Inside The Criminal Past Of Boxer Jake LaMotta

Boxer Jake LaMotta, whose professional career began in 1941 at the age of 19, was known as an aggressive and calculating fighter who rightfully earned the nicknames "Bronx Bull" and "Raging Bull." In 1949, LaMotta was named the world middleweight champion, a title which he maintained for two years. As reported by Biography, LaMotta retired in 1954 at the age of 32, with a final record of 83 wins, 19 losses, four draws, and 30 knockouts.

According to LiveAbout, LaMotta was named one of the best fighters of the last 80 years in a 2002 edition of Ring Magazine. The same magazine named LaMotta as one of the top 31 middleweight champions of all time. In 1990, Biography reports, he was also inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. However, the same qualities that made LaMotta a legend in the boxing ring got him into quite a bit of trouble through the years and led to a stint in prison.

LaMotta's reputation for having a quick and violent temper dates back to his childhood. The Guardian reports he was routinely beaten by his father. LaMotta's father also reportedly forced him to fight with neighborhood children for money. As reported by New York City Gangs, LaMotta did well in school, and did not have any significant behavioral issues until he was in 7th grade — when his teachers began reporting he was disruptive and inattentive during class. At the same time, LaMotta began breaking into local businesses and stealing.

Jake LaMotta was first arrested at the age of 15

Beginning at the age of 15, Jake LaMotta was arrested for a number of crimes, including assault, breaking and entering, disorderly conduct, and theft. As reported by New York City Gangs, one of the more serious crimes he committed as a teen was an assault which sent another boy to the hospital. Following the assault, LaMotta was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation at Bellevue Hospital. However, he was not sentenced to anything more than probation for any of those crimes.

In 1938, at the age of 16, LaMotta was arrested and charged with possession of burglar's tools and attempted robbery. Although the possession of criminal tools charge was dismissed, he was convicted of attempted robbery and was subsequently sent to the Coxsackie Reformatory for delinquent youths. According to New York City Gangs, LaMotta learned to box at the reformatory.

As a teen, LaMotta also attacked and beat a man with a lead pipe and left him for dead. As reported by The Guardian, the man was a neighborhood bookie, who LaMotta planned to rob. After brutally beating the man, and stealing his wallet, LaMotta fled the scene. For years, LaMotta believed the man had died. According to reports, the man sought LaMotta out years later to congratulate him for winning the 1949 world middleweight title. LaMotta said the man, who he referred to as "the ghost," met him in his dressing room.

Jake LaMotta admitted abusing his wives

Although the man had numerous scars from the wounds he suffered during the attack, The Guardian reports Jake LaMotta was overjoyed to learn he himself was not a murderer. In his memoir, which was published after the former bookie had died, LaMotta said the man never realized it was he who attacked him, and LaMotta never confessed.

In his memoir, LaMotta also admitted physically abusing his wives. According to LaMotta, his rage was sparked by jealousy. He said, "If you had a girl and she was beautiful and other people were trying to invite her out and seduce her, wouldn't you get angry? I saw these jerks ... coming out with lines and it bothered me. But I never really and truly hit my wives. If I had hit them properly, they would be dead."

As reported by Boxing News, LaMotta admitted he "was a little like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." La Motta said, "When I was in the boxing business I was one character. When I went home to my kids I was a different character. After my career was over, I still had two characters ... Before, I used to take it out on my opponents. Then I started taking it out on my wives." LaMotta's criminal behavior was not limited to violence. In 1958, at the age of 36, he was arrested once again. However, the crime did not involve fighting.

Jake LaMotta served time for promoting an underage sex worker

Following his retirement from boxing, Jake LaMotta opened and operated a nightclub in Miami, Florida. As reported by Biography, he stayed out of trouble for several years. However, LaMotta was eventually arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and promoting sex work. According to Boxing News, authorities said LaMotta introduced several adult men to an underage girl, who was a sex worker at his nightclub. LaMotta was ultimately convicted and sentenced to serve six months on a chain gang.

Boxing News reports LaMotta faced financial difficulty following his release from the chain gang. Prior to his arrest, he relied on the legacy of his boxing career to secure speaking engagements and bit parts in movies. However, following news of his arrest and conviction, the money-making opportunities essentially vanished. LaMotta said he stayed away from home one Christmas, as he was ashamed that he could not afford a Christmas tree or any gifts for his family.

LaMotta also faced criticism for his admission that he purposely threw his 1947 fight with Billy Fox. The Ring reports the confession was made during a Senate subcommittee investigation into corruption in boxing. According to LaMotta, he was promised a middleweight title if he lost the fight. 

A memoir and a film thrust Jake LaMotta back into the spotlight

In 1970, Boxing News reported that LaMotta had released an autobiography, which was ghostwritten by Joseph Carter and Peter Savage. In the memoir, which was surprisingly candid, LaMotta did not shy away from discussing his criminal behavior, including his incarceration and his cruel treatment of his wives.

The memoir was so well received that it inspired the film "Raging Bull," which was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Robert DeNiro as LaMotta. In addition to recounting Jake LaMotta's boxing career, the film focused heavily on the boxer's volatile temper. LaMotta criticized the filmmakers for their portrayal of his treatment of his wife Vikkie, saying, "That was exaggerated. I was a jealous guy and I belted my wives a couple of times, but if I really belted them, they wouldn't have been alive."

The release of LaMotta's memoir and the film "Raging Bull" not only exposed his dark past, it also thrust him back into the spotlight. In the years after the memoir and film were released, Boxing News reports LaMotta was inducted in The Ring magazine's Boxing Hall of Fame. When discussing the award, LaMotta said, "I guess it took a new, more forgiving generation to recognize my accomplishments in the ring in spite of what I had to do to get my rightful shot at the title."

Jake LaMotta outlived both of his sons

As reported by Celebily, Jake LaMotta was married a total of seven times and had six children — two sons and four daughters. Tragically, LaMotta outlived both of his sons. Jake LaMotta Jr., who worked as his father's manager for a time, died of liver cancer, and his son Joe was killed in a plane crash only seven months after his brother died.

In his later years, LaMotta attended numerous speaking engagements and public appearances. Biography reports he also released another autobiography which inspired another film, titled "The Bronx Bull," about his life. When he was 90 years old, LaMotta appeared in an autobiographical off-Broadway production titled "Lady and the Champ."

According to The New York Times, LaMotta died on September 19, 2017, at the age of 95. His family confirmed the former boxer died of pneumonia at the Palm Garden of Aventura nursing home in Florida, where he was receiving hospice care.