He’s Rambo, blasting his way to victory against waves of nefarious hordes. He’s Rocky, punching above his weight to K.O. opponents despite the odds being stacked against him. He’s Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stallone, and he’s one of the most popular action movie stars of all time.
After more than 50 years in the business, Stallone is one of a kind, and still a hero to millions. Here are some facts you might not have realised about this true legend of the silver screen.
20. His first starring role was in a porn film
Believe it or not, Stallone’s first starring role was in a soft core porn film called The Party at Kitty and Stud’s, later renamed The Italian Stallion. The film was released in 1970, and Stallone was paid $200 for 2 days of work.
Stallone later said that he agreed to star in the film out of desperation after he was evicted from his flat and made homeless.
19. He wrote Rocky in under four days
The movie that made Sylvester Stallone was of course 1976’s classic boxing drama Rocky. Famously, as well as playing the title role of downtrodden would-be heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa, Stallone also wrote the film, marking his debut as a writer for film (he had previously written an episode of TV show The Evil Touch).
Stallone wrote the first draft of Rocky’s script in just three and a half days, shortly after watching a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner. Wepner lost the match but he lasted far longer than anyone expected, which gave Stallone the inspiration for his Oscar-winning underdog story.
18. He once got Richard Gere fired
One of Stallone’s earliest films was 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush, a 50s-set drama co-starring Happy Days superstar Henry Winkler. Originally, the film was also intended to feature Richard Gere, but tensions between Gere and Stallone resulted in the future star of An Officer and a Gentleman being kicked off the film.
Stallone has said that “We never hit it off. He would strut around in his oversized motorcycle jacket like he was the baddest knight at the round table. The director had to make a choice. One of us had to go, one of us had to stay. Richard was given his walking papers and to this day seriously dislikes me.”
17. He almost didn’t play Rocky
Today, Stallone is so synonymous with Rocky Balboa, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role. However, at the time when the film went into production Stallone was a comparatively unknown actor, so studio United Artists wanted to give the title role of Rocky to an already established star.
The three biggest names on UA’s wish list were Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford and James Caan. However, Stallone issued the studio with an ultimatum, insisting that he would only sell them the rights to his screenplay on the condition that he was also cast in the title role. Eventually studio executives agreed, and Rocky proved a huge smash, making Stallone a superstar overnight.
16. He made history at the Oscars
The success of Rocky saw the film garner a great deal of attention at the awards shows. At the 1977 Academy Awards, Rocky was nominated in nine categories and wound up walking away with three, including the two most prestigious Oscars of them all: Best Picture, and Best Director for John G Avildsen.
Stallone was nominated for two Academy Awards for Rocky, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. Although he didn’t win, Stallone was still only the third person in film history to be simultaneously Oscar-nominated both as actor and writer, after Charlie Chaplin (for The Great Dictator in 1941) and Orson Welles (for Citizen Kane in 1942).
15. He’s a decent singer
Stallone is actually a pretty successful singer, and has even sung tracks on a few of his film’s soundtracks over the years. He sang Too Close To Paradise for the film Paradise Alley in 1978, and in Rocky IV he sang Take Me Back to his onscreen wife Adrian (Talia Shire) as they lay in bed together.
Stallone has even taken the lead in one bona fide musical, 1984’s Rhinestone, in which he appeared alongside country music legend Dolly Parton. Unfortunately the film bombed hard, and Stallone has often expressed regret over the film, particularly as he chose to make it instead of taking the male lead in Romancing the Stone.
14. Dolph Lundgren put him in hospital
Rocky IV saw Rocky Balboa step in the ring opposite Soviet boxer Ivan Drago, which proved to be the breakthrough role for another of the biggest action stars of the 80s and 90s, Dolph Lundgren. Unlike Stallone, Lundgren had real-life experience of competitive fighting: he’s a fourth Dan black belt in Karate, and was European Karate Champion from 1980 to 1981.
To make their climactic boxing match more realistic, at one point Stallone and Lundgren agreed to hit one another for real. This proved a very bad idea: Lundgren hit Stallone in the chest so hard that his heart swelled, and had he not received immediate medical attention it might have killed him. Stallone spent several days in hospital, and when he returned the two stars went back to pulling their punches.
13. The left side of his face is paralyzed
Stallone is renowned for his rugged good looks, but his facial features have always been somewhat lop-sided. This is because he was born with facial paralysis due to complications during childbirth. Forceps were used to help pull him out, and this accidentally resulted in nerve damage to Stallone’s face.
As a result of this, the lower left side of Stallone’s face was paralysed. This also accounts for Stallone’s famously slurred speech, as well as his droopy features. Of course, as an actor in tough guy roles this has served Stallone well, as he naturally has the look of a man who’s been in his share of fights.
12. He’s in the Boxing Hall of Fame
No matter what we might have thought based on all those training montages he’s shot over the years, Stallone is not in fact a professionally trained boxer and has never competed in the sport for real. Even so, after all his years of playing Rocky Balboa, he’s long since been synonymous with boxing and has encouraged scores of viewers to take an interest in the sport.
Thanks to this, Stallone was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011. The actor, writer and director’s induction came back-to-back with those of boxers Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr, and Stallone has since admitted he was “embarrassed” to receive the honour given that he isn’t really a fighter.
11. Arnold Schwarzenegger tricked him into making Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot
One of the most infamous entries on Stallone’s resume is 1992’s critically reviled action-comedy Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot, in which he co-stars with Estelle Getty (TV’s The Golden Girls). Stallone has always said he regrets making the film, and years later it came to light that he was manipulated into doing so by his then-arch rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Though good friends today, Stallone and Schwarzenegger were bitterly competitive back in the 80s and early 90s. Schwarzenegger had read the Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot script and recognised that it was terrible. However, he pretended to be interested in making the film in order to trick Stallone into signing on instead. It worked.
10. He originally wrote Paradise Alley as a novel
After his success as both writer and star of Rocky, Stallone became a true multi-hyphenate with 1978’s Paradise Alley. As well as again writing and taking the lead role, Stallone also made his directorial debut on the film. However, Paradise Alley started life not as a screenplay, but as a novel, written by Stallone himself.
Stallone wrote both the novel and screenplay adaptation of Paradise Alley long before he came up with Rocky. In the end, the book did not see print until the movie was released, which meant that it was misrepresented as a novelisation rather than a novel in its own right. Neither book nor film found particularly favourable reception.
9. He gained 40 pounds for Cop Land
A vital part of Stallone’s enduring big screen tough guy status is his muscular physique, highlighted in his many shirtless scenes in the Rocky and Rambo films. For 1997’s Cop Land, however, Stallone ditched the gym and picked up a fork. Eager to be taken seriously as an actor, he joined an illustrious cast including Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta in writer-director James Mangold’s hard-edged thriller.
Cop Land cast Stallone as Freddy Heflin, the overweight and dim-witted sheriff of a New Jersey town populated by corrupt New York cops. To fully embody the role, Stallone gained an astonishing 40 pounds, thanks to a high-fat diet that reportedly included stacks of pancakes, cheesecakes and pizzas. As his character is partially deaf, Stallone also wore a silicone plug in one ear throughout the shoot.
8. Rambo III was briefly the most expensive movie ever made
Stallone was already an international superstar (thanks to the first three Rocky films) when he first played his other signature role, John Rambo, in 1982 action drama First Blood. After the 1985 sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II proved an even bigger hit, Stallone and company pulled out all the stops for the third film, Rambo III.
The precise budget for Rambo III has never been confirmed, but it was believed to have cost somewhere between $58-$63 million, making it the most expensive film ever made at the time. This record was broken in 1990 by Die Hard 2, which is thought to have cost around $70 million; 1991’s Terminator 2 then buried both records, costing a then-unprecedented $94 million.
7. Cobra was based on his unused ideas for Beverly Hills Cop
As hard as it is to imagine now, Sylvester Stallone was at one point set to play Axel Foley, the role made famous by Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. However, Stallone wound up dropping out of the project because he wanted to rewrite the script by making it darker and more action-oriented, which producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer would not agree to.
Stallone later went on to make another cop thriller, Cobra. Though officially credited as an adaptation of Paula Gosling’s novel Fair Game (later adapted a second time as the 1995 Cindy Crawford movie of the same name), Stallone largely built the Cobra screenplay around his rejected ideas for Beverly Hills Cop.
6. He’s ‘won’ more Golden Raspberry Awards than any other actor
Stallone may have received three Oscar nominations (Best Actor and Screenplay for 1976’s Rocky, Best Supporting Actor for 2015’s Creed), but he’s had far more awards recognition way over on the other end of the spectrum: at the infamous anti-Oscars, the Golden Raspberry Awards. To date, Stallone was ‘won’ more Razzies than any other actor.
Stallone has been awarded ten Razzies, mostly for his acting (including Rhinestone, the Rambo movies and Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot), plus a few for his writing and directing. He was also named Worst Actor of the Decade in 1990, and Worst Actor of the Century in 2000. However, in 2016 he earned a rare Razzie Redeemer Award for his work in Creed.
5. He was originally meant to star in Face/Off opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger
Stallone and Schwarzenegger may have been arch-rivals throughout the 80s, but by the mid-90s they had made peace, and were keen to work together. One project developed specifically as a vehicle for the two musclebound action men was Face/Off, the action thriller that would eventually be made with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage.
Although this didn’t work out, Stallone and Schwarzenegger have gone on to work together several times in The Expendables series and Escape Plan. Michael Douglas and Harrison Ford were briefly considered as potential Face/Off leading men before director John Woo boarded the project and chose Travolta and Cage.
4. Brigitte Nielsen claims Stallone “begged” her to marry him
Stallone was 39 and in the process of divorcing his first wife Sasha Czack when he met Brigitte Nielsen, the 22-year-old Danish model-turned-actress who was just about to break through with her debut film Red Sonja (opposite Stallone’s old frenemy Schwarzenegger). They were soon a married couple, and Stallone cast Nielsen in his movies Rocky IV and Cobra.
This union was short-lived: they married December 15, 1985, and divorced July 13, 1987. Gossipers accused Nielsen of going after Stallone for his money, but she has insisted, “he begged me to marry. He begged me!” Stallone later married Jennifer Flavin, whilst Nielsen has had a further three husbands. Despite their strained relationship, Nielsen and Stallone would reunite onscreen in 2018’s Creed II.
3. He’s a highly regarded painter
As if being an accomplished actor, writer and director wasn’t enough, Stallone has even more feathers to his cap. He’s also a painter, having started out in his teens; Stallone claims he sold some of his earliest works for $5 in order to pay his bus fare to school. He continued to pursue art as he got older; before writing Rocky, he produced a painting he dubbed Finding Rocky.
Stallone has remarked, “I think I’m a much better painter than an actor. It’s much more personal and I’m allowed to just do what I want to do.” He has had an exhibition of his collected works, Sylvester Stallone: The Magic of Being, on display at Germany’s Osthaus Museum Hagen.
2. He was fined for bringing human growth hormone into Australia
In 2007, Sylvester Stallone was entering Australia when a customs search found a reported 48 vials of the human growth hormone Jintropin in his luggage. Whilst HGH is legal (with certain restrictions) in North America, it is outlawed in Australia, so Stallone faced criminal charges for attempting to bring it into the country.
Stallone (then aged 61) was in pre-production on 2008’s John Rambo at the time, and was using HGH to help get in shape for the physically demanding role. Pleading guilty, he did not appear in court but sent a statement apologising for his “terrible mistake,” insisting he was unaware it was illegal in Australia. Stallone was ultimately fined just over $5,000.
1. He broke his neck shooting The Expendables
Dolph Lundgren isn’t the only co-star of Stallone’s to come close to killing him. On 2010’s The Expendables (which Stallone also directed and co-wrote), the then-64-year-old shot a fight scene with wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. This proved to be such a gruelling brawl that Stallone wound up with a broken neck.
The action movie icon told FHM, “my fight with Stone Cold Steve Austin was so vicious that I ended up getting a hairline fracture in my neck… I had to have a very serious operation afterwards. I now have a metal plate in my neck.” This unfortunately meant that the fight scene in question had to be scrapped.