Film Premieres in Bayonne at Frank Theatres, Friday, May 12
“Sometimes life is like a movie; sometimes its better,” – Chuck Wepner as portrayed by Liev Schreiber in the new film, CHUCK
By Sally Deering
Like the Rocky character Sylvester Stallone created based on Chuck Wepner’s 1976 loss in the ring to Muhammad Ali, Chuck Wepner’s match with Ali has been a huge part of his life. Five years ago, the documentary The Real Rocky aired on PBS and coming up on Fri, May 12, CHUCK starring Liev Schreiber premieres at the Frank Theatres at South Cove Commons in Bayonne. Directed by Philippe Falardeau, the film follows Wepner’s life before and after his March 24, 1975 fight with Muhammad Ali. MAD MEN star Elizabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, and Ron Perlman co-star; and according to IMDB, CHUCK’s writing credits go to Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl, Michael Cristofer and Liev Schreiber.
Live Schreiber as Chuck Wepner in the new
Bruce Dillin, Wepner’s PR man and owner of Dillin’s Tires in Bayonne, where he installed a museum of memorabilia from Wepner’s career, and where Wepner sometimes gives press conferences, says the upcoming film premiere on May 12 is going to rock Bayonne’s world.
“It’s the biggest thing to happen to Bayonne, ever,” Dillin says. “Over the years, Chuck was known as the real Rocky, but he never got the acknowledgement for that. He went to court and was given his acknowledgement from Warner Brothers studios that he is the real life Rocky. People were interested in the story, it eventually developed into a documentary, then a movie.”
These days, Wepner is swept away in TV appearances and speaking engagements to promote the show, Dillin says. He has done several talk shows with star Live Schreiber, director Faiardeau, and other members of the cast. Dillin attended the North American Premiere of CHUCK in Toronto, in September, and last Friday, Dillin, Wepner and Wepner’s wife Linda attended the Tribeca Film Festival where the movie was premiering in New York. Meanwhile, Wepner, at 77, continues to stay in shape, especially for the film’s busy PR campaign.
“He works out every day,” Dillin says.
Wepner had a 35-14-2 lifetime record in a 14-year career that ended in 1978. It was March 24, 1975, when Wepner boxed 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali and lost with a broken nose, cuts over his eyes and a bruised ego. But what the Bayonne boxer didn’t know was that an unknown named Sylvester Stallone was watching the fight on his TV set and three days later would write the screenplay to ROCKY based on Wepner. The film would become a major hit in 1976 and win three Academy Awards, earning Stallone fame and fortune. Yo! Let’s not forget the sequels, too.
More than 20 years later, Wepner sued Stallone over the use of his life story, and the case was settled out-of-court for an undisclosed sum. Since then, the boxer and the actor have been on good terms, Wepner said.
In 2011, Wepner’s life was the subject of The Real Rocky an ESPN documentary on Wepner’s championship boxing career and the backstory behind his bout with Ali. The one-hour documentary was directed by CHUCK screenwriter Jeff Feuerzeig, an award-winning director whose feature film The Devil and Daniel Johnston won top documentary directing honors at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. On ESPN.go.com, Feuerzeig, who grew up in New Jersey, explained his inspiration for making the Wepner documentary.
“I’ve been a Chuck Wepner fan ever since 1975, when I was 10 years old and my father took my brother and me to Sports Night at the Raritan High School gymnasium in Hazlet to see Chuck, aka ‘The Bayonne Bleeder,’ just months before he was set to go up against Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title,” Feuerzeig told ESPN. “There were no figures who loomed larger in this 10 year-old’s imagination than Evel Knievel, Andre the Giant and, especially, Muhammad Ali – “The Greatest” – and here was a 6-foot-5 behemoth (Wepner) in a full-length fur coat…and a ridiculous amount of jewelry leading us in a chant of ‘Who’s gonna beat Ali? WEPNER!’ And in that instant, Chuck Wepner became a real-life mythological figure — as real to me as the Jersey Devil that haunted the local Pine Barrens.”
These days, Wepner, the former New Jersey State Heavyweight Boxing Champion who was christened “The Bayonne Bleeder” for the hits he took boxing Sonny Liston, and Linda, Wepner’s wife of more than 20 years, are riding high from the renewed interest in Wepner’s career and the anticipated success of the film.
One reviewer on IMDB.com, wrote: “Director Falardeau exquisitely turns what might easily have been another boxing movie into a relationship piece illuminating Wepner’s most difficult moments outside the ring. He depicts the 1970’s much like Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver – seedy, wild women, drugs, booze – along with exceptional highs and disastrous lows.”
On Sunday, May 7, Wepner and his wife Linda will enjoy another great success for the heavyweight champ. That’s the day he will be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame at the historic Convention Center in Asbury Park. A milestone in the champ’s career and another opportunity for Wepner to get the recognition he deserves.
If you go
Fri, May 12
NJ Premiere of the film CHUCK
South Cove Commons
191 LeFante Way, BAY
Fri, May 7, 7 pm
Chuck Wepner is Inducted into
The NJ Hall of Fame
For Tix: www.njhalloffame.org