There's Something About Rocket

Jan. 15, 2004 -- His name is Ray Valiere, but almost everybody calls him Rocket. Though it's hard to imagine now, the high notes in Rocket's life were once few and far between.

In fact, for most of his 45 years he's led a singularly sad and solitary existence.

Since birth, his disabilities — both physical and mental — narrowed his world and defined his life. Deformed bones and muscles make walking difficult. He has but one eye and only partial use of that.

Not surprisingly, as a kid growing up in Westerly, R .I., he was easy prey for bullies. Schoolmate David Zapatka remembers being in between classes and watching them knock books out of Rocket's hands.

"He'd carry his books up high because he would limp along and put his books up here and it really was an easy target," said Zapatka.

High school graduation was followed by the crushing loss of his father. And Rocket became a virtual recluse in his own home.

Rocket might still be there if he hadn't come to dinner at a restaurant in Walpole, Mass., 15 years ago. There, he met Tommy Songin, a former pro hockey player for the Boston Bruins.

At the time, Songin didn't know how much he needed a friend like Rocket — but from that moment on neither man's life would ever be the same.

‘An Incredible Love Story’

"It was July 5," Rocket told ABCNEWS' Jay Schaedler. "I just hit it off with him. It was fabulous. We never had so much belly laughter in our life."

"I just think he had a presence about him," said Songin. "He's got a lot to offer, a very bright guy. You know, he listens. He's a solid soul, you know? You look into his eyes, and … and he's got something that captures you."

From that first conversation a friendship was born and a treasure uncovered. Songin discovered that Rocket is a virtual walking, talking and singing encyclopedia of entertainment: from Broadway, to opera, to TV, to films.

"Rocket knows more about the film industry than we do combined," said filmmaker Peter Farrelly, who, with his brother Bobby, is known for comedies such as There's Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber.

"Absolutely. Way more," said Bobby Farrelly. "He knows more about cameras, he knows more about film history," said Peter Farrelly.

The Farrelly brothers first met Rocket through Songin about six years ago, and they've been marveling at this rare friendship ever since.

"It's an incredible love story. Those guys treat each other better than any two people on this planet. It's very heartwarming to see them together," Peter Farrelly said.

An Introduction to Life

It's a friendship that's also a little unexpected. After all, Rocket and Songin have almost nothing in common: Rocket is a lover of the arts, and Songin is a full-fledged jock.

By the time he met Rocket he'd already hung up his skates, but was still a popular sports figure around Boston and a "man-about-town."

Songin had a full life but a lonesome heart. Rocket had a full heart trapped in a dead-end life.

"He didn't have a real life … and he deserved one," said Songin. "I said, 'You gotta get out, you have so much to offer people.'"

Slowly, Songin began introducing Rocket to the world: taking him to sporting events, clubs and the golf course. With Songin as a partner, Rocket's tee shots have an uncanny knack of always ending up just a few feet from the pin.

On the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, where Songin rents a summer house, Rocket, the one-time recluse, has evolved into a bit of a social butterfly.

"They call him the mayor," said Songin. And Songin's happy when he's recognized as Rocket's friend, not as a sports hero. "Now it's 'Hey, that's Rocket's buddy over there.' "

Rocket says through his relationship with Songin, "I've gained a lot of things. I've gained respect for other people that I had, I still had, but, you know, I didn't practice it as much because I was mostly alone."

Songin has "opened my world, yeah, and given me a life," he said.

And quite a life it is. Thanks to the Farrelly brothers, both Rocket and Songin got parts in their latest comedy, Stuck on You, which stars Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins.

Rocket plays a busboy at the local "Quickee Burger."

"We basically put him in the movie because we wanted him on the set. And then he kinda ran with it. It went a lot better than we thought," said Peter Farrelly. "He blows Meryl Streep out of the water."

Eternal Bonds

Songin is not just a friend, but a sort of parent to Rocket. Rocket has lived with Songin for several years now.

"He doesn't remember to brush his teeth or put on deodorant. It's just simple things. I mean, I'm just astounded by them. How could you forget these things?" said Songin.

"And then the things that he knows about music and stuff. The long-term memory is incredible. But you can't have both is what I'm finding out."

Around the house, Rocket pitches in wherever he can, but most of the chores fall to Songin … not that he's complaining.

"I just need his happiness. I just want to see him do the right things. I want to see him … I want to see a smile on his face," he said.

Songin remains a steadily dating bachelor. But he insists any future Mrs. Songin will have to understand that Rocket is part of the family.

"He means a lot to me. He's somebody that's going to be with me forever," he said. "I love the kid. You know, I really do."

Rocket says he can picture still being with Songin when he's old. "I just get upset when he's not around. Because I get … then I get scared," said Rocket.

From Nothing to Everything

Perhaps sensing that the beauty and lessons of this friendship deserve to remembered, Peter Farrelly has begun work on a documentary about the pair.

So far, the scenes shot are all vintage Songin and Rocket, like the time Songin painted arrows on the streets of their neighborhood in Martha's Vineyard so Rocket would not get lost going to the store.

"It's a very life-affirming, this documentary. It starts with a guy that's got nothing and nobody. And is one day found and brought into the world and everything opens up," said Peter Farelly.

"The twist is that that guy's Tommy," he chuckles.

But that's not the only twist. By fate or coincidence, the cameraman chosen to film this is David Zapatka, Rocket's old schoolmate, who had not seen him for years.

"He's become a real person," Zapatka said. "I think it's just a great story."