When actress, director, and producer Penny Marshall sadly passed away on December 17, she was in the midst of making a documentary about eccentric former NBA player Dennis Rodman.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the filmmaker behind blockbusters Big, A League of Their Own, and The Preacher’s Wife had been working on a movie about her friend since 2012 when Rodman, who had been filming a documentary about his life with another director, asked Marshall to take over.
Yes, the unlikely duo were close pals, hanging out at basketball games together and spending Thanksgivings at the Laverne & Shirley star’s home in Hollywood. They initially became friends in the 1990s when Rodman played for the Chicago Bulls and Marshall, a longtime NBA fan, would regularly attend games.
One of the documentary’s producers, Marshall’s son-in-law Matthew Conlan, said that she even turned down directing the 2005 film Cinderella Man to work on Rodman’s life story, partly because she didn’t want to fight with studio executives about casting and partly because she wanted to make sure her friend was safe. This was at the time when Rodman was heavily drinking and showing up to functions intoxicated.
“I think she saw a little of herself in Dennis — she’d been through difficult times too,” Russell LaFreniere, the documentary’s first director, told the Hollywood Reporter.
“She really cared about him. And once she came onto the movie, it opened doors. She could call Mark Cuban and he’d come over for an interview — that wasn’t something I could do.”
Conlan said that the morning of her death, Marshall phoned him to figure out what was going on with the film, saying “We’ve got work to do.”
Interviews with the likes of Jay Leno, Isiah Thomas, Phil Jackson, and a pre-president Donald Trump were filmed for the documentary. However, financial issues caused the production to be paused. Then, the 2016 deaths of both her brother, filmmaker Garry Marshall, and best friend, actress Carrie Fisher, as well as her own health issues delayed the project further.
Entertainment Tonight reported that the cause of Marshall’s death at the age of 75, according to her death certificate, was heart failure, heart disease, and complications from diabetes.
Conlan told the Hollywood Reporter that the film will eventually get finished and be released. “She wanted people to know who Dennis Rodman really was,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Rodman’s rep told Page Six that he “hopes” Marshall’s film will see the light of day.
“We know she did over 130 interviews and several subjects are no longer with us. Her magic touch was on it, so we’d love to see it come to the big screen as much as a way to pay respect to her being the best at what she did and have it win some posthumous awards for her legacy.”