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Jake LaMotta, Boxer Of 'Raging Bull' Fame, Dies At 95

Former world middleweight champion boxer Jake LaMotta attends a dinner in New York City in 2012. LaMotta has died at 95.
Jason Kempin
Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis
Former world middleweight champion boxer Jake LaMotta attends a dinner in New York City in 2012. LaMotta has died at 95.

Boxer Jake LaMotta, the former world middleweight champion and the inspiration for the movie Raging Bull, has died at age 95. His longtime partner Denise Baker told NPR that LaMotta died Tuesday from complications of pneumonia.

Raging Bull, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, won an Oscar for De Niro and is now regarded as a modern classic. It vividly depicts LaMotta's struggles in his career, as well as some of the domestic violence that the boxer has admitted to perpetrating.

In his autobiography, which inspired the film, LaMotta describes beating his wives and raping another woman.

In the ring, his fury was an asset. His career was also marked by endurance, as he submitted to extraordinary physical punishment and suffering.

"LaMotta says he was born angry," NPR's Tom Goldman reported in 1997. "He grew up in poverty on New York's Lower East Side. He started fighting when he was 8 years old, fighting for pennies and nickels and dimes the old Italian men in the neighborhood would give to the winner."

He would go on to fight for much bigger purses.

The Associated Press has a capsule summary of LaMotta's career:

"The Bronx Bull, as he was known in his fighting days, compiled an 83-19-4 record with 30 knockouts, in a career that began in 1941 and ended in 1954.

"LaMotta fought the great Sugar Ray Robinson six times, handing Robinson the first defeat of his career and losing the middleweight title to him in a storied match.

"In the fight before he lost the title, LaMotta saved the championship in movie-script fashion against Laurent Dauthuille. Trailing badly on all three scorecards, LaMotta knocked out the challenger with 13 seconds left in the fight ...

"Renowned for his strong chin, and the punishment he could take, and dish out, LaMotta was knocked down only once — in a 1952 loss to light-heavyweight Danny Nardico — in his 106 fights."

LaMotta threw a fight against Billy Fox, at the behest of the mob, in exchange for a shot at the middleweight championship. He won that title in 1949 and kept it until Feb. 14, 1951, his final fight with Sugar Ray Robinson.

Jake LaMotta trains to take on French boxer Marcel Cerdan in 1949.
Keystone / Getty Images
Getty Images
Jake LaMotta trains to take on French boxer Marcel Cerdan in 1949.

In 1997, LaMotta described that famous match to Tom.

"They called it the St. Valentine's Day Massacre," he said. "The referee stopped the fight in the 13th round while I was still on my feet, with Robinson pounding me up against the ropes.

"If the referee held up another 30 seconds, Robinson would have collapsed from hitting me."

After the fight, a battered LaMotta told Robinson, "I didn't go down." The moment was depicted in Raging Bull and was totally true, LaMotta told Tom. Robinson's response? He "looked at me like I was crazy."

After his boxing career was over, LaMotta turned to comedy.

"All my life I made a living out of hurting people," he told Tom in 1997. "Now, I make a living out of making people laugh.

"From the sublime to the ridiculous. Somebody, somebody up there is trying to tell me something," he said. "I guess they figure that I suffered enough during my boxing career, now is the time for me to have some fun."

LaMotta is survived by Baker and his four daughters. His two sons both died in 1998, one from cancer and one in a plane crash.

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.