When the script for Rocky III was finished in 1982, a scene in the film called for a large crowd to attend a dedication ceremony at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to honor heavyweight boxing champ Rocky Balboa.
After the speeches and formalities, a nearly 9-foot-tall 2,000-pound bronze statue of the Italian Stallion would be revealed to the adoring throng of fans.
This is the backstory on how that iconic piece of American art, titled “ROCKY”, actually came to be.
THE MAKING OF A MASTERPIECE
When Sylvester Stallone and the producers of Rocky III needed a source for this magnificently imposing piece to be featured in the film, they looked to Colorado based sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg.
“Mr. Stallone had been a long-time patron of my father,” explains the artist’s daughter (and coincidentally, the director and CEO of the Rocky Division of Schomberg Studios), Robin Schomberg-Nicholls.
“My father’s early career is best known for his sports sculptures in bronze. Mr. Stallone saw and purchased the boxing-themed pieces “Mountain Rivera” and “The Knockout”, in Las Vegas during an exhibit of my father’s work. As a significant patron, Mr. Stallone was very familiar with my father’s work – and his ability to capture grace and the emotion of the athletic moment – which contributed to his decision to commission my father to create ROCKY.”
By the early 1980’s, sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg had established an impressive and varied client base including museum curators, professional athletes, and movie stars with Sylvester Stallone numbering among them.
In later years, the artist would go on to create the monumental statue “Down But Not Out….Lost But Not Forgotten” which is a memorial to the US amateur Olympic boxing team killed in a 1980 plane crash in Poland. This statue is located at the US Olympic Training center in Colorado Springs, CO and Warsaw, Poland. Schomberg’s stunningly powerful works are both collected and exhibited internationally.
Sly contacted Schomberg at his Denver, Colorado studio to commission a statue of Rocky Balboa for use in the film. According to the artist, Sly said that he wanted the Rocky Statue to symbolize the iconic hero, which is why the statue is posed with his gloved fists raised over his head in victory representing the apex of Balboa’s boxing career.
Creating the life mask of Stallone’s features
Once work on the statue had begun (with an estimated price tag of $50,000), it was necessary that Sylvester Stallone be fitted with a plaster life mask at Schomberg’s studio to capture the actor’s facial features.
“He was quite the gentleman when he did the life mask for my father,” Schomberg-Nicholls recalls. “It was not a comfortable task, for which Mr. Stallone was the consummate professional.”
Sylvester Stallone’s original life mask is still within Schomberg’s private collection.
From this plaster cast, Schomberg went about re-creating Stallone’s face as the character of Rocky Balboa.
Then, a 28” model was used as the reference for “pointing-up” the statue to the monumental size. This 28″ inch model is also still in existence, however, all of the original molds for the statue have been destroyed. Though the facial features were captured without a hitch, the wax sculpted body took a bit of Stallone’s input before it could be “set in stone”, so to speak.
Schomberg’s initial clay model for the Rocky Statue had a physique more representative of Sylvester Stallone’s body as he last appeared on screen as Rocky, in 1979’s Rocky II.
By 1982, Stallone decided that he wanted his signature character to be a classic boxer rather than a bruiser and spent the prep time before filming began sculpting his own body to match the vision he had for Rocky’s. Some reports claim that after his absolutely grueling workout regime (which he later admitted went over the top) Sly’s body fat percentage was down to an unbelievable 2.8% on his lighter 155 pound frame.
Due to his newly slimmed and cut appearance at this time, Stallone requested that the model for the statue be altered to more closely resemble his current physique. A. Thomas Schomberg obliged, cutting away bits of clay to reveal a less meaty version of the Italian Stallion.
THE ROCKY STATUE’S STATS
The Rocky statue measures an imposing 8’6” and is cast entirely in bronze, weighing in at 2,000 pounds.
The bronzed “ROCKY” is positioned in a “classic contrapposto pose”, as Schomberg’s Studio describes it, and stands atop a large base, lifting him higher still. The statue wears traditional style boxing shorts on which is written “Rocky” in a script text.
Schomberg actually held the rights to create not just one, but three identical copies of his Rocky statue.
One was the statue seen for the first time in the series in Rocky 3 which now is a permanent fixture at the foot of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the second statue is located in San Diego, California and is displayed in the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum.
The third Rocky statue was planned, but was not cast at the time of the other two in the early 1980’s.
Twenty-four years later in 2006, the Schomberg studio finally created the third statue which marks the final representation of the original piece and thus, the statue cannot be recreated again.
This more recent cast was, by some news reports, listed on eBay three separate times between 2002-2005, with an opening bid of $5,000,000, then $3,000,000, and finally $1,000,000, but the statue failed to sell. Robin Schomberg-Nicholls tells us that as of 2015, the third Rocky statue is still available for purchase.
She explains: “A few years ago, a private auction house listed the statue for sale on behalf of a private athletics and dance museum. This organization was attempting to sell the statue for a higher price than we would sell it at as a direct sale. The purpose for this “overage” in price was that the excess monies were to have acted as the funding agent for the establishment of this private museum. To our knowledge the statue was never on eBay. However, the private firm was not able to sell at the “overage” price and, therefore, the 3rd statue is still available.”
There has been significant interest in the third statue and several serious parties have entertained its purchase over the years. “However,” Schomberg-Nicholls says, “to-date these inquiries haven’t materialized into a sale of the statue but we do continue to get inquiries and interest.”
Currently, the price of the third Rocky statue is over $1 million dollars.
A limited edition bust-only version of the Rocky statue was also produced by Schomberg in 1982. The 80-pound bronze bust measures 26″ inches high and was created from the same cast as the full-size statue in Philadelphia. Only eight bronze Rocky busts were made.
“REEL” LIFE MEETS “REAL” LIFE
When the Philly location shoots for Rocky 3 had been wrapped, the bronze boxer stood for several months at the top of the Art Museum’s 72-step entrance – Sylvester Stallone left the statue in place as a gift to the city of Philadelphia.
City Commerce Director Dick Doran was thrilled with the gesture and was quoted saying that Stallone had done more for the city’s image “than anyone since Ben Franklin.”
Cultural and museum officials, however, were horrified.
In their eyes the statue, though beautifully created by a prominent artist, was merely an unattractive “movie prop.” The public flooded the newspapers and city Art Commission with tons of mail, both for and against the statue.
The debate raged for months with Philadelphia’s people equally divided on the very definition of “art”.
“Put it near the Liberty Bell,” wrote a Daily News reader. “Dump it in the Schuylkill [a local Philadelphia river],” wrote another. Countless tourists and residents climbed the steps to see and be photographed next to ROCKY. People who would never normally dream of going to an art museum at least got close to its entrance. The statue, in its original Rocky 3 position on the steps, can even be glimpsed in the opening credits of Eddie Murphy’s 1983 comedy Trading Places.
In the end, the Art Commission decided that the Wachovia Spectrum should be bronze Rocky’s new home.
The Spectrum (re-dubbed Wachovia Spectrum in 2003) did at least have a strong Rocky connection – this real-life arena was the location of Rocky and Apollo’s fictional first and second boxing matches, and is also mentioned in the first film when Rocky invites Adrian to a basketball game at the Spectrum.
“YOU MAD BECAUSE THEY TOOK DOWN YOUR STATUE?” – PAULIE IN ROCKY BALBOA
During the late 1980’s, the statue was also captured on film in the movies Mannequin and a few years later in Tom Hanks’ Philadelphia, in both instances the statue had been briefly moved back to the steps for filming.
The memories of the battle for the statue’s placement rose again in 1990 when it was moved yet again to the top of the art museum’s steps temporarily for the filming of Rocky V. However, once Rocky V wrapped, so did the statue’s time at the museum. Back it went to its position at the Spectrum arena, leaving many fans confused as to it’s official home location.
In an effort to leave some sort of Rocky remnant at the Museum, the statue’s position at the top of the steps was replaced with a bronze inlay of Rocky-style Converse sneaker footprints with the name “Rocky” imprinted above them.
Thousands of fans each year slip their feet into the footprints, much as they do Sylvester Stallone’s hand and foot prints at the Chinese Theater forecourt in Hollywood, California.
When Sylvester Stallone returned to the city of Philadelphia in 2005 to begin filming on location for Rocky Balboa, he contacted his friend James Binns, Sr., a former Pennsylvania boxing commissioner, and asked if it would be possible to find out if the Rocky statue could be moved somewhere near the Museum. After negotiations with Mayor John F. Street and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it was announced that the statue would make a comeback to the Museum, narrowly missing an opportunity to appear on screen again in Rocky Balboa, but just in time for the 30th anniversary of the original Rocky.
“Look, if art is supposed to inspire, then this is it,” Binns said at the time. “Rocky was a winner, and now he’s a winner in his proper place, by the steps he made famous.”
In 2006, the statue made its final trek from the Spectrum to the base of the steps of the Art Museum. The Spectrum – incidentally – was ultimately demolished in 2011, and during one of its last public events in 2009, the “Rocky” theme music was played over the stadium speakers.
On September 8, 2006, the ROCKY statue was returned to its rightful place at the Art Museum and placed on a pedestal in a grassy area near the foot of the steps to the right of the Museum.
The unveiling ceremony included live music, the debut of the first trailer for Rocky Balboa, and a screening of the original Rocky. At the ceremony, Philadelphia Mayor John Street said that the steps were one of Philly’s biggest tourist attractions, and that Sylvester Stallone had become “the city’s favorite adopted son.”
Sylvester Stallone himself attended the ceremony, posing for photos with his bronzed likeness. “All you want is a slice of the American dream,” Stallone said in a moving speech. “That’s what Rocky was about. Having the opportunity. Not to win. Not to set records. Not someday to be made into a statue. But just the opportunity to run the race and see if you can finish.” The Rocky statue, Sly said, “is not about me. It’s about you. Because inside of every one of you, there’s a real Rocky.”
THE STATUE EVERYONE WANTS TO POSE WITH
Today, the Rocky Statue is visited by millions each year who stop by the Philadelphia Museum of Art to enjoy the artwork within the building, or to run up the Rocky Steps in glory, imitating their hero. (Click here to submit your photo of yourself with the Rocky statue!)
“It is unbelievable what an icon it is for visitors and residents alike,” said Philadelphia’s Director of Commerce Stephanie Naidoff in 2006. “There is no doubt that lots of people are now coming just to see the statue, and then a good number of them are attracted to the museum.”
ROCKY stands triumphant in a garden area just to the right of the base of the flight of steps heading up to the museum and is even visible from the street to countless passing cars, trucks and tour buses. Fans flock to the statue at all hours of the day and late into the night, smiling and snapping photos with their idol. In fact … they’re out there right now, arms raised, and hearts on fire.
The inscription at the base of ROCKY reads, fittingly:
“Thunder in His Heart. The character who represents the courageous spirit of the great city of Philadelphia and the brotherhood of it’s people.”