ALSO: See how Rambo fared in our Badass Bracket!
Has there ever been an entertainer more linked with his screen characters than Sylvester Stallone? Sly himself admits when he’s in Philadelphia he’s referred to simply as Rocky. And perhaps most impressive is that Stallone fused reality with fiction to create a miraculous comeback that only seems to happen in the realm of movies – resurrecting Rocky Balboa thirty years after our first introduction to him, followed by a return of John Rambo twenty years after last seen on film. Maybe the greatest underdog story of our time isn’t Rocky, but Rocky’s own creator.
He was raised in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, adopting the tough guy persona with a heart that would bring him to cinematic greatness down the road. In the 1970s he was a bit actor, credited in Woody Allen’s comic classic “Bananas” as “Subway Thug #1.” Roger Corman utilized him a couple times, as Machine Gun Joe Viterbo in “Death Race 2000,” and in a supporting role in “Capone.” Frustrated and feeling the pressure of an unrealized career, Sly was inspired by a Muhammad Ali-Chuck Wepner fight in Cleveland and quickly wrote “Rocky.” Demanding he take on the role himself, the gamble paid off – the film won the Best Picture Oscar for 1976 and established Sly, at the age of 30, as the rising star of the 70s. A new “Rocky” would return every three years over the next decade, and meanwhile Stallone tried his hands at various projects – even directing the “Saturday Night Fever” sequel “Staying Alive” in 1983.
By the 1980s. Stallone rivaled Governor Schwarzenegger as the biggest American action star of the decade. Between the proverbial “Rambo” and “Rocky” movies, there’s “Cobra,” “Over the Top,” and “Lock Up.” A marriage to Brigitte Nielsen proved short-lived and by 1990, with “Rocky V” the bottom of the barrel and the attempts at comedies like “Oscar” and “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” failures, once again Sly was looking for a hit. The action movies of the mid-decade were panned critically, and critics and audiences alike overlooked his fine performance in “Cop Land.” He couldn’t get a break, and with “Get Carter” and “Driven” in the early 2000s generating nothing, Stallone’s next films were direct-to-DVD fares.
Approaching sixty, television kept him busy with “The Contender,” and in 2005, the tide finally turned. Incredibly, MGM greenlit Stallone to write, direct, and star in the final Rocky saga, “Rocky Balboa.” The film, a surprise hit both commercially and critically, guaranteed Stallone’s next outing, “John Rambo.” This return to his iconic characters as aging men has earned Sly new respect, and now looks to write and direct more personal pictures in the twilight of his career. He has embodied what his great characters have stood for in the face of criticism and hostility. This underdog, then, truly knows how to stay alive.
Sly on the Web
Epic database encompassing the breadth of Sly’s career.
TV Guide: Sylvester Stallone
Sly resource including short video clips from his recent work.
The official website for Mr. Sylvester Stallone.
Detailed biography charting Sly’s career up to the present.
More “Rocky Balboa” talk, with Sly on his real-life relationship with his son.
Sly discusses “Driven.”
Sly on the Screen
He’s Stud in his 1970 screen debut, “The Party at Kitty and Stud’s,” a subway thug in “Bananas,” and Stanley Rosiello in “The Lord’s of Flatbush.” After “Rocky,” he’s the Teamsters leader in “F.I.S.T.” and the star in his first directed film, “Paradise Alley." He played a New York detective opposite Billy Dee Williams in “Nighthawks” and a member of the soccer squad competing against Nazis in “Victory.” In between the various “Rambo” and “Rocky” movies of the 80s, there’s “Rhinestone,” “Cobra,” “Over the Top” and “Lock Up.” He’s Kurt Russell’s partner in “Tango & Cash,” Snaps Provolone in “Oscar” and Gabe Walker in “Cliffhanger,” which he also co-wrote. “Demolition Man,” “The Specialist,” “Judge Dredd,” “Assassins,” and “Daylight” followed. Sly worked alongside Rober De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta in “Cop Land," voiced Weaver in “Antz” and is the evil Toymaker in “Spy Kids 3-D.” More recently, Sly reprised his most famous roles in "Rocky Balboa" and "Rambo," and appears in the action star-packed "Expendables" franchise.
“I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.”
On seizing the day:
“Once is a man's life, for one mortal moment, he must make a grab for immorality; if not, he has not lived.”
On filming the end of “Rocky Balboa”:
“It was very heavy for me. It was like saying goodbye to Sylvester Stallone.”