After Martin Scorsese Overdose, The 1980 Film Raging Bull Saves His Life

Fact: Martin Scorsese overdosed prior to making Raging Bull and was known to battle substance abuse. Martin Scorsese drug use ending has been attributed Robert De Niro and the 1980 film to saving his life.

Martin Scorsese is a renowned filmmaker known for his influential contributions to cinema. His spark for cinema started at a very young age which included a life long friendship with George A. Romero. George A Romero Martin Scorsese grew up in the same small town of Queens, New York, where they thirsted over the same film The Tales of Hoffmann (1956). The film always seemed to be rented out because the two of them were always fighting over it.

martin scorsese overdosed

Scorsese has directed and produced some of the most well known and established films and many of which focus around crippling human problem, one of which is substance abuse. While substance abuse has been depicted in some of his films, it’s important to note that Martin Scorsese himself has not publicly disclosed any personal struggles with substance abuse until 2016, when he opened up about his addiction.

In Scorsese’s films, themes of substance abuse and addiction are explored in a number of ways. For instance, films like “The Wolf of Wall Street” delve into the excesses and drug-fueled lifestyle of its characters. In “Taxi Driver,” the protagonist’s descent into isolation and violence is influenced by his encounters with drugs and the seedy underbelly of society. Additionally, “Goodfellas” portrays the rampant drug use among certain characters involved in organized crime.

scorsese drug use

Scorsese is known for his realistic and gritty portrayals of various aspects of human behavior, including the darker sides of life. Substance abuse often serves as a narrative element within his films, contributing to character development and the exploration of larger themes. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between the artistic representations in Scorsese’s work and any personal experiences he may or may not have had.

A pivotal moment in Scorsese’s life was just prior to the shooting of Raging Bull in 1980. He had just released New York, New York, and the reviews were not too flattering. This took Martin Scorsese drugs spiraling downward. Scorsese ended up in the hospital after mis-using normal medication in combination with personal health problem of asthma. He was in rough shape and started dropping weight to 109-lbs.

At one point, Scorsese said,

I didn’t know if I could be inspired to make another movie.

During this time, a fortunate face arrived. Robert De Niro visited him at the hospital professing to Martin to clean himself up. Robert De Niro, also known as ‘Bobby Milk‘, insisted that the movie be about a boxer, even though months prior, Robert wanted nothing to do with the character. Scorsese couldn’t fully understand what was so inspiring about a boxer, partially because due to his asthma, Scorsese never played any sports (he does not like sport movies). 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!

The film was 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.

Jake La Motta

The film seemed to rejuvenize Scorsese once again. It was about someone who went from the very top, to the bottom. And Martin at this point accepted his rebirth. De Niro and Scorsese retreated to the Island of St. Maarten where they spent their time on marathon writing sessions. It gave Scorsese another sense of self. The movie would become a Magnum Opus for Scorsese. The film was a make or break for the two of them and was meant for them to come out from the other side. To Scorsese, they were going for broke and he took at as if it was the last and final. He had at some level recentered himself into really giving it all and knowing this fight could be his last, just like Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.

In order to make this Magnum Opus, Robert De Niro took extensive boxing classes and went through intense physical training. This was also a key movie with joe pesci and Robert De Niro, the dynamic duo. 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.” The story draws some parallels to Martin Scorsese drug use and his aftermath emergence from the dark night of the soul. He came out a much stronger person. He had hit his bottom and knew over the 10 days and nights in the hospital and being taken care of, this is not what he wanted.


Galloway, S. (2016, December 8). Martin Scorsese’s Journey From Near-Death Drug Addict to “Silence.” The Hollywood Reporter.

How Raging Bull & Robert De Niro Saved Martin Scorsese’s Life. (2022, July 10). ScreenRant.

Martin Scorsese. (2023, July 10). Wikipedia. martin scorsese drugs

Martin Scorsese – Movies, Family & Age. (2021, April 20). Biography.

Bramesco, C. (2021, June 21). “I made it as if this was the end of my life”: Scorsese on Raging Bull at 40. The Guardian.

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