'The Fighter' Mom Alice Ward Dies at 79

lowellsun.com; Paramount

Melissa Leo's performance of the feisty, foul-mouthed matriarch earned her an Oscar.

Alice Ward -- mother to boxers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund and whose portrayal in "The Fighter" won Melissa Leo a Best Supporting Actress Oscar -- has died.

She was 79.

Ward passed away at a Boston hospital Wednesday, one day after she was taken off life support.

She is survived by nine children.

Funeral plans have not been finalized.

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Ward had been in failing health for the past few years. In January, she went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing for more than 30 minutes (she regained consciousness and began breathing on her own). 

In the David O'Russell-directed drama, Ward is portrayed as a boozy, feisty and foul-mouthed matriarch.

She reportedly wasn't thrilled with the way she came across in the film, but Leo (who had several meetings with Ward before shooting began) defended her performance.

"There's no way in hell that when I played Alice Ward that I was playing a bad mother. Quite the opposite," she told THR. "And if her whole story doesn't get told, well, it's not her movie, for God's sake. If you wanna sit down with a week, I'll explain every heartbeat of how she does what she does and why she does it, and that she's not selfish and she's entirely sympathetic."

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Leo -- who also received a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance -- credited Ward with "holding the family together and gettin' careers for both of those boys. Dicky , his fight with Sugar Ray never would've happened. She arranged it. She made careers for them both. It's this unsung heroic act women have been doing since the beginning of time."

Though it's easy to "paint her bad," Leo said, "I very much want her heart to be known to the world. I know Alice Ward to have a good heart … They remain a very close, tight-knit family with all kinds of stories and a whole lotta love."

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In a statement, Ward's grandson, Dick Eklund, Jr., said Ward will be remembered as "the leader of our family. She was a great woman, a strong woman. She taught us all what it means to be strong because she never gave up on any of us."