Things You Never Knew About Sylvester Stallone

By Phill Powell

When the 2016 Academy Awards are held in Los Angeles, one of the most closely watched races will involve an actor who’s been an Oscar contender for 40 years.

That’s how long it’s been since Sylvester Stallone first became a massive international movie star. Stallone was nominated for Best Actor in 1977 for his breakout performance as boxer Rocky Balboa. He’s nominated again this year for Best Supporting Actor.

This is the exact moment Sylvester Stallone became a star, when Rocky ascended the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art during his training sequence, a scene that’s re-enacted daily by tourists.

And, in a piece of irony that you just can’t write, he’s been nominated for playing the exact same character. After all these years, he’s still playing Rocky. And, as his recent Golden Globes victory for the movie Creed showed, movie crowds are still cheering him on.

Here are some things we bet you never knew about the actor known as both Rocky and Rambo:

Work Horse Over the last five decades, Sylvester Stallone has proven himself to be a tireless creator. IMDB credits him with 73 acting performances, 8 stints as a director, and as producer on 12 projects. Perhaps most impressive: Stallone has written 28 films, including all six “Rocky” movies, all four “Rambo” movies, and all three films from “The Expendables” franchise.

Tough Stuff To say Stallone struggled in school was an understatement. He was expelled from 14 schools before he turned 13. And his high school class voted him “Most Likely to Die in the Electric Chair.” Still, he got his act together and attended the University of Miami on an athletic scholarship.

The Italian Stallion Stallone was not physically imposing until he saw the movie Hercules Unchained as a teenager and decided to become a body builder. (“I’m not a genetically superior person,” he said. “I built my body.”) In his prime, Stallone says he bench-pressed as much as 400 pounds and squat-pressed 500 pounds. He has advocated eating ice cream for breakfast, as a means of giving his body lots of calories to burn up during his physical fitness regimen. He has said that he works out each weekday, then takes the weekends off.

The Real Rocky? In 1975, Stallone heard how the most famous boxer on the planet, Muhammad Ali, was going to fight an unknown club boxer named Chuck Wepner. An inspired Stallone wrote the original Rocky script in three days, its premise based largely on the Ali-Wepner fight.

Art imitates life: This Ali-Wepner match was the model for the plot of Rocky.

Paint It Black As a struggling screenwriter, Stallone painted his apartment windows black to keep himself from becoming distracted by the outside world.

From Rags to Riches On the day the studio approved the Rocky deal, thus making Stallone’s dream come true, he only had $106 to his name. His current net worth is somewhere north of $400 million.

Up for Anything Although he’s known as an action hero first and foremost, Stallone has made some interesting departures into very unexpected performances.

In the 1984 comedy Rhinestone, for example, he starred opposite Dolly Parton as an aspiring Country singer, performing his own vocals. The movie is now regarded as among the worst of all time. Stallone himself said of Rhinestone, “You’d have thought we got together and decided how we could fastest ruin our careers.”

Totally bizarre: Stallone in Rhinestone.

Roles He Passed On In order to make Rhinestone, Stallone turned down two huge films: Romancing the Stone, which transformed Michael Douglas into a major movie star, and Beverly Hills Cop, the Eddie Murphy smash that became the highest-grossing film of 1984.

Other big roles he passed on: Superman (1978) and Pulp Fiction (1994), where he was offered the role played to acclaim by his close friend Bruce Willis. And speaking of Willis, Sly was also offered his part in Die Hard, the movie that established Willis as an action star.

Built for Punishment Even at age 61, in the most recent “Rambo” installment, Stallone executed a lot of his own action stunts, as he has done throughout his career. This has often proven tricky. In the first “Rambo” film (First Blood), Stallone jumped off a cliff. As he came down, he collided with tree branches that instantly cracked one of his ribs.

But that’s not as bad as the blow he absorbed on the set of Rocky IV. While boxing with action star Dolph Lundgren, Stallone (the director) instructed the 6’5″, 235 lb. Lundgren to him to hit him with everything he had. The uppercut Lundgren threw was so powerful, it actually pushed Stallone’s heart into the back of his rib cage. Stallone nearly died when his heart muscle started to swell afterward. The actor was airlifted to a hospital for emergency surgery. He was in such bad shape that on first seeing him, the hospital doctors thought Stallone had been in a car crash.

During Rocky IV, Stallone told Dolph Lundgren to hit him with everything he had. Bad idea.

But that’s not the toughest stunt he remembers. That happened during the shooting of 1981’s Nighthawks, when Stallone was suspended 250 feet above New York’s East River, dangling beneath a cable car. The difficulty was compounded by Stallone’s fear of heights, as well as the fact that during the previous day’s shooting, the cast and crew had witnessed someone jumping to their death from a bridge over the river. But Stallone, ever the trooper, nailed the stunt.

Roles He Didn’t Get He auditioned for The Godfather, but according to Stallone, he “couldn’t even get hired for the wedding scene.” Still, in Rocky, Stallone played opposite Talia Shire, who was in The Godfather and is the sister of Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.

Then there’s Star Wars. Stallone auditioned for the role of Han Solo, but later admitted that he didn’t really see himself “in spandex holding a ray gun.”

Best Pals Although they were rival action stars through much of their careers, Stallone’s best friend is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The pair, along with other buddy Bruce Willis, originated the Planet Hollywood restaurant/club franchise.

Brush Strokes Stallone’s hobby is oil painting. He says his hero is Leonardo Da Vinci.

The Long Haul When The Expendables opened in 2010 as the Number 1 movie, it made Stallone the only performer to have starred in a film that opened in the top slot…in each of five different decades.

A New Oscar Record It’s been 39 years since Stallone’s first Oscar nominations for Rocky and his current nomination. That’s a new Academy Award record.

Five decades and he’s still in the picture: Dependable action star Sylvester Stallone.


The film Rocky has had an enormous impact on generations of moviegoers, who love it for its simple virtues, heartfelt performances and thrilling boxing sequences. Its original audiences still remember the first time they walked out of the theater, totally pumped after seeing one of the most inspirational films of all time. (The AFI ranked it the fourth-most inspiring film of all time.)

We know how much this film means to fans because we see it when our Digital Media Academy students attend our tech camps at the University of Pennsylvania. Very often our students have to make a pilgrimage to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to re-enact the famous “Gonna Fly Now” training sequence that was shot there. (As many visitors to the area do.)

Some of these kids (ages 6-12) and teens (ages 12-17) come to DMA to learn how to make films and follow in Sly’s steps as someone who makes movies, either for fun or potentially as a career.

Of course, that’s only one of the many fascinating tech subjects being taught at DMA, and only one of our many tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada.

Maybe this summer is your time to get inspired. DMA can help give you that inspiration, as well as the tech tools to make it a reality. At DMA, we can show you how.