Boxing legend Jake LaMotta, the former middleweight world champion of the world who was played by Robert De Niro in 1980’s “Raging Bull,” died Tuesday, his fiancee told the Associated Press. He was 95.
LaMotta passed away in a Miami-area hospital from complications of pneumonia.
"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," his fiancee told TMZ.
De Niro told Fox News of LaMotta's passing, "Rest in peace, champ."
The International Boxing of Fame, who inducted LaMotta in 1990, revealed he began boxing at a young age when his father made him fight other neighborhood kids in The Bronx to entertain adults. His aggressive style earned him the nickname “The Bronx Bull.”
The aspiring fighter turned pro in 1941 at age 19. The Boxing Hall of Fame added a six-fight series with Sugar Ray Robinson defined his career. He handed Robinson his first defeat. He lost the middleweight title to him in what became known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
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.
On June 16, 1949, he became middleweight champion when Marcel Cerdan couldn't continue after the 10th round. The two were scheduled for a rematch, which had to be called off after Cerdan died in a plane crash. LaMotta then successfully defended his title against Tiberio Mitri and Laurent Dauthuille.
LaMotta later said, “I fought Sugar Ray Robinson so many times it’s a wonder I don’t have diabetes.”
The famous fighter retired in 1954 with 30 knockouts, 83 wins and 19 losses.
LaMotta was married six times, most famously to Beverly “Vikki” Thailer. They wedded in 1946 when she was 16. The couple divorced in 1957 and she later appeared in a nude pictorial for Playboy at age 51. LaMotta joked, “She always complained she had nothing to wear. I never believed her until I saw her in Playboy.”
Both of their sons died in 1998. Vikki later passed away in 2005 at age 75.
In 2012, LaMotta became engaged to 62-year-old actress Denise Baker, who previously collaborated with him on a cabaret show.
The 1980 film "Raging Bull" was based on LaMotta's memoir. Actor Robert De Niro won an Academy Award for it.
A second movie on his life, entitled LaMotta: The Bronx Bull, released in 2015, starred such notable actors as William Forsythe, Paul Sorvino and Joe Mantegna.
LaMotta is survived by Baker, her daughters Meggen Connolley and Natalia Baker; his daughters Jacklyn O'Neill, Christie LaMotta, Elisa LaMotta, and Mia Day; brothers Joe LaMotta and Al LaMotta; sisters Maria Hawfield and Anne Ramaglia. He is pre-deceased by two sons, Jack and Joseph, who died seven months apart in 1998.
Funeral will be private. A memorial service will be held in New York, date and location to be determined.