Tuesdays with Morrie: Is the 1999 Film Rooted in Reality?

‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ is a drama film that narrates the story of Mitch Albom, a successful journalist and sports commentator. Ambitious about his career, Mitch starts to neglect everything else in his life, including his girlfriend, Janine. Almost by accident, he runs across his former sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Having lost touch with his professor for almost 16 years, Mitch starts visiting him once a week on Tuesdays. But when conversations with Morrie turn into something more profound than simply reacquainting with each other, Mitch is forced to look at how he is leading his life and to change it.

The 1999 film stars Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon in the leading roles and was directed by Mick Jackson. ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ takes a look at the fast-paced lives everybody’s living nowadays and questions it through the conversations between Mitch and Morrie. The raw human emotions that come off in waves from the two lead characters make the conversations between them all the more impactful. This impact on the viewers is enough to make them wonder whether Mitch and Morrie are based on real people or not. We wondered the same this, and here’s everything that we discovered!

The True Inspiration Behind Tuesdays with Morrie

Yes, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ is a true story. Thomas Rickman, who wrote the screenplay, adapted the eponymous book by the real-life Mitch Albom for the film. Mitch, who discovered his old professor in the winter of his life, penned down the conversations they had on Tuesdays and published it in 1997. Since its publication, as well as the film adaptation’s release, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ has had a positive effect on anybody who’s come across it in either form. The film relies heavily on dialogue and is a portrait of both the time Mitch spent with Morrie, as well as Morrie’s own life.

Since the biographical film is so dependent on dialogue, it wouldn’t have been successful at all without the brilliant and authentic depiction of the two protagonists by Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon. “I do remember the first day I went to the set of the movie,” Mitch Albom, the author of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie,’ said, recalling his time during the production of the film adaptation in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning. “Jack Lemmon was playing Morie and Hank Azaria was playing me, and I heard Jack Lemmon say ‘Mitch, when you learn how to die, you learn how to live.'”

What many people might not know is that Jack Lemmon was battling cancer during the filming of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’ “He [Jack Lemmon] seemed to have a very personal emotional connection to the material [Tuesdays with Morrie], and we found out about halfway through shooting that it’s because he was quite ill; very ill…,” Hank Azaria said in an interview with The Interviews: An Oral History of Television (formerly titled the Archive of American Television). The actor also spoke about how Jack Lemmon was coming to terms with his condition and the fact that he might pass away on the set of the film itself.

“It was actually helping him [Portraying Morrie], and he was an open book,” continued the actor. “I don’t think it was always that way, but maybe [it was] because of the role he was playing or because he was dying while he was doing it.” In his conversation with CBS Sunday Morning, Mitch Albom also revealed that Jack Lemmon had spoken privately with him about the latter’s cancer diagnosis. “I remember he asked me questions. He wasn’t asking me questions about Morrie — he was asking me questions for himself,” said Albom.

Image Credit: Mitch Albom/Detroit Free Press

He added, “He later told me that of all the roles that he had played in his life, that was [playing Morrie] the one that meant the most to him.” Jack Lemmon, unfortunately, succumbed to his illness and passed away on June 27, 2001. ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ became the last film that the actor played a part in, but it is one that still resonates with so many people to date. In a way, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ became the work that preserves the legacy of two men of vast experience and wisdom.

‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ is a lesson in how to live life. This true story is a heartwarming reminder that the only thing that people would remember you by at your journey’s end are moments when you helped someone in need, were a shoulder to cry on, or simply showed up when you were needed. But it is also a story of the bond between a student and his teacher; a bond that reflects many other relationships around the world, telling people that they aren’t alone.

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