Meet the real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy, the heroine of The Blind Side

By Stephen M. Silverman
December 25, 2009 05:00 PM
Dave Allocca/Startraks

It’s the family and football drama that’s managed to score touchdowns at both the box office – where by its third week it shockingly eclipsed New Moon – and in Oscar betting pools, where its star Sandra Bullock is favored to be among the five Best Actress contenders, if not the very victor herself.

But among the elements that make The Blind Side, based on author Michael Lewis’s 2006 best-seller The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, so winning already are the two real-life characters at its center: the outspoken and protective mother Leigh Anne Tuohy (forcefully played by Bullock) and the homeless, high-school student she takes into her wealthy Memphis household, Michael Oher (touchingly portrayed by newcomer Quinton Aaron).

“You know, there never was a decision to take in Michael. Michael was there [in the snowy chill, wearing only a T-shirt and shorts], he had a need, and we were able to fill it,” the real-life Tuohy told the Religion News Service a month ago, when the movie first opened. “Do I think that our faith played a part in that? Absolutely. We looked over and we said, ‘Wow, that young man needs some clothes.’ ”

Tuohy credits a sixth sense that drew her to Michael – causing her to tell her husband Sean (played by Tim McGraw) to pull over to the side of the road, where Michael was walking. “It was nothing and everything,” she told New York’s Daily News about the 2002 incident that changed her life and Michael’s. “It was just one of those things that you should do.”

As for the 6’5″, 300-lb.-plus Michael’s assimilation into the Tuohy family, “It just kind of happened,” the matriarch (and interior decorator) told the News. “All of sudden one day turned into a week and then a week turned into a month and it was like he was supposed to be there.” Eventually, Leigh Anne and Sean legally adopted Michael.

“I kiss all of my kids [daughter Collins and son Sean Jr.] goodnight every night and tell them I love them,” Tuohy told “Probably a month or so after Michael was in the house, I would just go into his room at night and do the same thing. It had probably been eight or nine months of that, and one night when I did it, he said, ‘I love you, too.’ ”
RELATED: Sandra Bullock: I Wasn’t Expecting That Phone Call

That was inside the house. Outside, where a redneck mentality can even extend to the country-club set, “We got nasty letters and nasty phone calls. Nasty innuendos,” said Tuohy. “It was endless, but we just decided early on that you can’t let those people interfere with your life or ruin your life. If you did, you’d just be crazy with trying to ward off all the naysayers.”

As for how closely the movie follows the real story, Leigh Anne told the Religion News Service: “It does portray us more accurately than most Hollywood projects would. These people cared about getting it right, and I think it shows. Maybe I wouldn’t use those drapes, and maybe I don’t wear my skirts that tight, but what does it matter?”

Note: On the Dec. 29 ABC 20/20 special The Blind Side: The Real Story Behind the Movie, Michael Oher and the Tuohys will speak about his path from the projects to the Tuohys to how he now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.