Death of ‘Raging Bull’: Who’s Who of Sporting Greats on the Silver Screen

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Legendary former world champion boxer Jake LaMotta, who was played by Robert De Niro in the film Raging Bull, died on Monday, September 19, aged 95. Sputnik looks at other great sportsmen who were the subject of biopics.

Former world middleweight champion Jake LaMotta, died on Monday, September 19, aged 95.

In 1980, Robert De Niro won a Best Actor award at the Oscars for his portrayal of LaMotta in a film, based on the fighter’s own poignant memoir.

LaMotta, who fought Sugar Ray Robinson — considered one of boxing’s greatest ever fighters — five times, retired in 1954 but the movie showed a dark and paranoid underside where he beat up his brother, played by Joe Pesci, because he suspected he was having an affair with his wife.

But many other famous sportsmen have been played on the big screen, including several boxers.

Muhammad Ali (Born Cassius Clay)

When Will Smith was cast to play the former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in 2001 he trained as a boxer and bulked up considerably for the role.

Ali was not only a great athlete, he also had amazing charisma and charm, something the comedy actor had to reflect.

Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith played Ali’s first wife, Sonji, and real-life boxer James Toney played his rival Joe Frazier.

Ali died in 2016, aged 74, but he had described it as “a humble feeling” to have a film made about him.

“The champ looked at me and gave me the nod that I did a good job. I worked as hard as I could possibly have worked,” Smith told chat show host Oprah Winfrey.

Jesse Owens

In 2016 actor Stephan James played Olympic athlete Jesse Owens in a film called Race — the title being a deliberate play on words.

Owens, who was African American, won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, enraging Adolf Hitler, whose theories about the racial supremacy of the Aryan race were shown to be phoney.

“It wasn’t about black or white. He was just the fastest man on the planet at that point in time. If Jesse Owens was white, he’d still be considered a legend. What he did in Germany was incredible,” James told an interviewer.

But Hitler had tried to ban African Americans from competing, and some in the world of US athletics were willing to go along with the ban, so Owens’ color really is integral to the film.

Michael Oher

In 2010 Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her role in The Blind Side, where she played Leigh Anne Tuohy, a white suburban mother who adopted an 18-year-old African American boy, Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron).

Oher, whose birth mother was a crack cocaine addict, grew up in foster homes, but because of his size and athletic ability, he had massive potential for American football, or gridiron.

He became a college football star at the University of Mississippi, and in 2009 was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, for whom he would win the Super Bowl in 2013.

After a long career with the Ravens, the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers, Oher was released this summer, aged 31.

He was recently arrested for allegedly assaulting an Uber driver in Nashville.

Eric Liddell

In 1981 the British film Chariots of Fire made a considerable splash in Hollywood.

“The British are coming,” actor Colin Welland cheekily warned when he accepted his Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The film tells the story of two real-life British athletes, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams.

Liddell, who was portrayed in the film by fellow Scot, Ian Charleson, won a gold medal in the 400 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

He was a devout Christian, became a missionary and died a sad death in wartime China, in 1945.

Rocky Graziano

James Dean was originally cast to play boxer Rocky Graziano in the 1956 movie Someone Up There Likes Me.

But Dean was killed in a car crash and Paul Newman took over the role.

It is a simple tale of an Italian-American street tough in New York who was drafted into the US Army and later dishonorably discharged.

Graziano — played by Newman with a slightly dodgy accent — falls in love with a girl on his way to winning a world title.

The film climaxes with Graziano’s second brutal knockout victory over his old rival Tony Zale in 1948.

Billy Bremner

In the 1960s and 1970s it is true to say that footballers did not follow the same sort of diet they do nowadays.

British players smoked, tended to drink a lot and ate fish and chips and all manner of unhealthy foods.

But it was still a bit of an insult when the legendary Leeds and Scotland midfielder Billy Bremner was played, in the 2009 film The Damned United, by a distinctly rotund actor, Stephen Graham.

The film tells the story of manager Brian Clough’s ill-fated spell in charge of Leeds United in 1974.

Bremner, who died in 1997 aged just 54, remains a Leeds United legend and his statue stands outside the club’s Elland Road stadium.

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