James Hunt punches out a journalist 2:16 into this trailer.
A controversial scene in the movie “Rush” (the film’s official website is here) depicts James Hunt punching out a journalist who had made an insulting comment to Niki Lauda about his appearance, after his head was horribly burned in a fiery accident.
Did this incident happen in real life? It did not happen, as depicted in the movie, but…
“It could have happened,” said a friend of Hunt, who died 20 years ago and isn’t around to speak for himself. The friend made the comment at the recent Italian Grand Prix. “That was something James would have done.” Hunt’s son Tom concurs that it was possible, “That’s the way dad was.”
Lauda said he had no direct knowledge of the incident.
But here is what I know, as the motorsports editor of The Associated Press that year, when I covered the sport…
When Lauda came back from his accident, he was asked at a press conference at the Italian Grand Prix that year if he planned to have any plastic surgery to repair the burn scars. Lauda was angry at the question, and defiant, “No. No surgery. I don’t care how I look. How I look now is how I look.
“If people don’t like the way I look, they don’t have to look at me.”
Later, I know a British journalist asked in print, “I wonder if Mrs. Lauda has had any input into that decision.”
Whether this is journalist was later introduced to the blunt end of James Hunt’s anger, I do not know; but he did not remain on the motorsports beat for long thereafter. (No, I don’t know where he is now.)
Lauda, whose marriage did ultimately fail (he and Marlene divorced in 1991), said he has changed his mind about his appearance, since seeing the film.
“The horror!” Lauda told Jason Barlow of Top Gear. “I finally understood how the people at the time must have felt.”
But Lauda said his perspective back then was altered by having seen his injuries at their worst – exactly as depicted in the film – under a neon light, with his head swollen like a melon, and his eyes almost blind.
“Shit, I thought.” he said. “It should have never been allowed, for me to see myself at that time.”
So, later, when the swelling was gone, the burns weren’t so raw, and his eyelids and tear ducts starting to return to normal functioning, the situation seemed much better and more manageable – to him, anyway.
“At the time, I didn’t care about that,” he said. “The only thing I cared about was racing.”
September 15, 2013