How Robert De Niro Saved Martin Scorsese’s Life

The following article includes mentions of substance abuse.

When Martin Scorsese set out to tell the story of boxer Jake LaMotta in the film “Raging Bull”, he didn’t know that he would soon be in a “near-death” state.

As the director told The Hollywood Reporter, his drug abuse escalated after his previous film, “New York, New York”, was widely panned by critics. Only 35 at the time, Scorsese’s inner “turmoil” led to him collapsing and being rushed to hospital on Labor Day weekend. “A number of things had happened,” he explained, adding that “misuse of normal medications” in harmful combinations had led to his hospitalization, as well as his asthma and the fact that he only weighed about 109 pounds.

In his new book “Raging Bull: The Making Of,” Jay Glennie revealed that Scorsese was actually in a “near death” condition at the time, per The Independent. A doctor reportedly told Scorsese that he couldn’t go anywhere because he could develop a brain hemorrhage at any second. “He was bleeding from the mouth, bleeding from his nose, bleeding from his eyes,” co-screenwriter Mardik Martin recalled.

Robert De Niro, who was playing LaMotta in “Raging Bull,” was the one who eventually convinced his friend and frequent collaborator to turn his life around.

Robert De Niro confronted Scorsese in hospital

According to “Raging Bull: The Making Of,” the actor Robert De Niro visited Martin Scorsese in hospital and gave him a series of confrontational questions.

“What is it you want to do?” De Niro asked. “Do you want to die, is that it? Don’t you want to live to see your daughter grow up and get married?” Perhaps most crucially to a man whose passion for film dictated his life, the actor brought up “Raging Bull,” which, in De Niro’s opinion, couldn’t be directed by anyone else. “Are you gonna be one of those directors who makes a couple of good movies and then it’s over for them?” he demanded.

Reflecting on the conversation decades later, De Niro admitted that it was “unthinkable” to move on without his friend Scorsese. “But I had to give him that out and ask him if he wanted to do it,” he continued. “I do recall telling him he could really make this picture special and we would have something that would be remembered for all the right reasons. To me, there was nobody else who could do it better โ€” period.”

Scorsese also stressed that getting back to work on “Raging Bull” was good for him, claiming that he was “lucky there happened to be a project ready” for him to jump into.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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