Fact: Martin Scorsese was known to have battled substance abuse. It was not until Raging Bull and Robert De Niro came to his bedside that would save his life.
Raging Bull (1980) is about a boxer by the name of Jake LaMotta (played by Robert De Niro) who steps into a ring and obliterates his opponent, he’s a prize fighter. Just like in the ring, LaMotta acts around his family, even though all he wants is his families love. Problem is, he has bouts of paranoia and jealousy; the type of a rage that comes from a bull.
In 1978, Scorsese was at an all-time low due to a near overdose resulting in his addiction to cocaine. Prior to the movie, Robert De Niro visited him at the hospital and explained that he really needed to clean himself up. Robert De Niro insisted that the movie be about a boxer, Scorsese reluctantly agreed (he does not like sport movies). Director Martin Scorsese never intended this film to be about a boxer. Many attribute (even Scorsese) that De Niro saved his life by getting him back to work!
To prep for the movie, Robert De Niro took extensive boxing classes and went through intense physical training. He also sparred with Joe Pesci and ended up actually breaking Pesci’s rib. This shot appears in the film when De Niro hits Pesci in the side, you hear a groan. During that time, he entered into three Brooklyn boxing matches and won two of them.
The real Jake LaMotta got a chance to watch the finished product. For the first time he realized what a terrible person he had been. When asked by Jake about how he treated people, Vicki LaMotta replied, “You were worse.”