ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The boxer whose life was immortalized in the film "Raging Bull" has died. Jake LaMotta died yesterday in a Florida hospital. NPR's Tom Goldman remembers the former middleweight champion and his complicated life.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: You know, the 1980 movie was aptly titled, because this guy was, you know, by all accounts raging in and out of the ring.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DON DUNPHY: Both men blaze away at the (unintelligible). But LaMotta, rallying from the brink of defeat, knocks Dauthuille down and almost through the ropes.
GOLDMAN: He was known for being able to take a punch. In fact out of his 100-plus fights, he was only knocked down once. Matter of fact, in his last fight against Sugar Ray Robinson that was stopped because it was just so bloody and he was just being pummeled, he said to Ray, you know, I didn't go down. That line was immortalized in the movie.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RAGING BULL")
ROBERT DE NIRO: (As Jake LaMotta) Hey, Ray, I never went down, Ray. You never got me down, Ray.
GOLDMAN: He wore that as a badge of honor - his toughness. But you know, he had to be a good boxer as well to do what he did. He held the middleweight title from 1949 to 1951. He was a great boxer.
It would take a psychologist to kind of identify exactly what the root cause was for his rage, but you know, there were stories of him growing up - a very tough childhood. There were reports that his father, an immigrant, would beat Jake LaMotta's mother and siblings, so he grew up around physical violence.
There was also a really interesting part of his personality that Nigel Collins told me - Nigel Collins being a Hall of Fame boxing writer. He said he had a conversation with LaMotta, and LaMotta said when he was a teenager, he attacked a person with a lead pipe wrapped in newspaper and definitely hurt the guy. But Jake LaMotta always thought that he had killed him, and he apparently was guilt ridden for that. And that guilt kind of transferred into this feeling of, I'm not worthy of living. And so there was that that was kind of motivating his rage and his ability to just take punch after punch after punch. According Nigel Collins, Jake LaMotta in a sense felt he deserved those kinds of beatings.
You know, so Jake LaMotta retired from boxing in the mid-1950s, but you know, a troubled life continued. In 1960, he appeared before a Senate subcommittee on antitrust and monopoly that was investigating boxing's connection to the Mob, and he admitted then that he took a dive in a famous fight against a fighter named Billy Fox. And the way Jake LaMotta described it was he needed to take that dive in order to get a title shot, which he did.
And then in later years, he had an association with an underage prostitute. He owned some bars. So you know, his rough-and-tumble life continued. But as is also characterized in the movie, you know, he had such a personality that he displayed on TV. He was kind of a staple on the late-night talk shows.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
JAKE LAMOTTA: That guy you had on before, that Shakespearian guy - what's his name?
DAVID LETTERMAN: John Houseman.
LAMOTTA: He talks kind of funny.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, he does.
GOLDMAN: The 1980 movie "Raging Bull" kind of put LaMotta back into the public eye for a new generation at that time. And after watching the movie, LaMotta said - and I'm quoting here - he said, "when I saw the film, I was upset. I kind of look bad in it. Then I realized it was true. That's the way it was. I was a no-good bastard. I realize it now. It's not the way I am now but the way I was then."
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tom Goldman on boxer Jake LaMotta, who died yesterday at the age of 95.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.