By Lou Gaul | PhillyBurbs.com | December 19, 2006

For Sylvester Stallone, the “Rocky Balboa” premiere on Monday night at the Prince Music Theater ranked as a family affair.

In addition to his wife, Jennifer Flavin, three young daughters, Sistine, Sophia and Scarlet, and brother, Frank, the 60-year-old actor was surrounded by thousands of members of his extended family as the “Rocky” faithful cheered wildly. Rather than being whisked onto the red carpet, Stallone thrilled his ardent fans by forgoing a car and having his family walk with him down Chestnut Street, where deafening roars of “Rocky!” echoed through the air.

Stallone clearly feels affection toward his fans and this sixth and final installment. In the story, the Italian Stallion risks his life by participating in a boxing exhibition that turns into a bone-breaking, 10-round battle against a much younger fighter.

“Many people get older and think their lives are over,” Stallone said during a brief conversation on the red carpet. “The message of the film is that you shouldn’t be afraid to dream. Quitting is easy. Trying is hard.”

Stallone went through some ridicule when he initially floated the idea of “Rocky Balboa.” Studio chiefs ignored approving the feel-good picture, even with its modest $24 million budget, because “Rocky V” had been such a critical and commercial disappointment.

“I’m very proud of him getting this made, because no one wanted him to do it,” Flavin said of her husband’s work.

Stallone persevered and eventually interested MGM in the family-friendly project.

Due to strong advance reactions to “Rocky Balboa,” MGM moved the release date first from early in 2007 to Dec. 22 and then Dec. 20. The executives feel that opening the PG-rated picture on a Wednesday will generate positive word-of-mouth endorsements that could turn the title into a holiday hit.

“I feel that ‘Rocky Balboa’ is the best that I could do,” Stallone said just before entering the Prince Music Theater. “I knew I would have been sad for the rest of my life if I hadn’t done it (a sixth installment). This film is nostalgic, because there’s nothing more potent than revisiting an old friend.”

And how does Stallone think his daughters feel about attending such a flashy premiere?

“My kids would rather be with SpongeBob SquarePants,” he said with a laugh.