The 'Raging Bull' star and director pay tribute to the late boxer

By Devan Coggan
September 20, 2017 at 12:26 PM EDT
Credit: Sonia Moskowitz/IMAGES/Getty Images

After Raging Bull inspiration Jake LaMotta’s death at the age of 95, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro are honoring the legendary boxer, the latter with a short but fitting tribute.

De Niro won his first leading-role Oscar in 1981 for playing LaMotta in Scorsese’s Raging Bull. The acclaimed 1980 film chronicles LaMotta’s starry career and turbulent life, and in the wake of LaMotta’s death, De Niro released a statement through his rep: “Rest in peace, champ.”

LaMotta died Tuesday due to complications from pneumonia. His 1970 memoir served as the inspiration for Raging Bull, which went on to win two Academy Awards and eight nominations (including De Niro’s Best Actor win).

Scorsese also remembered as “a champ.” “He was, as they say, larger than life,” the Oscar-winning director said in a statement. “He lived a tough life, with a lot to overcome, but that’s exactly what he did. I’m glad to have had the chance to know him.”

After reading LaMotta’s book in the 1970s, De Niro became obsessed with the idea of making it into a film, and he recruited longtime collaborator Scorsese to direct. To play the young boxer at the height of his talent, De Niro bulked up and sparred with the actual LaMotta — before packing on another 60 pounds to play the older, out-of-shape athlete.

“I sparred with people with gear on, but we were careful,” De Niro told Time in 2013. “We weren’t looking to kill anyone. Then I trained with Jake. He would say, ‘Hit me, don’t worry, don’t worry.’ He was 55, but he was really tough. I didn’t realize until I got to his age that you could still take a punch.”