Dicky Eklund and Christian Bale from David O. Russell's The Fighter
Credit: Lester Cohen/WireImage

The next day Dicky calls me, crying. "My mother died. This is awful." At some point during the night, Alice Ward's heart stopped beating, and before the doctors somehow revived her, the family got word that she'd died. Once they learned that she'd survived and had been put on a ventilator, they piled into the car to say goodbye while they still had the chance.

Dicky's Camry has an expired inspection sticker and four bald tires and is leaking oil, so I offer to drive him, Leslie, and a carful of grieving, anguished sisters an hour south to Boston. Micky gets the word at his hotel in New York and arranges to fly in on an 11 pm flight. "Alice is the rock in that family," says Mickey O'Keefe, the police sergeant who trained Ward, and in the movie version, clashes with Dicky over his drug use and mismanagement. "If she ends up going, they all go."

But Alice goes nowhere. In the next few days, she ends up making the type of miraculous recovery that The Fighter would probably script for her. The next morning, local talk radio and people all around town are talking about how Alice Ward came back from the dead.

Like Alice, the Eklund sisters hated the movie versions of themselves – in part because they were made to look unattractive. "Those women were ugly," says 47-year-old Alice Eklund, who, like her sisters, received $500 for participating in the film. "I never had hair like that. And Cathy – Cathy was a poster girl in the 1980s when she was waiting tables in Florida."

The last time I drop Dicky off at his house, a weak winter sun is setting over Lowell, and he is telling me he needs an agent. It's likely that he'll make more money from the film if its success continues – he says he and Micky are splitting 3 percent of the film's back end – but that could take a year or two, and he's looking for something more immediate.

"I need someone to get me an ad. That would be awesome. Me jumping out of a window for that trash-bag company, the real tough one, Hefty. I go inside it, and it still holds me." Jokingly, he provides his own voice-over: "'Yeah, yeah. There he goes again!'"

Dicky takes 20 minutes to say goodbye, as if he knows that his close-up is coming to an end. "They want me to train Mark Wahlberg for a fight with Will Smith!" he shouts at me, suddenly afflicted with celebrity-induced Tourette's. Then he says, "Hang on," and runs up the stairs to his apartment. For a moment, the briefest second or two, it's quiet. But then he's back, banging the front door open and bounding down the steps. He's holding a soiled pair of boxing shoes.

"Ten years ago, I got these shoes," he says, breathless and grinning, more triumphant than I've ever seen him. "These are Micky's world-champ shoes. He threw them away on a beach in Florida. I got them out of the trash. Now I can put them on eBay, but I gotta get Micky. He needs to find time to sign them for me."