Jake LaMotta, the legendary Bronx boxer whose life inspired Martin Scorsese's iconic Raging Bull, died this week at the age of 95. His wife Denise Baker told TMZ that LaMotta succumbed to complications of pneumonia on Tuesday at a nursing home.
"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 TMZ.
These days, LaMotta is best known as the fighter portrayed by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. The movie, which was based on LaMotta's 1970 memoir, tells the story of an out-of-control boxer whose life is ruled by inner-demons. Despite a lukewarm reception upon its release, Raging Bull is now considered an all-time great sports movie and one of the best works by the legendary combination of De Niro and Scorsese. It also introduced the world to Joe Pesci.
Before hanging up his gloves and writing the book that would introduce him to a new generation, LaMotta was a well-known brawler who put up a 83-19-4 career record. LaMotta rose to prominence not because of his talent or skill, but because of his unmatched ferocity. He was an energetic and fearless puncher who invited contact, rather than shying away from it. As he later said, "I took unnecessary punishment when I was fighting. Subconsciously – I didn’t know it then – I fought like I didn’t deserve to live.”
The only way to fight like that and succeed is to have a steel chin, and LaMotta had one of the best the sport has ever seen. Perhaps nothing illustrates that better than his six matches against pound-for-pound legend Sugar Ray Robinson, whose power led to 108 knockouts in 173 career wins.
LaMotta, despite getting in the ring with Robinson more than any other fighter, only once fell victim to his awesome power. It happened on February 14, 1951, in a fight that would become known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. After five fights, of which LaMotta won only one, he met Robinson again in Chicago Stadium .The middleweight title fight was abeatdown from the outset, with Robinson pummeling LaMotta but unable to knock him down.
After 13 rounds, the fight was stopped, with LaMotta bloodied but still on his feet. It was the last time he'd ever get in the ring with Robinson.