Born on July 6, 1946, in New York City, Sylvester Stallone rose to fame as the writer and lead of the Academy Award-winning boxing film Rocky (1976). He went on to become one of the biggest action stars in the world, reprising his characters from Rocky and First Blood (1982) for several sequels. Following a mid-career decline, he rediscovered box-office success with a series of action films that included The Expendables (2010) and has earned critical acclaim reprising his Rocky role in Creed (2015), winning his first Golden Globe and receiving another Oscar nomination.
Background and Early Life
Actor, writer, director and producer Sylvester Stallone was born on July 6, 1946, in New York City. One of the most popular action stars of all time, Stallone is best known for portraying two heroic characters on the big screen—boxer Rocky Balboa and Vietnam War veteran John Rambo. His trademark droopy visage was the result of a forceps accident at the time of his birth. A nerve was severed in the accident, which also left him with slurred speech.
Stallone had a difficult childhood. Both he and younger brother Frank were adversely affected by their parents’ hostile relationship, which later ended in divorce. Sylvester spent some of his earliest years in foster care. When Stallone was around five years old, his father moved the family to the Washington, D.C. area where he started his own beauty parlor chain. Stallone lived in Maryland for years, staying with his father after his parents' divorce in 1957. He struggled emotionally and academically, and was expelled from several schools.
A few years later, Stallone went to live with his mother and her second husband in Philadelphia. There he attended a special high school for troubled youth. After graduation, Stallone eventually went on to college. First, he attended the American College in Switzerland, where he studied drama. Stallone then went to the University of Miami, again choosing to focus on the dramatic arts. He left school before completing his degree to move to New York City to pursue an acting career.
While he waited for his acting career to take off, Stallone worked all sorts of jobs to make ends meet. He cleaned up the lions’ cages at the Central Park Zoo, ushered at a movie theater and even made an appearance in an adult film called The Party at Kitty and Stud's (1970). A few uncredited parts in mainstream films, such as Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971) and Klute (1971), soon followed. He had a more substantial role playing a tough guy in the 1974 independent film The Lords of Flatbush with Henry Winkler and Perry King. Around this time, Stallone married Sasha Czack.
In addition to acting, Stallone had an interest in writing. He created a screenplay about a rough-and-tumble thug who struggles for a chance to make it as a professional boxer. According to several reports, Stallone refused to sell the script unless he was allowed to star in it. Despite having a pregnant wife and little money in the bank, he held out until he found two producers, Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, willing to let him play the lead.
Released in 1976 and directed by John G. Avildsen, Rocky became a critical and commercial hit. The film went on to earn 10 Academy Award nominations, including nods for best actor, director and picture. Rocky faced stiff competition in the best picture category from such films as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Network, but it proved to be the small film with a powerful punch and nabbed the coveted Oscar. The story of Rocky Balboa, the quintessential underdog, also struck a chord with moviegoers and earned the film more than $117 million at the box office.
To follow up on his breakthrough role, Stallone next starred as a labor organizer in F.I.S.T. (1978). He received some favorable reviews for his work, but the film failed to attract much of an audience. Returning to the film that made him famous, Stallone wrote, directed and starred in Rocky II (1979). He kept the franchise going a few years later with Rocky III (1982).
That same year, Stallone introduced a new character to moviegoers—John Rambo, a disenfranchised and troubled Vietnam vet—in First Blood (1982). Rambo ends up going to war with the police in a small town after being mistreated by authorities. Once again, Stallone struck box-office gold. He went behind the scenes for his next effort, Staying Alive (1983), which he wrote and directed. Although the film featured John Travolta reprising his breakout role from Saturday Night Fever (1977), it did not fare as well as the original.
Trying to branch out as an actor, Stallone starred opposite Dolly Parton in the comedy Rhinestone (1984). The film was a commercial and critical failure. Fans lined up more so to see Stallone taking up trademark roles in Rocky IV (1985), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988) and Rocky V (1990). He also starred in the comedy Oscar (1991) as well as the futuristic action flick Demolition Man (1993), which co-starred Wesley Snipes and Sandra Bullock.
By the mid-1990s, Stallone’s star power as an action hero had started to fade. He made a series of forgettable films, including Judge Dredd (1995) and Daylight (1996). Taking a break from big budget action films, Stallone took a supporting role in the independent drama Cop Land (1997), which starred Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta. He earned strong reviews for his portrayal of a sheriff in a small New Jersey town largely inhabited by New York City cops.
Returning to his leading man status, Stallone starred in the crime thriller Get Carter (2000), which received mixed reviews. He then wrote, co-produced and starred in the car-racing drama Driven (2001). It netted more than $32 million at the box office—a long way from his glory days of Rocky. Another effort, Shade (2004), came and went without much notice.
Stallone once again returned to familiar territory to write another chapter of his most popular creation. The plot of Rocky Balboa (2006) mirrored Stallone’s own career to some extent. The former heavyweight champion, long retired, decides to go for one more big fight. “Things really started to slow down for me about 10 years ago, and I had a lot of time for introspection. ... It is kind of bittersweet. That is why I wanted to write this film. If I had been cranking out films, very successful ones, I wouldn’t have done this one,” Stallone explained to People magazine in 2007. Fans turned out in droves to see Rocky’s final fight, which earned more than $70 million at the domestic box office and an additional $85 million in foreign sales.
Stallone then reprised his other action persona, John Rambo. In addition to playing the lead, he wrote and directed Rambo (2008). The film lived up to the gory legacy of its predecessors. As one Entertainment Weekly critic described it, the film “is up to its boot tops in numbing violence.” Still, Rambo was able to attract enough moviegoers to bring in $42.7 million at the box office.
In 2010, Stallone starred alongside Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Expendables. The ensemble cast also featured Jason Statham of The Transporter film series, mixed martial arts fighter Randy Couture and martial arts expert Jet Li. In addition to his performance in the film, Stallone served as director and screenwriter.
After years of being the target of critical barbs, Stallone began to receive some appreciation for his life’s work. He received an honorary Cesar Award, the French equivalent of the Academy Award, in 1992, and an acting award at the Stockholm Film Festival in 1997. In 2008, Stallone became the first person to receive the Golden Icon Award at the Zurich Film Festival, and he later earned lifetime achievement honors at the 2012 Hollywood Film Awards.
Thrice married, Stallone is currently wed to former model Jennifer Flavin. The couple has three daughters, Sophia, Sistine and Scarlet. He previously had two sons, Sage and Seth, with Sasha Czack.
On July 13, 2012, Stallone's eldest son, Sage Moonblood Stallone, was found dead in his Los Angeles home. The 36-year-old actor, director and producer co-starred with his father in Rocky V and Daylight. Stallone made his first public appearance after his son's death in August 2012, on Good Morning America. Of Sage's death, he said, "Time, hopefully, will heal, and you try to get through it, but it's just something. It's a reality of life. I think it's important to get back and start reliving your life. Otherwise, you can go into a spiral."
Globe Win and Oscar Nod for 'Creed'
Stallone reunited with the cast of The Expendables to co-star in a followup. The Expendables 2 premiered in August of 2012 and reached the No. 1 spot at the box office, bringing in nearly $28.6 million over its opening weekend. Stallone delivered The Expendables 3 in the summer of 2014, with Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson among the additions to the cast. The film proved to have more modest box office returns domestically than its predecessors, though foreign ticket sales were once again robust.
Stallone also enjoyed a busy year in 2013, when he starred in Escape Plan, with Schwarzenegger, and the boxing comedy Grudge Match, with De Niro. He went on to add one more chapter to the Rocky Balboa saga in 2015 with Creed, in which he trains the son (Michael B. Jordan) of his old boxing rival Apollo. The following year, Stallone won a supporting actor Golden Globe for the part, receiving a standing ovation as he took the podium for his acceptance speech. A few days later he received an Academy Award nomination for the role, thus having earned two Oscar nods for the character of Rocky.
In 2017, Stallone is slated to co-star in the animated film Animal Crackers as well as the sequel to the Marvel Comics blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. He has also signed on to play lead in the mobster TV series Omerta, based on the last novel by Mario Puzo.
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