Celebrities

Sly Stallone’s rocky road from sleeping rough to Hollywood star

Celebrating the heroics of goalie Adrian after winning football’s European Super Cup last week, Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp launched into an impression of Rocky Balboa.

The movie boxer, just like the Vietnam veteran John Rambo, is the creation of superstar Sylvester Stallone , who is celebrating 50 years in the movie business this summer.

Next month the Hollywood legend , 73, is back on our screens again with Rambo: Last Blood, an incredible 37 years after releasing Rambo: First Blood.

And Stallone says the battles he faces in his own life often resemble those Rocky has fought in the ring.

“Every time I’ve failed, people had me out for the count, but I always come back,” says the seasoned actor, writer and filmmaker.

Despite still feeling punchy with studio executives – who he says cost him £200million in lost earnings – the action hero has made a sizeable £330million fortune.

He wrote and starred in Rocky – it made £200million at the box office in 1976 and won Oscars for Best Picture and Director.

It cost around $1million to make, and since then all the Rocky films have grossed more than $1.5billion.

The New York actor has gone on to have a fantastic career, making almost 70 movies.

But the path to global superstardom was never easy for the man from the wrong side of the tracks.

Even being born in Hell’s Kitchen on July 6, 1946, had its difficulties.

Doctors using two pairs of forceps severed a nerve and paralysed the lower left side of his face.

It left him with his signature snarl and slurred speech.

Born Michael Sylvester Enzio Stallone to parents Italian hairdresser Francesco Stallone and Jackie Stallone, the young Sly spent the first years of his life in foster care due to his parents’ rocky marriage.

But despite being eventually reunited with them and his younger brother Frank when he was five, his parents divorced a few years later.

It goes a long way to explaining why he was expelled regularly from schools, and ended up in a high school for troubled youths.

Luckily a love of acting saved him from a life of petty crime, and, after drama school in Miami, Florida, Stallone appeared in his first movie The Square Root in 1969.

Quick success was to elude him, and his early career mainly consisted of jobs as an extra or bit parts – with one notorious exception when he was paid £165 for two days’ work on a softcore porn movie The Party at Kitty and Stud’s in 1970.

The actor said he was left with little choice after being evicted and having to sleep rough in a New York bus terminal in the middle of winter. He said: “It was either do that or rob someone, I was at the end of my rope.”

Stallone’s success finally came in 1976 with his story about no-hoper boxer Rocky, but he had to fight to star in his own film as studio executives wanted to give the role to the more well-known leading men Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds.

Stallone then turned to the world of wrestling for inspiration to direct his first film Paradise Alley in 1978, before heading back into the boxing ring the following year to write, star in and direct Rocky II.

Before he hit the big time, Stallone married his first wife, photographer and actress Sasha Czack, in 1974. The couple had two sons, Sage Moonblood Stallone, who died from heart disease aged 36 in 2012, and 40-year-old Seargeoh, who was diagnosed with autism.

As with so many Hollywood marriages it didn’t last.

Stallone divorced Czack in 1985, tying the knot with Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen, 17 years his junior, the same year.

When they met, the 22-year-old sex bomb was starring alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger as Marvel Comics’ heroine Red Sonja, a character who could crack the heads of her enemies between her thighs.

The couple were divorced in 1987. Although not before Brigitte appeared alongside Sly in Rocky IV. Now a big box office star, Stallone naturally went on to date a series of models including Angie Everhart, 49, before getting engaged to Janice Dickinson, now 64.

He even famously dumped on-off 19-year-old girlfriend Jennifer Flavin – who would go on to be his third wife – by FedEx when he wrongly thought he was the father of Janice’s child.

Finally rekindling his romance with Flavin, now 50, Stallone settled down and married his model sweetheart in May 1997 in London.

And continuing the family man’s habit of giving his children names beginning with S, the glamorous couple went on to have three beautiful daughters, 22-year-old Sophia, actress Sistine, 21, and 17-year-old Scarlet. Along with Rocky, his other long-lasting franchise is the Rambo series, which first exploded on to our screens with First Blood in 1982.

Playing former Green Beret John Rambo and snarling, “Don’t push it” before mowing down everything that moved made Stallone one of the biggest-ever bankable Hollywood stars.

He then cemented his hardman image with more hits such as Cobra, Cliffhanger and Judge Dredd.

The physical effort required by Stallone to prepare for his action hero roles meant the star was in the gym twice a day, six days a week, even claiming to have reduced his body fat to 2.8% for Rocky III when the base for champion bodybuilders is 4%.

With a reputation for doing his own stunts, Stallone also suffered many injuries, in Rocky IV he asked Dolph Lundgren to punch him really hard – and ended up in intensive care.

His star began to wane after a series of movie flops. Stallone himself has said that he felt his career was dead in the mid-noughties before he scored big with Rocky Balboa in 2008.

The action hero’s reputation took a further battering when ex-wife Nielsen went into Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother in 2005.

The reality show put the cat among the pigeons when her former enemy and mother-in-law, Jackie Stallone, now 97, also entered the BB house. By then Jackie had become a celebrity in her own right.

Meanwhile the actor had been fighting for the rights to his Rocky character but gave up after years of dealing with lawyers. It means he does not get a cut when the movie is screened on television.

He revealed: “I was told, look, they’re giving you more money on Rocky III. They took their chances, and you’re not entitled to it.

“I was so preoccupied with other things I never really pushed it.”

The star admitted: “By the time we got around to Rocky Balboa, I was in a pretty weak position to say anything.

“I was in a slump and was let go by my agency. Fired basically.” But he has hit the jackpot again with The Expendables movies and Rocky spin-offs Creed and Creed II.

And as Stallone once said, “Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up,” and true to his word, he has revealed plans for a ninth Rocky are in the pipeline.

“There’s a good chance that Rocky may ride again. We’re high on it,” he said. He revealed the movie’s plot would take the hero south of the border to Mexico and is “very timely”.

Indeed, given US immigration policy under current management, it is fitting that Rocky may face his greatest foe yet – Donald Trump.

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