If people didn’t know any better, many would think that Sylvester Stallone had it easy when it came to achieving the success he now has. But, if there is ever an actor who knew hardship before he started getting the roles that launched his career, then that is Stallone.
Not just an actor known for his action roles, but also a film director and screenwriter, Sly Stallone (as he is also known by many) is probably the perfect epitome of perseverance when it comes to his rise to fame. When he started out, he took on several odd jobs just to survive including cleaning lion cages at the Central Park Zoo and working as an usher at one of the Walter Reade cinemas.
When he found himself homeless after he got thrown out of his apartment and had to sleep at the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal for three weeks, he accepted a role in a soft core pornography film, titled The Party at Kitty and Stud’s, which came out in 1970. Paid $200 for two days of filming, Stallone said he did the film because he was desperate during that time.
“It was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end – the very end – of my rope.”
However, even with this dire beginning to his career, Stallone never gave up. Instead, he went on and persisted on paving his own brand as an actor and screenwriter. He did not let go of his script for the famous boxer hero Rocky Balboa until he found people who were willing to fund the film and allow him to play the lead character. Rocky became a popular movie series that ran from 1976 to 2006.
After he became known internationally as Rocky, the actor added another notch to his action belt with his portrayal of John Rambo in the Rambo saga, which first came out in 1982 and had its most recent sequel released in 2008. It has to be noted that Stallone wrote the screenplays for all the episodes of these two movies that brought his name and brand as an actor and screenwriter into the limelight.
Rocky has already been initiated into the National Film Registry, while the props used in the film are now exhibited in the Smithsonian Museum. The use of the steps leading to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of Rocky Balboa’s training grounds has resulted in the area being dubbed as the Rocky Steps and now has a Rocky statue erected at its foot by the state. In December 2010, Stallone was even voted into the boxing Hall of Fame for writing and portraying the fictional boxer.
Because of Rocky, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976, the actor was listed as the third man ever to have gotten two nominations for just one film with Charles Chaplin being the first and Orson Welles coming in second. Stallone was nominated for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for the boxing movie.
A native New Yorker by birth, Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone was born on July 6, 1946 and is the elder son of beautician and hairdresser Frank Stallone, Sr. and former dancer, astrologer and women’s wrestling promoter Jacqueline “Jackie” Labofish Stallone. His younger brother, Frank Stallone, Jr. is also an actor and a musician. Stallone’s father, who immigrated to the US in the ‘30s, is of Italian descent, while his mother is half German and half French.
Due to complications suffered by his mother while in labor, the obstetricians, who attended to Stallone’s birth, were forced to use two pairs of forceps, the misuse of which caused for a facial nerve to be accidentally severed, resulting in the paralysis of the lower left side of the actor’s face. The accident affected parts of his chin, lips and tongue, giving him a slight slur in his speech and a snarling appearance.
Because of his flat-footedness, Stallone was enrolled in a tap dancing school by his mother when he was still four. In the early ‘50s, his father moved them to Washington, D.C. where he established a beauty school. In 1954, his mother opened a gymnasium for women called Barbella’s.
Stallone’s parents got divorced when he was nine and he got to live with his mom. When it comes to his schooling, the actor attended Notre Dame Academy and Lincoln High School in Philadelphia. Aside from becoming a star football player, it was also during this time that Stallone acquired his love for acting.
Before he studied drama at the University of Miami and began writing, Stallone spent two years as an instructor at the American College of Switzerland located in Geneva. However, the actor cut his studies short and went back to New York City to start pursuing an acting career.
Acting jobs were not easy to come by for Stallone though and by the time 1973 rolled in, he had gone to almost all auditions and casting calls in New York and got only bit roles. In 1970, he got the starring role in The Party at Kitty and Stud’s, a soft core pornography film that was released some years later with a new title, Italian Stallion. This was done to cash in on the fame Stallone was already starting to get that time for Rocky.
After this pornographic role, which he took on out of desperation, he also got a bit role in No Place to Hide. In 1971, he appeared as a subway thug in Woody Allen’s Bananas and as a background performer dancing in a club in the psychological thriller Klute.
It was during this time that he focused more on his writing and came out with a number of screenplays. His first real breakthrough, both on his acting and screenwriting, came when he was cast in The Lords of Flatbrush, which came out in 1974. Aside from getting one of the lead roles in the movie, he also wrote additional dialogue, for which he got his first writing credit.
In 1975, he appeared as a youth who was mistaken for a pickpocket, chased, tackled and mugged in the Jack Lemmon movie, The Prisoner of Second Avenue. He also played supporting roles in such movies as Capone, Death Race 2000 and Farewell, My Lovely as well as made guest appearances on the TV series Kojak and Police Story.
Things changed drastically for Stallone when 1976 rolled in though. This was the year when he gained international acclaim for starring in the legendary Rocky movie, for which he was also the screenwriter.
It was on March 24, 1975 when the actor saw the boxing bout between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner. Upon his return home that night, he immediately worked on a script and was done with it after three days. Stallone did not admit that Wepner was his inspiration for the screenplay though. Others say that it was the autobiography Rocky Graciano titled Somebody Up There Likes Me and the movie that was inspired by it.
Wepner was reported to have filed a lawsuit against Stallone, which was eventually settled for an amount that was undisclosed to the public.
The actor tried to sell his script to a number of studios, but did not get the deal initially because he wanted to play the lead role himself. The screenplay got the interest of renowned producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler who offered Stallone $350,000 for its rights. However, they had other actors in mind for the lead and these included Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford.
Stallone persisted though and refused to give up the rights to his script unless he was cast as the lead character. Eventually, after a compromise to make a substantial cut to the budget, a deal was made and it was agreed that he could star in his own screenplay.
Everything went uphill for Rocky once the deal was set. The film went on to earn 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Original Screenplay and Best actor for Stallone himself. It ultimately bagged the golden statuettes for Best Directing, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.
Stallone’s fame skyrocketed after the success of Rocky and the actor did not stop at writing or acting. He went on to make his directorial debut with Paradise Valley, a family drama released in 1978 where he was one of the lead stars and played the role of one of three brothers who ventured into wrestling. The very same year, he also portrayed a warehouse worker, one of the lead characters, in Norman Jewison’s F.I.S.T, a social drama loosely inspired by labor union leader James Hoffa.
In 1979, he came out with the Rocky sequel, which he wrote, directed and starred in. Rocky II was also won it big in the box office, with gross earnings of $200 million worldwide. Two years after, he was cast along with Michael Caine in the 1981 sports drama Escape to Victory, where he portrayed a war prisoner who got into a Nazi-hyped soccer game. The same year, he got the role of a New York City cop, who got involved in a cat and mouse game with terrorists in Nighthawks.
Probably because of his hard work and persistence as an actor, screenwriter and director, when Stallone’s huge projects started coming in, they continued to roll in and fast. In 1982, he came out with yet another major franchise triumph with First Blood, an action-war film where he played John Rambo, a former Green Beret and Vietnam veteran.
This first installment of the highly successful Rambo franchise garnered great acclaim from critics and scored high at the box office. Film critics lauded Stallone’s portrayal of Rambo, saying he managed to make the war veteran seem more humane compared to his character in the book of the same name. As a result, two Rambo sequels came out in 1985 and 1988, respectively. Although both films still managed to rate high at the box office, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III did not get the same critical acclaim as the original movie.
While he was reaping praises and box office wins for Rambo, Stallone also continued accomplishing great things for the Rocky franchise. He wrote, directed and played the lead character in both Rocky III and Rocky IV, which were released in 1982 and 1985, respectively. Up to this date, the actor has played both Rocky and Rambo in ten films, all in all.
To prepare for both these roles, Stallone took on an intense training regimen, which entailed six days at the gym every week and countless of sit-ups during evenings. According to the actor, he worked to achieve an all-time low body fat percentage of 2.8 percent for Rocky III. For the development of his Rambo and Rocky appearances in the second sequels of the film, he worked with Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu as if he was in preparation for the Mr. Olympia competition itself. This meant working out twice a day for six days every week.
During the time when he was riding high in the success of both the Rocky and Rambo franchises, Stallone garnered a strong following from abroad. He also tried to take on roles from different genres. These attempts did not fare as well as his action role performances though. Among the films he was in that did not do well among critics and at the box office were the 1984 comedy Rhinestone, where he starred opposite Dolly Parton and even performed a song for the soundtrack as well as the 1987 family drama Over the Top.
He was in Cobra in 1986 and this was followed by the cop action movie Tango and Cash, which he starred in with Kurt Russell and was released in 1989. Although both films earned well in the US, they turned into blockbusters overseas, earning more than $100 million in foreign markets and $160 million all across the globe.
The 1990s started with Stallone reprising his role in Rocky V, the fifth installment to the Rocky franchise, but with the original director John G. Avildsen brought back in. The film was considered a disappointment among critics and audiences as well as at the box office. As a result, this sequel was meant to be the last movie in the franchise during that time.
The actor also tried to dabble in the comedic genre with his roles in Oscar, released in 1991 and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, which came out in 1992. Although these were also considered as commercial and critical disasters, Stallone made a strong comeback in 1993, when he starred in the movie hit Cliffhanger, which earned $84 million in the US and $171 million worldwide. In the later part of the same year, he starred in Demolition Man along with Wesley Snipes. The movie also did well at the box office with its gross earnings of more than $158 million across the globe.
Stallone’s 1990 hits kept on coming after that with The Specialist in 1994, which earned over a gross of $170 million worldwide. A year after, starred in the futuristic movie Judge Dredd. While it was a box office failure in the US, it was saved by its global appeal, making it earn $113 million worldwide, enough to cover its $100 million budget.
He was also in the 1995 thriller Assassins with Antonio Banderas and Julianne Moore and in the disaster movie Daylight, which came out the following year. Although the latter did not quite gain its desired success in the US, it earned $126 million abroad.
Although film critic Roger Egbert said that Stallone has got what it takes to become the next Marlon Brando after his breakthrough performance in Rocky, he never did get the same critical he got from the movie. While he was lauded for his role in the 1997 crime drama Cop Land, which he starred with Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta, it was just a minor box office success. His performance resulted to a Best Actor Award win at the Stockholm International Film Festival though. In 1997, he also did voice-over work for the domestic hit Antz, a computer-animated movie.
Stallone’s success did not ride high into the 2000s though. The thriller movie Get Carter, which he starred in and released in 2000 was received poorly by both audiences and critics alike. His subsequent films, the 2001 film Driven as well as Avenging Angelo and D-Tox, both of which were released in 2002, were also disappointments that contributed to the decline of the actor’s career right at the beginning of the new century.
It was a good thing that he starred as the villain in the third installment of the Spy Kids franchise, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, because this re-animated his career somewhat after it became a huge hit at the box office, with earnings of almost $200 million worldwide. He also got good reviews for his supporting role in the crime drama Shade, which came out in 2003.
Following a three-year break from doing films, Stallone made a huge comeback with the sixth installment of his highly-outstanding Rocky franchise in 2006. The sequel, titled Rocky Balboa, was a hit both at the box office and among critics.
After the dismal failure of Rocky V, Stallone made a decision not just to star in the sixth installment, but also to write and direct it, which everyone deemed as a fitting climax to the franchise. The film, which only had $24 million for its budget, earned $70.3 million in the US and $155 million globally. He was also lauded and gained positive reviews for his performance of the lead character in the film.
It was not only Rocky that made a solid comeback. In 2008, Stallone also starred in the fourth installment of Rambo, his other successful film franchise. With a simple Rambo for its title, the movie was opened in a total of 2,751 theaters on January 25, 2008 and grossed $6.49 million on the same day. Its opening weekend garnered earnings of $18.2 million. With only a budget of $50 million, the film’s total box office earnings worldwide was over $113.24 million.
In February 2008, Stallone was asked which icon he’d like to be remembered for. His answer was:
“It’s a tough one, but Rocky is my first baby, so Rocky.”
In 2010, Stallone made it big with The Expendables, which was released in August 13. The actor starred, wrote and directed the film, which also had such action movie heroes Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li as well as Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture and Stone Cold Steve Austin as part of its lead cast.
Fellow action icons Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis also had cameo roles in the movie, which got over $34.82 million during its opening weekend and went straight to no. 1 in the domestic box office. This marked the biggest opening weekend box office sales in Stallone’s career so far. Its sequel, The Expendables 2 came out in August 2012 and got better reception of 67 percent on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the 41 percent garnered by the original movie. Aside from its returning lead stars from the first film, the ensemble cast for the sequel also included Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme, who played the movie’s villain.
In 2013, Stallone starred in several films including the action film directed by Walter Hill, Bullet to the Head, the action thriller Escape Plan, which he starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Caviezel, and in the sports comedy Grudge Match with Robert De Niro.
The third installment to The Expendables franchise, The Expendables 3, came out in August last year with Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Antonio Banderas added to the ensemble cast. Stallone is also set to star as Rocky Balboa in its spin-off film Creed as well as in the fifth Rambo movie, Rambo: Last Blood.
As mentioned earlier, Stallone did not just limit himself to acting and writing screenplays. He also worked as a director. After his directorial debut with the 1978 Paradise Alley, he also directed such movies as John Travolta’s Staying Alive, which was the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, as well as Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa and Rambo.
In August 2005, the actor had his book Sly Moves published. A fitness and nutrition guide, the book also provided a candid look into his life and works, from Stallone’s own perspective. It also contained many of his photographs throughout the years as well as those of him doing his exercises.
Aside from writing the screenplays for all six Rocky movies, Stallone also wrote the scripts for Rambo, Cobra and Drive. He also co-wrote several other films, including the first three installments of Rambo, Rhinestone, F.I.S.T. and Over the Top. His last major accomplishment as a co-writer was for Cliffhanger.
Although his career in the cinematic industry has been closely documented, Stallone’s personal life has been kept mostly private. What can be known about it is that he has tied the knot three times, the first time being his marriage to Sasha Czack when he was yet 28 years old.
The union gave him two sons, Sage Moonblood, who died of a heart disease in July 2012, when he was still 36 years old and Seargeoh, who was born in 1979. The couple was divorced on February 1985.
In December of the same year, Stallone married model-actress Brigitte Nielsen in Beverly Hills. The actor’s two-year marriage to Nielsen and their divorce was the only part of Stallone’s private life that was highly publicized by the tabloids.
The Rocky actor got married again in May 1997 to Jennifer Flavin. The couple has three daughters: Sophia, Sistene and Scarlet.
In 1999, Stallone was granted a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree by the president of the University of Miami following his request that his life and acting experiences be taken in exchange for the credits he lacked.
Considering everything that Stallone had to go through to reach the level of success and fame he now has, it can be said that perseverance and hard work are among the keys to making it big in Hollywood. Even if you are born with any kind of deformity, as long as you are persistent in following your dream, it can always be achieved. Sylvester Stallone is one of the best examples of that and he can be made a model for any aspiring actor out there.