The True Story of Resurrecting the Champ

Posted by: Tim
On May 4, 1997, Los Angeles based-reporter J.R. Moehringer published an article that retraced the life of a former legendary boxer who went from being a Chicago City Golden Gloves Champion to narrowly missing a shot at a title fight and wound up homeless on the mean streets of California. How did a man who Ring Magazine once ranked 58th on a list of 100 greatest punchers of all time, an impressive roster that included Joe Louis, George Foreman, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson and Mike Tyson, but did not include Muhammad Ali, end up sleeping under cardboard and fending off punks in dark alleys?
 
In a heartfelt article entitled "Resurrecting the Champ,” Moehringer explores the rise and fall of his subject, and in the process he confronts not only his subject’s demons, but also his own. Calling him his "180-pound Moby Dick,” Moehringer writes that, like Ahab, he stalked his subject and learned more than he bargained for about himself in the process. He also explained how he gained a greater understanding about "the eternal tension between fathers and sons.”
 
For like Erik Kernan in the film version of Resurrecting the Champ, J.R. Moehringer never got to know his father either. And like Erik, it haunted him. "Asked to explain myself, I usually start with my father, who disappeared when I was seven months old", writes Moehringer. "He walked away from his only son the way some people leave a party that’s grown dull. At precisely the moment I learned to crawl, he ran. An unfair head start, I always felt." Phoenix Pictures’ Mike Medavoy could not help but feel the emotion in every one of Moehringer’s words, and shortly after the article was printed, he bought the film rights.
 
The co-founder of Orion Pictures (Platoon; The Silence of the Lambs), as well as the chairman of Tri-Star Pictures (Sleepless in Seattle; Philadelphia), Medavoy knew good material when he saw it. "It’s very rewarding to help launch a picture that you truly believe in, a film that really has something to say about humanity,” says Medavoy. "I think this is a movie that really explores relationships and I know it will really touch people.” Director Rod Lurie had also read Moehringer’s article and was determined to make the film. "It’s such a wonderful story about fathers and sons and the honesty between them,” says Lurie, writer and director of the critically acclaimed political thriller, The Contender. "It’s also about a profound friendship that develops between two people who are very different, and ultimately very similar. I’m proud I got the chance to explore the story on film.”
 
Producer Marc Frydman, who had worked with Lurie on The Contender and later on Commander in Chief, was certain Lurie would be the perfect candidate to direct Resurrecting the Champ. "Rod used to be an entertainment journalist, so he knows the pressure a reporter feels to check the facts and deliver a good story,” says Frydman. "Besides that, he actually boxed at West Point and is a true lover of the sport. There was no better man for the job.” Since the story is so profound, Lurie admits that there were several people interested in making the film. "I really had to fight to see this picture come to life and those of us involved have always felt very personal toward the material,” he says. "It was as though by making this film we would all become better people, and in fact, I think that’s what happened.”

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