Personal Tragedy And The Later Years
Jack LaMotta, who had managed his father, died of cancer in February 1998. LaMotta's other son, Joe, had been convicted of trafficking in cocaine and served half of a five-year sentence. When he was paroled, he did his best to take his brother's place in helping his father. S.L. Price noted in Sports Illustrated that "it wasn't until the final months of his life that Joe began to shine. He traveled with Jake to autograph shows and cooked up the concept of LaMotta's Tomato Sauce. In July 1998, Joe and Jake went to Geneva to gauge prospects for the sauce in Europe, where Jake is popular. Joe was gaining confidence. 'He had always been in the shadow of his father,' says [Joseph] Fell, Jake's lawyer and Joe's best friend, 'but now he was psyched. If the sauce had done well, he would've moved to Geneva. He was already asking me to find somebody to manage his dad. I think he just wanted to start living his own life.'" On September 2, 1998, Joe died in the explosion of Swissair Flight 111, which had departed from Kennedy Airport and was bound for Geneva. LaMotta, who claims that he never earned more than a million dollars in his lifetime, filed a lawsuit against the airlines and Boeing for $125 million because of the death of his son. He was the first relative of a victim to file.
After the death of his sons, LaMotta retired to his Manhattan apartment and returned to managing his own life. "You know what people do now?" he said to Price. "They think I'm the godfather. They kiss my hand, women and men! Men come over and kiss me on the forehead. When my son died? More people were stopping me in the street. They hugged me, women, men."
Stephanie, daughter of LaMotta and his fourth wife, Dimitria, is a fighter like her father. An actress and boxing and fitness instructor, since 1979 she has also battled multiple sclerosis (MS), the disease of the central nervous system for which there is no known cure. In spite of bouts of paralysis and near blindness, Stephanie trained dozens of clients, including celebrities, at the Los Angeles Youth Athletic Center gym and created a video, Stephanie LaMotta's Boxersize Workout, before MS confined her to a wheelchair. She developed boxing workouts for women during the 1980s, but she was ahead of her time. Gym owners couldn't envision women hitting the bag, jumping rope, and shadow boxing, programs that are now enjoyed by women who have found that these routines are not only enjoyable but an excellent way to stay in shape.
Stephanie LaMotta was able to manage her symptoms until she was involved in an automobile accident that collapsed one of her lungs. In an interview with Earl Gustkey for the Los Angeles Times, she said, "I have a heavy bag in my garage and I punch it as part of my therapy." Speaking of her MS, Stephanie said, "I'm fighting this with all my heart. I'm like my dad in that way—we're both fighters. We talk about once a month and he inspires me."
LaMotta has been an inspiration to young boxers who have, like him, risen from poverty to grab championship with both hands. Sadly, LaMotta's admission that he threw a fight in order to achieve that chance has tarnished his image, but his refusal, except for that once, to cooperate with the mob bosses who controlled the game must be viewed as an act of extreme bravery. Boxing was a different game when LaMotta fought—dirty around the edges and taking a tremendous toll on young men who fought hundreds of fights without ever getting their big chance. That the Bronx Bull survived all this and can still laugh about it, is truly a story of courage and survival.