Rocky Balboa spawned a decades-long franchise that is treasured by fans. But after the release of Creed II, Sylvester Stallone dropped a bombshell about his beloved character. The actor revealed in a moving message that he was hanging up his boxing gloves – for good.
Entering the world in New York City in July 1946, Stallone is the son of an immigrant from Italy. At birth, an accident with some forceps caused a nerve to be severed and left the future actor with impaired speech and a sagging face. And while he’s now one of the biggest box office stars in the world, Stallone had a tough upbringing.
Stallone’s parents had an acrimonious relationship that eventually led to divorce. Consequently, as a young child, he spent time in foster care before going back to live with his parents. Stallone moved from Maryland with his father to Philadelphia with his mother.
Although he has had huge success in his career, Stallone did not thrive at school and was sent to an educational facility for wayward teenagers. He did go to college, where he studied drama, but left to return to New York City in the hope of making it as an actor.
Stallone landed some small roles while doing other odd jobs for cash, including as a movie theater usher and a lions’ cage cleaner at Central Park Zoo. Following minor parts in Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland thriller Klute and Woody Allen’s Bananas, Stallone was cast alongside Henry Winkler in 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush. And it was after that that the star got his big break.
Despite some acting gigs, Stallone was struggling to pay the bills. “After The Lords of Flatbush, I decided it was time to come to California, so I moved to California, and things weren’t going so well there,” he told Michael Watson in Forbes magazine. “As a matter a fact, I actually had to go out and try to sell my dog because it was either that, or he wasn’t going to be very well fed around the house.”
But everything changed when Stallone went to watch a fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner. “What I saw was pretty extraordinary,” he recalled. “I saw a man called The Bayonne Bleeder fight the greatest fighter who ever lived.”
Stallone continued, “And for one brief moment, this supposed stumblebum turned out to be magnificent. And he lasted and knocked the champ down. I thought if this isn’t a metaphor for life.”
Watching the fight gave Stallone an idea. He decided to write a script about a man who is determined to prove himself. In just three days, he penned 90 pages of a story – although eventually only one in three pages of that was used.
Subsequently, when Stallone met some producers at a casting call, he informed them about the script, and they agreed to read it. In fact, they were impressed by the idea and wanted to make the movie. However, they didn’t want him to appear as the lead in it.
Hoping to land a major star such as Burt Reynolds or Ryan O’Neil in the role instead, they offered Stallone $360,000 for the script alone. It was an appealing offer for someone with only $106 to his name, and yet the budding actor refused. “I thought, ‘You know what? You’ve got this poverty thing down. You really don’t need much to live on,’” he told Forbes.
Stallone continued, “I was in no way used to the good life. So I knew in the back of my mind that if I sell this script, and it does very very well, I’m going to jump off a building if I’m not in it. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
It was then that Stallone realized he had to take a risk and hold onto his idea until someone let him play the lead. “This is one of those things, when you just roll the dice and fly by the proverbial seat of your pants and you just say, ‘I’ve got to try it. I’ve just got to do it. I may be totally wrong, and I’m going to take a lot of people down with me, but I just believe in it,’” he added.
In the end, Stallone got his wish, and he was given a $1 million budget for the movie, which was a significantly small amount even at that time. However, that didn’t stop the star from doing everything he could to make his dream a reality. He got people he knew to act in the film, used handheld cameras and shot much of it in only one take.
Rocky followed the character of Rocky Balboa, an amateur boxer who competes in fights to make little money and works for a loan shark. Rocky is seen as a joke by the people around him – until he lands the offer of a lifetime. The protagonist is chosen to fight champion boxer Apollo Creed.
After its release in 1976, Rocky became a smash hit. The movie earned $225 million at the box office and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for Stallone. It took home three gongs: Best Director, Best Film Editing and the coveted Best Picture prize.
Rocky has left a lasting legacy in the decades since its release. Critically, the film is considered to be one of the best sports movies of all time and is still praised for its screenplay. What’s more, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art that feature in the film have become known as the Rocky Steps.
As well as producing multiple video games and inspiring a novel and a musical, Rocky was the beginning of a major franchise. Four sequels were released in 1979, 1982, 1985 and 1990 respectively. They depict Rocky’s rise to fame as a champion boxer and his friendship with Apollo, who dies in the fourth movie.
Then in 2006 after a 16-year break, Rocky Balboa was released. At this point, the character had retired from boxing and his wife Adrian had died. However, he came out of the woodwork for another fight.
Although even Stallone had assumed that Rocky Balboa was the final chapter of the boxer’s story, that wasn’t the case. The star recently returned to the role – and is now passing the torch of the franchise. However, he has also had success with other major movies.
In fact, Stallone is well known for portraying another iconic character on the screen. In 1982 he starred as John Rambo, a Green Beret, in First Blood. The movie served as a comment on the Vietnam War and earned $125 million at the box office.
Much like with Rocky, Stallone went on to appear in several Rambo movies. Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III were released in 1985 and 1988 respectively. And a follow-up, Rambo, came out in 2008.
Stallone has also continued to have success behind the scenes. He co-wrote all of the Rambo movies and directed 2008’s Rambo. In fact, he also directed the second, third and fourth Rocky films as well as Rocky Balboa, and he wrote all of them.
In addition, Stallone directed, co-wrote and acted in The Expendables alongside other action stars including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham and Bruce Willis – but it’s Rocky and Rambo that he is best known for. Despite their differences, there are even considered to be some parallels between the two franchises. Like Rocky, John Rambo is an underdog, and Rocky IV touched on communism, much as the Rambo movies had done before it.
Then in 2015 Rocky came back to the big screen. Stallone reprised the celebrated character in Creed. The movie starred Michael B. Jordan in the role of Adonis “Donnie” Johnson Creed, the son of the late Apollo Creed.
Creed followed Apollo’s son as he entered the world of boxing himself, persuading Rocky to become his trainer. Much like Rocky, he got the chance to prove himself with a major fight. At the same time, Rocky learned he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was encouraged by Donnie to seek treatment.
This time, Ryan Coogler directed and co-wrote the movie. And the installment of the popular franchise was a success, being praised by critics and audiences alike. Stallone won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Awards and was also nominated for an Oscar.
Then a sequel called Creed II was announced for 2018. The plot followed Donnie as he went up against Viktor Drago, the son of the man who killed his father. And with Donnie taking the spotlight, the Creed movies see Rocky’s character taking a step back and providing a supporting role.
Indeed, a week after the release of Creed II, Stallone made a major announcement. The actor shared a video on his Instagram account. And in it, he revealed that he was retiring Rocky once and for all.
“Well, this is probably my last rodeo because… I thought Rocky was over in 2006, and I was very happy with that,” Stallone said in the clip. He then pointed to Jordan, who was standing off-camera. And he added, “And then all of the sudden this young man presented himself, and the whole story changed.”
Stallone continued, “It went on to a new generation. New problems. New adventures. And I couldn’t be happier, because as I step back, as my story has been told, there’s a whole new world that’s gonna be opening up, for the audience, for this generation.” At the end of the clip, Stallone and Jordan embraced.
In the accompanying caption, Stallone explained that it felt like the right time to say goodbye to Rocky and let Jordan take the reins. “I just want to thank everyone around the whole wide world for taking the Rocky family into their hearts for over 40 years,” he wrote. “It’s been my ultimate privilege to have been able to create and play this meaningful character.”
Stallone added that it was a bittersweet announcement. “Though it breaks my heart, sadly all things must pass… and end,” he explained. “I love you kind and generous people, and the most wonderful thing of all is that Rocky will never die because he lives on in you.”
While some fans were shocked by the news, they voiced their support for Stallone – and the entertainment he has provided them as Rocky over the years. “Thank you for the Rocky franchise,” one person shared on Instagram. “For so many fans like myself the characters of the movie franchise are like family. And the lessons Rocky Balboa taught us all are practically gospel.”
Another added, “Thank you! You’ve made a HUGE impact on my life ever since I was kid. You and Rocky will always be a part of me and I am forever grateful for you, Mr. Stallone.” And others pointed out that Stallone’s own story has inspired them – just like Rocky’s.
“That’s incredible,” one fan shared. “Creating one script that can take on generations. Pays to follow your dreams and heart.” Although it was sad news for audiences, some have speculated that Stallone could still return to the role someday, just as he did with Creed.
However, it seems Stallone isn’t done with all of his characters. He will be returning as Rambo for a fifth time in Rambo 5: Last Blood. The movie will see the veteran take on the Mexican drug cartel and is due for release in 2019.
But as the title suggests, Rambo 5: Last Blood is thought to be Stallone’s final appearance as the character. The star is additionally working on another Expendables sequel and a third Escape Plan movie. He will also soon begin work on Tough as they Come and Scarpa.
Creed II was successful upon its November 2018 release and had the largest opening for a live-action film on Thanksgiving. Within just a few weeks, it had grossed more than $100 million at the United States box office. And it seems that Jordan is taking his position as the new star of the Rocky franchise seriously.
Jordan thanked his fans for the support and wrote on Instagram that he “couldn’t accomplish any of these accolades or milestones without you guys backing us.” He added, “I do everything I can to truly embody that character and give my best performance on screen, but that work and approach does nothing if you the fans don’t get up, go out, and see the film, so for that I express my most genuine gratitude for showing up and supporting us at the box office. I’ll keep approaching each film better and better just pray you guys keep supporting!”