To say that Sylvester Stallone has had a difficult life would be an understatement of immense proportions. Of all the touching and inspiring “rags to riches” stories, Stallone’s own story has to be right near the top.
Many know Stallone from his brilliant portrayal of a small-time boxer in the multi award-winning film Rocky, where a down-and-out Rocky Balboa struggles to survive on the mean streets of Philadelphia. To make a living, Balboa works as a loan shark’s enforcer and small-time fighter, managing to just get by.
Stallone’s character ultimately overcomes tremendous odds to become the heavyweight champion of the world. While there are various takes on where the inspiration for the movie comes from, it’s not far-fetched to believe Stallone, the lone writer of the movie’s script, incorporated a manifestation of some of his own struggles into the film.
I am not the richest, smartest or most talented person in the world. But I succeed because I keep going and going and going. – Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stallone
To understand Stallone’s relentless drive, it is necessary to examine the uplifting story of the Oscar-winning actor’s background.
The Tragic and Uplifting Story of Sylvester Stallone Revealed
Stallone’s struggles literally began at birth. Complications during labor resulted in partial paralysis of his left face, including parts of his chin, lip and tongue. As a result of these complications, Stallone was left with his notorious snarling look and slurred manner of speaking.
Growing up in an area of New York known as ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ a name derived from the neighborhood’s poor and violent nature, Stallone dealt with the constant fighting between his mother and father. As he bounced around from house to house, Stallone was incessantly victimized because of his odd appearance and difficulty speaking. He received multiple suspensions from school, a result of poor grades, frequent fights and behavioral issues.
Fast-forwarding to Stallone’s young-adult life, constant financial problems resulted in Stallone being evicted from his apartment. Homeless for three weeks, the actor was desperate for money, which resulted in him accepting a part in a soft-core pornography film. For his work, he received just $200 for over two days of filming; according to Stallone: “It was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end, the very end of my rope.”
After a brief stint in college, Stallone decided to move to New York to pursue an acting career. Auditioning for role after role, he constantly faced rejection from one casting crew after another. Effectively disenfranchised by casting agents, Stallone decided to delve into scriptwriting.
Eventually, Stallone ended up broke once again. Out of desperation, Stallone heartbreakingly sold his beloved dog for just $50. Devastated, Stallone somehow found the wherewithal to continue on. It was at this point that most would realize the need to find a job, any job that would provide some semblance of hope in destitution.
However, this was not Stallone’s mindset. He somehow steeled his resolve and continued to look for work, once again auditioning for multiple roles in whatever casting call he could find. Despite of his valiant efforts, Stallone continued to face constant rejection.
After continuously walking the frigid streets of New York, Stallone wandered into a local library to warm up. Browsing the library’s shelves, he once again found the inspiration to write screenplay. To buttress his writing efforts and refine his style, Stallone implemented various works of many famous authors. Through these books, Stallone once again found much-needed motivation to venture forth despite his circumstances.
In 1975, after watching the Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner fight, Stallone began to form an idea for a screenplay. Using this idea and an unprecedented surge of motivation, he wrote the script for Rocky in just three days.
With his script in-hand, Stallone proposed the idea to multiple producers. All he received after numerous months of pitching the idea was more rejection. Pressing on, Stallone eventually found one director that embraced the idea, Robert Chertoff, who would ultimately produce multiple award-winning films, including Raging Bull.
However, the studio that accepted the script, United Artists, was adamant in finding an A-list actor to play the role of Rocky Balboa. Needless to say, Stallone detested the idea of someone else starring in a role that he tirelessly created. Despite their incessant reluctance, the directors eventually signed off on Stallone playing the character of Rocky.
With Stallone being cast as the lead character, United Artists deemed it necessary to hedge the film against potential losses in ticket sales. Eventually, executives of the studio decided that the anticipated blockbuster film New York, New York would cover any losses. Ironically, Rocky would serve as the hedge film, covering the other film’s disappointing ticket revenue.
Rocky was given a miniscule $1 million budget, forcing the movie to accelerate production. This was made more difficult from injuries sustained by both Stallone and Carl Weathers (who played Apollo Creed) during a fight scene.
Despite of these setbacks, Rocky managed to complete filming in just 28 days.
In its opening weekend, the film grossed over $5 million. When final ticket sales were counted, Rocky had produced $117 million at North American box offices. Overseas, international showings accounted for over $107 million in ticket revenue. Total ticket sales yielded a return of over 11,000% of the film’s budget. Rocky was the highest-grossing film of 1976 in the United States.
What did this mean for Sylvester Stallone?
Well, he was nominated for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay at the 49th Academy Awards – only the third man in history to be nominated for both awards in the same film. In 2015, the movie Creed – the last sequel of Rocky – would result in Stallone’s first Golden Globe award and third Academy Award nomination.
Today, Stallone has a net worth in excess of over $400 million and has appeared in more than 50 films, starring in most of them.
“No one likes to fail at anything,” Stallone says “but I believe I’m a better person for it. I learned life’s lessons. You’re given certain gifts and that’s what you should try to be.”
Well said, Sly…and very well done.