This article was originally published on our sister site Living Magazine
As the streetwise boxer Rocky Balboa and haunted Vietnam veteran John Rambo, Sylvester Stallone has made a career as a muscular melodrama staple in action films. Typically playing characters that struggle to make it, Stallone’s life closely resembles his on-screen roles. With humble beginnings as an accidental porn star, Stallone has come a long way.
At 75, Stallone has set the standard for action film stars. Sly, as his friends call him, is not afraid to go all out for a role, even if he gets seriously injured. No matter how many times life has knocked him down, Stallone has gotten up and pushed forward.
A Complicated Birth
Many comedians have made their living by embracing Sylvester Stallone’s distinctive lip droop and gruff voice. His unique facial feature is a result of poor handling at birth. When Stallone was born in July 1946, his mother suffered complications during labor, forcing doctors to use forceps to deliver him.
However, using forceps left his lip, chin, and part of his tongue paralyzed due to severe nerve damage. The accident not only gave him his signature look but also caused his slurred speech pattern. It caused a lot of bullying during his childhood, but Stallone got the last laugh.
Trouble at Home
After his complicated birth, Stallone’s life didn’t get easier. He and his younger brother Frank were negatively affected by their parents’ tumultuous relationship. Because of the unhealthy environment, he spent the first five years of his life in multiple foster homes until his father moved the family to Washington DC.
Stallone lived in Maryland for years while his father grew his beauty parlor chain. When his parents divorced in 1957, Stallone struggled emotionally and academically. He got expelled from 14 Catholic schools, allegedly for fighting, arson, and stealing. He was an outcast among his classmates, which only made him angrier.
Trying to Better Himself
Stallone struggled to stay in one school, so he decided to leave Maryland to live with his mother and her second husband in Philadelphia. There he attended a special high school for troubled teens, which helped him to get on a better path. After graduating high school, Stallone attended American College in Switzerland.
He started studying drama and eventually transferred to the University of Miami to continue his dramatic arts degree. However, Stallone dropped out to move to New York with the hope of starting an acting career. He would soon learn that it wasn’t going to be an easy journey into the industry.
Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
While he struggled to get his acting career off the ground, Stallone had to work many odd jobs to make ends meet. He did everything from cleaning lion cages at the Central Park Zoo to ushering at a movie theater. Unfortunately, he wasn’t earning enough money and got evicted from his apartment.
Stallone had nowhere to go and ended up living on the streets for almost three weeks until he saw an ad for a casting call. It was a role in a softcore pornography film, and out of complete desperation, he went to the audition. He was paid $200 for two days of work.
Finding Refuge in the Library
Stallone was determined to become an actor even though he was practically broke. He tried out for every possible casting call and contacted as many casting agents as he could find. His then-girlfriend, Sasha Czack, supported them by working as a waitress.
He was turned down too many times, so he tried his hand at writing screenplays. He would frequently sit in the local library working on his writing, hoping to make something great. Stallone was on the verge of giving up after being rejected for a role as an extra in The Godfather.
Man’s Best Friend
In 1969, Stallone added a bull-mastiff puppy to his family. He named him Butkus after he ate his security blanket. Stallone said they became well acquainted while living in a tiny apartment with Czack and another large dog. The dog became his best friend.
In a heartbreaking turn of events when Stallone was desperate for money, he stood outside a 7-11 begging someone to buy the dog. A man bought Butkus, and Stallone was devastated that his life had come to that point. He needed to make money quickly.
Finally Getting Noticed
While acting in a play his friend invited him to partake in, Stallone was noticed by an agent in attendance. The agent thought he would be the perfect fit for the starring role in The Lords of Flatbush. He took the part, but it wasn’t smooth sailing.
The movie had a start-stop schedule from 1972 to 1974 due to budget issues. While the movie stalled, Stallone starred in the independent film, No Place to Hide. Although they weren’t box office hits, he felt like his career was finally taking off.
The Epic Fight That Started It All
On March 24, 1975, Stallone’s life changed forever when he saw the Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner fight. After watching the epic boxing match, Stallone rushed home to start writing. After three days and 20 straight hours, he had a completed script.
He tried to sell the script to multiple studios on the condition that he would play the lead character. Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff were interested and offered him $350,000 for the rights but wanted to cast someone else as the star. Stallone refused their initial offer.
A Deal He Could Live With
Although he was poor, Stallone would only sell the script if he got to be the star. After negotiations and a substantial budget cut, Winkler and Chartoff agreed he could be the lead. When Rocky began production, Stallone finally had some money in his pocket.
Stallone had one thought on his mind, and that was getting Butkus back. The family had only had him for six months, but Stallone pleaded with them because he needed Butkus for the movie. They relented and gave the dog back to his rightful owner.
Gaining International Fame
It was a good thing that Stallone was so persistent about playing Rocky because the film was a critical and commercial hit. Upon its release, one critic said that Stallone could be the next Marlon Brando. He became a household name overnight.
In 1977, Rocky was nominated for ten Oscars, including for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for Stallone. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Film Editing. After years of struggling, Stallone’s persistence was finally paying off.
A “Rocky” Relationship
Just before Stallone hit the big leagues, he and Czack got married in 1974. As Stallone was wrapping up the filming of Rocky, the couple welcomed their first son, Sage Moonblood Stallone. Life seemed great with the success of his movie and their small family.
After welcoming their second son, Seargeoh, in 1979, the couple’s relationship slowly started to crumble. Czach sacrificed everything to support Stallone, and he repaid her by partying and keeping women on the side. They openly struggled and were known for their on-and-off marriage.
A Gut Punch
Although he took punches in the ring, Stallone received his hardest punch while sitting in his living room in 1982. Rocky III had just opened to a box office hit, and his relationship with Czach was on again. However, the doctor visiting Stallone’s home gave them some life-changing news.
The couple sought help because their son Seargeoh struggled to communicate, but he could draw, write letters, and repeat certain words. The doctor revealed that Sergeoh was autistic, causing the couple to fight. Ignoring the doctor’s advice to institutionalize their son, they handled it themselves.
Going Their Separate Ways
After surviving a split in 1978, Stallone’s ten-year marriage came to an end in 1985. Stallone was always off working while Czach battled with their son’s autism alone. All her dreams and aspirations were put on hold so she could be dedicated to research about autism.
Czach was fed up with Stallone’s absence from their lives, so she filed for divorce. It didn’t take long for Stallone to move on to his next relationship with Brigitte Nielsen. She sent him a letter with her picture, and he gave her a call and they got together.
What Could Have Been
In an intriguing alternate casting decision in Hollywood history, Stallone was initially offered the role of Axel Foley in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. However, Stallone didn’t want to do a comedy, so he rewrote the script to focus more on the action.
In Stallone’s version, Foley stampedes through Beverly Hills to find his friend’s killers. The movie’s climax would have been a game of chicken between a Lamborghini and an oncoming train. Producers decided to go in a different direction and cast Eddie Murphy instead.
A Tricky Schwarzenegger
Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger might be friends now, but they had a long-standing rivalry. The actions stars were two of the biggest marquee attractions in the ‘80s. While they worked together on many projects, Schwarzenegger once tricked Stallone into taking a bad part.
Schwarzenegger had just read the script for Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and realized it was going to be a flop. Stallone heard that Schwarzenegger wanted the part, so he said he wanted to do it too. He got the role not knowing Schwarzenegger had declined it, and it turned out to be a bomb.
Making Another Hit
In 1982, Stallone starred as Vietnam veteran John Rambo in First Blood. The action-packed movie was another critical and box office success. Critics praised Stallone for making Rambo seem human instead of the way he is portrayed in the book of the same name.
The movie launched the Rambo franchise. As Stallone worked on both the Rocky and Rambo films, he amped up his training regimen to six days in the gym. He was working so hard to be in the best shape of his life that he caused some serious health issues.
Pushing Himself Too Hard
While filming a fight scene for Rocky IV, Stallone started experiencing severe chest pain. He told Dolph Lundgren, who played his opponent, to ignore the choreography and really punch him. The hit was so hard that he had to be rushed to the ICU.
Doctors discovered that his heart was swollen from the beating he took while filming and his habit of chronic overwork. He could have died. Filming was suspended for ten days while he recovered, but that wasn’t the only time his work sent him to the hospital.
He Wasn’t Acting
Stallone is known for pushing himself to the limits in every action movie, and sometimes, he actually injures himself. While filming First Blood, Stallone broke several ribs after reshooting a scene where he jumps off a cliff and uses a tree to break his fall.
He admitted that it was easy to play the landing when Rambo screamed in pain because he wasn’t acting. He was in excruciating pain, but he continued to shoot. He later injured his hand in another scene, and he was afraid to look, fearing he had lost his thumb.
Drama With His Half-Sister
In 1987, Stallone was blackmailed by his half-sister, Toni Ann Filiti, who accused him of abuse. Stallone’s mother said the accusations were false. Filiti was allegedly addicted to drugs, and this was her attempt at getting money from Stallone’s fortune. The scandal was front-page news.
Stallone’s lawyers advised him to pay Filiti to keep her quiet. He paid her $2 million up-front and $16,000 each month after that. However, a 2013 New York Post article claimed that Filiti had a recording to prove the abuse, but it was destroyed as part of the settlement.
Not Just an Action Star
Although he is known as one of the greatest action stars, Stallone has tried to branch out with different roles. In an effort to show that he could do more than action movies, he signed on for the 1997 film Cop Land.
He wanted to show the world some of his more serious acting abilities. Co-starring with Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta, the film was a success. Stallone’s performance earned him the Stockholm International Film Festival Best Actor award. The following year he did voice-work for Antz.
Not a Richard Gere Fan
In 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush, Stallone and then-unknown actor Richard Gere both play 1950s tough guys. The two didn’t get along, resulting in an incident involving greasy chicken covered in mustard, which ended in a physical fight, and someone was fired.
Stallone didn’t like that Gere was being too physical during rehearsals, and worse, Gere’s food dripped on Stallone’s leg. Stallone responded by elbowing Gere in the head. The director had to make a choice, so he kept Stallone and fired Gere. To this day, they don’t get along.
He Had No Control
After the success of the first two Rambo movies, there was a stream of Rambo merchandising. Stallone was frustrated that the psychologically tortured war veteran was used to push toys. He tried to stop it but had no control because he didn’t own the licensing rights.
When the Rambo animated series came out in 1986, Stallone gave up. He couldn’t believe they made a Saturday morning cartoon with a softened version of Rambo doing good deeds. He said the character wasn’t even Rambo. Again, there was nothing he could do.
He Had a Strained Relationship With His Son
After Stallone divorced Czach and married Brigitte Nielsen shortly after, Stallone worked hard to keep his son Sage in his life. Sage appeared in Rocky V and Daylight with Stallone, but their relationship became strained. He was angry at Stallone for not being around enough.
Throughout the years, Stallone has made some less than fatherly comments. He said his son avoided the gym like the plague and was only interested in art-house films. He was his son’s harshest critic at times. Stallone also said Sage never wanted to be compared to his famous dad.
Tragedy Strikes His Family
While they have worked through many of their issues, Stallone and Sage’s relationship was never perfect. However, there is no denying that he loved his son deeply. After his family and friends hadn’t heard from Sage in a few days, he was found dead in his apartment.
Sage passed away from a heart attack, and Stallone was devastated. When speaking about his 36-year-old son, Stallone said, “Sage was our first child and the center of our universe. I am humbly begging for all to have my son’s memory and soul left in peace.”
Moving On With a Younger Woman
After barely two years together, Stallone and his second wife got a divorce. A year after his divorce, Stallone started dating 19-year-old model Jen Flavin. Stallone was 42 when they met, but that didn’t stop them from dating. This was just the beginning of their on-and-off relationship.
Many of Flavin’s friends said Stallone took advantage of Flavin’s naivete. In a 1991 interview, he said, “When we are separate, there are no strings attached.” Their decades-long relationship had many ups and downs, and it blew up in his face more than one time.
He Dumped Her in a FedEx Letter
After six years of sticking with Stallone despite all the rumors about his infidelity, Flavin received a six-page letter via FedEx from Stallone. He told her that their relationship was over, which was shocking to the young model. She had just made plans to visit him in Miami.
Stallone didn’t even bother to mention the actual reason for the split in those six pages. Apparently, he had had an affair with Janice Dickinson, and she was pregnant. Stallone thought he was the father, but a paternity test revealed that it wasn’t his child.
Third Time’s the Charm?
A year after he dumped Flavin in a letter, Stallone miraculously won her back. In 1997, the couple tied the knot after welcoming their daughter Sophia. This time, it was definitely his child, and he seemed like he was ready to be a family man for real.
It seemed like the actor had truly settled down now that he had two daughters with Flavin. With Sophia and Sistine in tow, Stallone looked like the perfect image of a doting dad, but another controversy was about to make headlines.
Fact or Fiction
In 2001, a new scandal involving Stallone made headlines. He was sued by an exotic dancer, who claimed he tried to sexually assault her at the Santa Monica Bodybuilding Center. Margie Carr sold an interview to the British tabloids to make the story even bigger.
In her interview, Carr alleged that she and Stallone had a ten-year affair, and she wanted him to leave Flavin for her. Stallone’s lawyers called the accusations “purely fictional,” and the story faded from everyone’s memory as quickly as it appeared.
They Got It From Their Momma
Stallone had three daughters with Flavin, and they all have their mother’s looks. Sophia (24), Sistine (22), and Scarlet (19) are all stunning and have grown into three beautiful women. Like their mother, all three girls have gone down the modeling route.
Sistine has had one acting role in the film 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, and Stallone walked the red carpet with her. Scarlet also had a small role in the 2014 film Reach Me. Although none of them have pursued acting full-time, it’s not out of the cards with a father like theirs.
Although Stallone is back on top in recent years, his star power started to fade in the mid-‘90s. He made a string of forgettable films like Judge Dredd and Daylight. To boost his career, he took the role in Cop Land, which helped make him relevant again.
After the film received strong reviews, Stallone returned to his leading man status. Stallone wrote, co-produced, and starred in the car-racing drama Driven in 2001. It earned $32 million at the box office, significantly less than Rocky or Rambo, but it was a step in the right direction.
Reprising His Biggest Roles
In 2006 and 2008, Stallone added installments to the Rocky and Rambo franchises. For Rocky’s final fight, the film mirrored Stallone’s own career in a sense. He said, “My career started to slow down about ten years ago, and I had a lot of time for introspection. It’s kind of bittersweet.”
In Rambo, Stallone wrote, directed, and brought back his action persona. The film lived up to the previous installments with lots of gore and violence. The film brought in $42.7 million at the box office, and it was a turning point in Stallone’s career.
He Never Thought the Rocky Series Would Last
In 1979, Stallone said that Rocky III would conclude the series. However, five films and two spin-off installments later, the franchise has withstood four decades. After each movie, Stallone continued to say that would be the last, but another installment would come out a few years later.
After the 2006 release of Rocky Balboa, Stallone said he would need ten years to build up enough stamina to do this again. Nine years later, Creed was released, followed by Creed II. Although he posted an Instagram message as a final farewell to the character, we will probably see him again.
The Pudding King
Shortly before the 2006 Rocky film saved Stallone’s acting career, he created a line of fitness supplements. His company, Instone, produced a pudding snack that was low-carb and high in protein. He was known for being fit, so it made sense for him to enter the fitness world.
Stallone even went on Larry King to promote the product. However, a legal battle with a food scientist over the rights of the recipe dragged on for years. Unfortunately, his business venture folded, and he had to close Instone.
His Worst Injury Ever
Stallone has said that he grades his films on the intensity of his injuries. While filming Expendables III, he sustained the worst injury of his career. Stallone broke his neck and spine and dislocated his shoulder. He suffered a “back blast,” which required surgery.
Even though his injuries were severe, the veteran action star played it off like it was minor surgery. In a press conference, Stallone joked, “I ended up taking a fall on my back and had some metal put in there, so if you hear squeaking, it’s not my shoes but my back.”
A Writer at Heart
In addition to his screenwriting skills, Stallone also wrote a novel. After working on numerous screenplays, he wrote Paradise Alley, a story about siblings getting caught in the circus world for professional wrestling in Hell’s Kitchen. It sounds like a lovely children’s story.
Stallone finished the novel and decided to turn it into a screenplay. Paradise Alley was eventually produced in 1978, and the book was published that same year. Knowing Stallone, it was far from a cute children’s story even though the plot sounds family friendly.
The Study of “Rumpology”
When Stallone’s parents separated while he was still a child, his father was prone to corporal punishment. Stallone was a tough kid and often acted out, so his father would handcuff him for bad behavior. He later went to live with his mom, who was more of a free spirit.
He described his mother as “half-French, half-Martian.” She was quirky and interested in strange things like the study of “rumpology.” Rumpology is the study of the buttocks to reveal personality traits and future events. It doesn’t seem like Stallone got his mom’s weirdness.
Caught in the Act
If you have seen any of Stallone’s early movies, you will know that he has trained hard to get his toned physique. For Rocky III, he reduced his body fat percentage to just 2.8 percent. However, in 2007, it was revealed that he had a little extra help in the gym.
While Stallone was going through an Australian airport, customs officials discovered 48 vials of synthetic human growth hormone in his luggage. In a court hearing in May 2007, Stallone pleaded guilty to two charges of possessing a controlled substance.
Bye, Bye Sly
Before his career started to pick up again, Stallone dabbled in the magazine business for a brief period. His magazine called Sly was released in 2005; it was geared towards a middle-aged market. It had everything from health tips to celebrity interviews. It only lasted for four issues.
Stallone was having trouble getting any of his projects to work during the early 2000s. In 2002, he took a chance on producing Father Lefty, a TV series he created. CBS aired the pilot, but the show wasn’t picked up for more episodes. He started to feel even more defeated.
Ring of Honor
Although he only plays a boxer in movies, Stallone was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011 along with Mike Tyson. Some boxing enthusiasts weren’t thrilled with the decision because he hasn’t fought in the ring outside of a movie set, but we think he deserves the spot.
Despite the naysayers, he has some real-life experience as he managed a boxing match on his 36th birthday. Stallone was also the first recipient of the lifetime cinematic achievement award in boxing at the Boxing Writers Association of America awards.
Turn Down for What
While Stallone has played many characters throughout his career, he has also turned down some significant parts. He was approached to play Superman but declined it, and the role went to Christopher Reeve. Sly also turned down the lead in Pretty Woman, which went to Richard Gere.
However, there have also been parts that Stallone auditioned for that he didn’t get. He did a screen test for the role of Han Solo in 1977’s Star Wars film, but he didn’t make the cut. When he stood in front of George Lucas, he wasn’t the right type. He knew he wouldn’t look good in spandex.
Keeping His Faith
Stallone describes himself as an on-again-off-again Catholic. As a child, he was baptized and raised as a strict Catholic, but he turned away from religion when his career started to prosper. In 1996, he rediscovered Catholicism when his first daughter was born.
In more recent years, Stallone has described himself as spiritual. In a 2010 interview with GQ magazine, he admitted that he wasn’t part of an organized church. His mom was of Jewish descent, but he never openly practiced Judaism because his father had strong Catholic beliefs.
Failure to Launch
Like many children, Stallone was a big fan of superheroes. Even though he turned down the role of Superman as an adult, he wore a superhero costume under his regular clothes like Clark Kent. He was so fascinated by their powers, including the ability to fly.
At the height of his superhero obsession, Stallone tried jumping out a window to test his flight skills. He brought an umbrella to slow down his fall, but it didn’t work as many could have guessed. As a result, he broke his collar bone.
Tough Guy, Soft Heart
Stallone may not have been a superhero in a movie, but he was a hero to many people. In 2008, Stallone, Paula Abdul, Jon Voight, and a host of other celebrities came together to participate in a charity event for the town of Sderot, Israel.
The event was called “Live for Sderot,” and it raise funds and awareness for the city that was bombarded by thousands of Qassam rockets. Teenagers from Sderot spoke at the star-studded event, saying they know they appreciated the support.
What’s Next for Sly?
At 75, with a net worth of $450 million, Sylvester “Sly” Stallone is still one of Hollywood’s biggest-ever box office draws. No matter how many times he wanted to give up, Stallone persevered until his dreams came true. It’s been a bit of a “rocky” road, but he has many big projects coming up.
Currently, Stallone is working on reprising his role as Stakar Ogord in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 and as Barney Ross in The Expendables 4. Stallone announced that he will be moving on from The Expendables franchise after this installment. He has said that about franchises in the past, so we will see if he means it this time.