Dicky Eklund, the former boxing champ Christian Bale portrays with twitchy, true-life vigor in 'The Fighter,' is pacing his doctor's office in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. It's been nine days since his last drink, 10 since his mother nearly died, and three weeks since the movie about his life – and that of his half brother, the boxer Micky Ward – arrived on movie screens across America. Even if he is sometimes embarrassed by the close-up of his messy life, this is his moment. And despite the searing pain in his back, he's determined to make the most of it.
Wherever he goes around Lowell, strangers tell him – usually with a mixture of awe and apprehension – that they loved every fucked-up minute of the movie version of his life. But right now, Dicky needs something a little stronger than adulation.
"The thing with the pain medicine I'm taking," he tells his nurse-practitioner calmly, "is that it's going to be gone so quickly. I take two and I wait six hours, but I suffer. And so next time I take more and now I'm taking four at a time and it works."
The 53-year-old suffers from herniated disks in his lumbar spine that impinge on his nerves. Surgery will lessen the pain, but that would also put him out of commission. And right now, Dicky Eklund can't be out of commission. "I gotta fight Danny Bonaduce," he pleads to the nurse. "I gotta go on a college speaking tour."
Since The Fighter's debut, Dicky has been offering training sessions through his website at $150 a pop, getting ready to sell custom T-shirts online, and lining up exhibition stunts, like going a few rounds with the former child-star train wreck at a Philadelphia community center, which he's hoping will net him $1,500. He'd rather not do any of it in the shape he's in.
"It's like shooting lightning bolts," he tells Stacey Gallagher, his nurse-practitioner, a green-eyed beauty Dicky calls his "girlfriend." He mentions to her that another doctor gave him a larger dosage of the oxycodone than Gallagher had prescribed. "I was crying like a baby and then – whoosh," he says. "Wow, what a miracle." He is careful to note what his recent efforts at pain relief have not included: crack, which he has smoked off and on for years. Woven into Dicky's claim is the threat that if nurse Gallagher doesn't bend, he may have no choice but to resort to that. "I don't even drink," he says. "But I'll get low one day and back to the old way and then I'll be dead." He says he'll do anything to lessen his back pain. "I'd drink Drano just to make the pain go away," he says, bobbing on his feet as if standing on hot coals.
Gallagher cautions Dicky not to put off the operation any longer, but he won't budge. "I can't do the surgery right now," Dicky tells her. "Christian [Bale] and Micky say if I get it done now and then come back in six months, everybody forgets about you." He has a better idea – upping his single-dosage pills from 15 milligrams to 30. "There's a 30 milligram pill," Dicky offers hopefully. "I could take a few of those..."
"Sorry," Gallagher says flatly. "I can't do that."
"They go up to 80 milligrams," he says, whining.
Dicky, as anyone who has sat through 'The Fighter''s grim crack-house scenes knows, has a well-documented penchant for narcotics. One doctor described him in his medical record as a "pill seeker," a charge Dicky denies.
"I'm afraid we're going to get to the point where you're not going to be able to come off of these easily," the nurse warns him. "I wanted to discuss you going on a methadone program." Dicky cuts her short, his tone turning fevered as the promise of stronger pills slips away. "I can't be seen going into a methadone clinic," he says. "That's out of the question. I can just see the headlines. People will be snapping my photo as I go in there." He tries one last angle, the best card in the Dicky Eklund arsenal of feints and jabs. He slides an arm around Gallagher's waist, pulls her close, and lays his head on her shoulder. "We'll spend Valentine's Day together," he promises. "You can get rid of that boyfriend." His arm lingers. "You're too much, Dicky," she says. "You're killing me."