Sylvester Stallone has come a long way from his beginnings in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Now an internationally known actor, writer and director, Stallone was born in a charity hospital on July 6, 1946, after a difficult delivery which left his facial muscles partially paralyzed for life.
The boy’s childhood was filled with unpleasant experiences. Among these were the abuses he took from schoolmates because of his first name – Sylvester.
Stallone was eleven when his parents divorced and entered his teens shuttling back and forth between their homes. He finally settled in Philadelphia after his mother remarried and relocated there.
In 1958, walking out of a movie theatre after having watched bodybuilder Steve Reeves in Hercules, the 12-year-old Sly couldn’t believe what he had just seen. He said to himself, “Sly do you want to be a bum or be like Steve Reeves?” He chose the latter and from that early age developed a keen interest in bodybuilding.
Sly’s rebellious nature led to his expulsion from several local high schools, following which he was admitted to Devereux-Manor Hall – a special secondary school for problem boys. Once enrolled, however, Sly became a star fullback on the football team, set track and field records, won championships in fencing as well as equestrian conquests. He expanded his interests to include drama activities during his summer holidays.
He was accepted for admission by the American College of Switzerland where he soon developed a passion for acting, and later returned to the United States to continue his studies at the University of Miami as a drama major. He left the University three credits short of his degree to pursue a professional acting career in New York.
Stallone managed to land a few off-Broadway roles and commercial assignments during his first four years as an actor. Unable to find steady work as a performer, Stallone then turned his creative energies to writing. An unexpected acting assignment in The Lords of Flatbush film provided him with enough money to move with his young wife Sasha Czack (whom he married on December 28, 1974) to Los Angeles, where he landed small roles in several television series and motion pictures to subsidize his writing endeavors.
His 29th birthday marked a major turning point in his writing. Inspired by the Muhammad Ali/Chuck Wepner fight (in which Wepner, a little known club fighter, became one of the few men ever to go fifteen rounds with Ali), Stallone realized that dignity could be a greater prize than a title.
And so, Rocky Balboa was born. Injected with Stallone’s own experience as a down-and-out artist, the character grew into a screenplay, and ultimately, into the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1976 – Rocky. Stallone went on to direct the series next three sequels, an anthology that ranks as one of the most successful in the history of MGM/UA.
“Before Rocky,” Sly says, “I was an actor but it was very trite acting. I would always get a part as the bully, the fella we all scorn, the kind of guy you don’t want to meet on the street. I was always cast as the lug. The studio wanted to buy the script I wrote for Rocky, but they were not about to cast an unknown – especially on a boxing film. They had quite a stock of actors at that time who would fill the bill. Ryan O’Neal loved to box. Burt Reynolds, Jimmy Caan. They even thought Robert Redford would be an interesting choice, but there comes a crossroad in your life. I said, ‘This is my story and I’m so used to being broke that I am willing to go down with the ship, and insist on starring in it.’”
Stallone’s earliest performing credits include such television series as “Kojak”, “Baretta” and “Police Story” and such films as Capone, Death Race 2000, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Farewell My Lovely and Woody Allen’s Bananas. In between his Rocky adventures, he tackled a selection of roles similarly diverse in nature.
Following his debut as a screenwriter with Rocky, Sly made his debut as a writer/director with Paradise Alley. He served as co-writer of F.I.S.T., Rhinestone, First Blood and Rambo, and as writer, director and producer of Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta. By the mid 1980′s, after his three Rambo hits, Sly was firmly established as one of the most popular and bankable action-film heroes.
While his attempts to break into comedy in films such as Oscar (1991) and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) have largely failed to gain an audience among fans or critics, he scored action hits with two 1993 pictures: the mountain-climbing adventure Cliffhanger, which he co-wrote, and the satirical, futuristic fightfest Demolition Man. Paired with Sharon Stone, he continued on the hit parade with The Specialist (1994), a pyrotechnical thriller that did moderate business stateside but went over like gangbusters overseas. By the end of that year, Stallone was the highest paid performer in Hollywood.
In December 1994, Savoy Pictures agreed to advance him $20 million against 20 percent of the gross for a then unnamed action-adventure film to be produced in 1996. The following year Stallone averaged $20 million per picture and signed a multi-picture deal with Universal wherein he would receive at least $60 million for his next three films. His $75 million sci-fi comic-book movie Judge Dredd (1995), however, crashed and burned at the domestic box office as did Assassins (also 1995), which teamed him with Antonio Banderas. He followed up with the actioner Daylight (1996) for which he earned a reported $17.5 million as an emergency worker who must rescue people trapped in NYC’s Holland Tunnel. Stallone surprised many by forgoing his usual salary and signing to co-star with Robert De Niro and an all-star cast in James Mangold’s modestly budgeted ($15 million) independent film Cop Land (1997). In the latter, Stallone played a hearing-impaired New Jersey lawman who must investigate New York City cops.
Despite earning relatively good notices, though, the actor did not experience a bounce in his career. Too long associated with action heroes, he could not overcome the typecasting. Stallone did provide the voice for Weaver, the soldier ant buddy to Woody Allen’s Z, in the animated Antz (1998) but it was another two years before he was seen on screen again, this time in yet action crime drama, the remake of Get Carter (2000). Audiences saw the Stallone they had come to expect, the tough guy lead. He continued in the same vein with Driven (2001) playing an former racing legend.
Stallone has two sons from his first marriage, Sage (who would go on to star with him in both Rocky V and Daylight) and Seargeoh, who is autistic. His first marriage to Sasha Czack ended in divorce after eleven years. He was briefly and unhappily married to actress Brigitte Nielsen, who had a role in his Rocky IV, but since 1997 has been married to his third wife, former model Jennifer Flavin, with whom he has two young daughters, Sophia and Sistine Rose. In 1996, at just 2 1/2 months old, little Sophia underwent open heart surgery at UCLA Medical Center. Thankfully, the procedure went well and Sly’s daughter made a full recovery.
Besides the tabloid headlines trumpeting the happenings in his personal life, Stallone earned unwelcome press coverage in late 1999 with the announcement of the bankruptcy of Planet Hollywood, the high-provirtual restaurant chain he co-owns with a group of Hollywood stars including Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who has since withdrawn from the venture). His latest pet project is “The Contender”, a reality television series set to debut in November on NBC. The show will focus on a selection of boxing hopefuls and their rise to the top, culminating in the discovery of America’s newest Contender. Sly hopes to use the success of “The Contender” as a springboard to launch his next vision – Rocky VI.
- Last Updated in 2005