As his incredible 50-year career draws to a close, “The Godfather of Poker” is being honored by becoming the subject of a new biopic about his life and times.
Radar Pictures, the film production company behind the new Jumanji movies, has secured the rights to Brunson’s story, which saw him rise from a Texas road gambler to become a living legend in the poker world. The movie’s script will be written by former high-stakes poker player Justin “BoostedJ” Smith, who is now a producer/partner at the entertainment company.
Smith, who’s appeared on “Poker After Dark” and other shows, and who banked more than $2.2 million in tournament poker winnings, began a career in the entertainment industry in 2012 after being implicated as part of a Russian gambling ring that laundered millions of dollars. Smith faced as much as 10 years in prison for his participation in the illegal gambling operation, but was sentenced to just two years probation.
Since his career change, Smith has amassed several film and TV production credits, most recently as a coproducer of the series “The Guardians of the Galaxy (Will Save You!)” and the movie “Heavy” (2019). In his time in Hollywood, he says he’s received many gambling and poker scripts, but none of them intrigued him as much as Doyle’s story.
“There’s no better life story than Doyle’s that I know of,” Smith told Deadline. “Having played the biggest poker games with Doyle myself, I’m extremely honored to be in a unique position to be able to help tell his story and capture the environment accurately from an insider perspective.”
A former athlete who found a new way to compete
Born in Longworth, Texas in 1933, Brunson made a name for himself as a two-sport athlete (basketball and track) while in high school, and was considered an NBA prospect for the Minneapolis Lakers during his time at Haden-Simmons University in Abeline, Texas. A knee injury ended those dreams, however, and led him to find new ways to channel his competitive spirit.
Finding success in underground games around Dallas, and throughout the South, Brunson steadily built a reputation as a respected card player and gambler, especially on the golf course. His love of action, both on and off the felt, eventually led him to settle in Las Vegas where his legend grew along with his success.
He entered America’s consciousness after winning back-to-back in WSOP Main Events in 1976 and 1977. Brunson capitalized on the success with the publication of “Super System” in 1979, which is still considered the poker Bible, and which remains one of the best-selling poker books today.
‘Texas Dolly’ to hit the big screen
Long considered the elder statesman of poker, Brunson has 10 WSOP bracelets to his name, tying him for second place on the all-time WSOP winner’s list along with Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey. At 88, it’s unlikely he’ll add any more hardware to his trophy case or even attempt to chase down Phil Hellmuth, who holds more WSOP bracelets than anyone with 16. Still, Brunson is going strong as he showed when he returned to the WSOP to play the Super Senior event last November.
The as-yet-unnamed — and unwritten — Brunson feature is being produced by a handful of poker insiders, including Brunson himself, along with his agent, Brian Balsbaugh, and poker players Dan “Jungleman” Cates, David Oppenheim, Mike Svobodny, and Mike McGuiness.
Since 1984, Radar pictures has produced a number of well-known films, including “The Last Samurai,” “The Runaway Bride,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and “The Amityville Horror” remakes.
In addition to the new biopic, a Brunson documentary produced by some of the people who made the “The Last Dance” miniseries about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls began production last year.