Sylvester Stallone is one of the most prolific action stars. He has received global recognition for his work in many franchises such as Rambo and The Expendables. His crowning glory, however, remains his sports drama series, Rocky.
The series of films which are centered around Stallone’s boxer Rocky Balboa (as well as his rival and eventual friend Apollo Creed) put Stallone on the map. The film was written by him and he eventually sold it to a production house on the condition that he would be the star of the film. Rocky was an influential film for the boxing community and gained widespread appreciation, including a place in the Boxing Hall of Fame for Stallone. The actor revealed in an interview the one match that inspired him to write the screenplay.
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Sylvester Stallone’s Humble Beginnings
Sylvester Stallone was born in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, New York, and initially struggled a lot to get roles. He studied drama at the University of Miami and then took up a number of odd jobs to make ends meet. The actor was then acting under the stage name Mike Stallone before adopting the monicker that he is famous for now.
Before his foray into feature films and TV, Stallone had his first starring role in the softcore p*rn film The Party At Kitty And Stud’s. The actor revealed much later that he only took the role at a time when he was in dire need of money. Stallone had been evicted from his apartment and was homeless for a few weeks. Desperate to find a job, the actor saw a casting call for the film while he was sleeping at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. The film was re-released later with the title The Italian Stallion to capitalize on Rocky’s success.
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During his time of struggle, the actor also starred in an erotic off-Broadway production of Score, with Stallone starring in 23 performances. While Stallone wanted to foray into films, he struggled much to get cast in any important role, and he would often be dependent on his then-girlfriend who would earn for the both of them. Stallone also got fired from being a theater usher for reselling tickets.
While living with his girlfriend and struggling to find a break-out role, Stallone went to the library to hone his writing skills. He was interested in the works of Edgar Allen Poe. After featuring in a few independent dramas, Sylvester Stallone decided to write a screenplay for himself after a particular incident.
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The Match That Made Rocky
Sylvester Stallone has often described one incident in his life that inspired him to write the tale of Rocky Balboa. It was 1975 and he was watching a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and a relative underdog named Chuck Wepner. While the fight was largely considered to be a sure-shot win for Ali, there was a moment when it felt like the tables had turned and Wepner fought back.
Describing the match, Sylvester Stallone said,
“No one considered whether [Wepner] could win the fight, that was out of the question, but everyone was wondering just how much of a beating he’d take — and how long it would last — and how much pain he’d absorb before he crashed to the canvas.”
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The actor had expected Wepner to perform badly in the match and the boxer mostly delivered on that expectation. But in a single moment, Wepner seemed to have grabbed the attention of everyone watching, including Stallone. He said,
“From nowhere, Wepner knocked down the immortal Ali. It was like a bolt of lightning from some Greek god in the sky, and, almost instantly, Wepner became the crowd favorite — in a matter of seconds. Suddenly, he went from being a complete joke to being somebody whom everybody watching could identify with—because everybody’s thinking, ‘Yes, I’d like to do that!’”
Right after the match, an inspired Stallone went home and started writing a screenplay. He finished it in three days and started pitching it to producers, hoping to be the star of the film. After much negotiation, producers Irvin Wrinkler and Robert Chartoff agreed to his conditions and greenlit the project. And the rest is history.
Rocky became a blockbuster hit, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1976 in the United States and Canada. The inspirational tale of an underdog taking on an experienced boxing champion spawned 5 sequels and a three-part spinoff titled Creed. The series is now a billion-dollar franchise and for his contributions, Sylvester Stallone was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.