a Miami hospital after a short battle with pneumonia, according to his longtime fiance, Denise Baker. He was 95.
“I just want people to know, he was a great, sweet, sensitive, strong, compelling man with a great sense of humor, with eyes that danced,” Baker told of her departed husband, according to TMZ.
One of the most feral and controversial boxers to ever step in the ring, LaMotta’s 1970 autobiography, in which he candidly discussed his motivations inside and outside the ring, formed the basis for Raging Bull, and catapulted LaMotta permanently into the American imagination. Robert DeNiro, whose trans-figurative performance in film earned him a multitude of accolades including the Academy Award for Best Actor, was coached by LaMotta to prepare for the character. The actor released a terse statement following LaMotta’s death, saying “Rest in peace, champ.”
In an interview with Time in 2013, DeNiro recalled his one-on-one training sessions with LaMotta, saying he was one of the toughest people he had ever met, reports The Telegraph.
“I sparred with people with gear on, but we were careful. We weren’t looking to kill anyone. Then I trained with Jake. He would say, ‘Hit me, don’t worry, don’t worry.’ He was 55, but he was really tough. I didn’t realize until I got to his age that you could still take a punch.”
“He was, as they say, larger than life. He lived a tough life, with a lot to overcome, but that’s exactly what he did. I’m glad to have had the chance to know him,” Martin Scorsese said of the late boxing legend.
— paddy king (@paddytheloaf) September 21, 2017
Known as a fierce boxer who could just not be tamed, Jake LaMotta handed Sugar Ray Robinson his first defeat in an intense six-bout rivalry etched permanently into the memory of all serious boxing aficionados and which still serves as a blueprint for the unique boxing style that LaMotta championed. Having been the undisputed middleweight champion for a period of about two years when boxing was considered the biggest sports in America, LaMotta spearheaded the style dubbed as “bullying,” which served up as an ferocious, unending onslaught mixed with a design for intimidation. Even though this style left LaMotta vulnerable to blows from the opposition, the man behind Raging Bull was notoriously difficult to be knocked over, with his last and only fall coming against Danny Nardico in 1952, which was the beginning of the end of his boxing career, according to AV Club.
“I fought Sugar Ray Robinson so many times it’s a wonder I don’t have diabetes,” LaMotta often said, underlining his quirky sense of humor, something the boxer will always be remembered for.
Later, LaMotta entered the entertainment business, working as a comedian and then as a night club operator, the latter of which got him into trouble with law after he was convicted of introducing older men to underage girls, a charge Jake vociferously denied until the end of his days.
But it was his 1970 autobiography, Raging Bull: My Story, which caught the eye of the young and dynamic Martin Scorsese, just fresh from winning the Oscar for Taxi Driver along with Robert DeNiro. Scorsese won the tacit approval of the boxing legend to help Raging Bull turn into a film, and the rest, as they say, is history.
— Lady C (@cmalafosse) September 20, 2017
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