Finding it a struggle to get parts, he wrote his own screenplay and the Rocky and Rambo legend was born. From adolescent delinquent to multi-million dollar Hollywood action star.
Sylvester Enzio Stallone was born in New York and attended school in Philadelphia. An accident during birth severed a facial nerve, leaving parts of his lip, tongue and chin paralysed. The adult repercussions of the incident have come to signify Stallone’s recognisable slurred speech patterns and drooping lower lip.
These defects during Stallone’s early life left him a sickly child who suffered from rickets and to add to the stress, his parents were constantly arguing and struggling to support him and his younger brother, Frank Stallone (who became a B-movie actor).
His teenage years proved as taxing following his parents' divorce in 1957. Age 15, Stallone moved to Philadelphia to be with his mother, Jackie, and her new husband. By this time, he had begun lifting weights and was enrolled in Devereaux High School where he took up fencing, football, and the discus.
Following graduation, Stallone received an athletic scholarship for the American College of Switzerland. While there he was a girls' athletic coach and in his spare time he starred in a school production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. The experience inspired him to become an actor and after returning stateside, he started studying drama at the University of Miami until he decided to move to New York in 1969 to pursue his dream.
Stallone auditioned frequently but only occasionally found stage work and eventually had to resort to appearing in a softcore porn film, Party at Kitty's and Studs, which was later repackaged as The Italian Stallion after he became famous. He managed to secure a bit role in Woody Allen's Bananas (1971), but after he was turned down for The Godfather (1971), he became even more discouraged.
Rather than give up, Stallone channeled his frustrations into writing, churning out lots of scripts, some of which were produced. Still auditioning though, he managed to land a starring role in Rebel in 1973.
In 1974 Stallone married actress Sasha Czack and they moved to California in the hope of building their acting careers. His first minor success came when he wrote the screenplay for the film, Lords of Flatbush (1974) with Henry Winkler, which he also co-starred in.
The film's modest success resulted in Stallone being offered larger roles, but he didn't attract real attention until he penned the screenplay for Rocky. Studios were eager to buy the rights, but Stallone was clever and stipulated that he would be the main star of the film and he must receive a share of the profits. Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff accepted the terms and Rocky (1976) went on win three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director for John Avildsen and Best Film Editing. It also earned further seven nominations including a Best Actor salute for Stallone.
At last Stallone found himself in the A-list stakes and not long afterwards, made his directing debut with Paradise Alley (1978). The sequel to Rocky, Rocky II which Stallone also wrote and directed was released in 1979 and also became a major success, grossing $200 million worldwide.
Aside from the Rocky films, Stallone starred in a series of other films during the early 1980s which were critically acclaimed but were less successful at the box office. Stallone scored his second major franchise success as Vietnam veteran John Rambo in the action adventure film First Blood in 1982. The first installment of Rambo was both a critical and box office success. Two Rambo sequels Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988) followed though despite being hits, critics were less impressed than the original. The success of Rocky also continued with Stallone directing and starring in two more sequels to the series: Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV (1985).
To break away from being typecast in the stereotypical ‘tough nut’ role, Stallone took parts in films of different genres but was unsuccessful. In 1984 he wrote and starred in the comedy film Rhinestone where he played a wannabe country music singer and also the drama Over the Top in 1987.
The action films Cobra (1986) and Tango and Cash (1989) saw Stallone back in his natural acting habitat and rekindled his fans’ attention. Rocky V started out 1990 and was intended to be the last installment in the franchise- it was also a box office disappointment but Stallone bounced back with a vengeance in 1993 with the blockbuster hit Cliffhanger which went on to take $255 million worldwide. Success continued later the same year with the film Demolition Man, a $158 million smash at the box office.
1994's The Specialist went on to make over $170 million worldwide and in 1995 Stallone played the title character Judge Dredd, based on a British comic book. The film flopped in the US but Stallone’s overseas box office appeal saved the profits by tallying up a worldwide $113 million. In 1996, Stallone starred in Daylight which followed in Judge Dredd’s footsteps in being a US flop yet an international success.
Critical acclaim was to come for Stallone’s role in Cop Land in 1997. Starring alongside Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta, the film was sadly only a minor success at the box office. 1998’s computer-animated Antz was a huge hit, with Stallone taking a backseat from his action man haven to voice the part of Weaver, the soldier ant buddy to Woody Allen's Z as part of an all-star cast including Gene Hackman and Christopher Walken.
The millennium began badly for Stallone's career as he starred in a string of critical and commercial flops including the remake of Get Carter, followed by Driven (2001), Avenging Angelo (2002) and D-Tox (2002).
2003 saw Stallone star in the third installment of the Spy Kids trilogy Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over which was a huge box office success (almost $200 million worldwide). His turn in the 2003 crime drama Shade was a box office failure yet his performance was praised by the critics and his prominence once again was set back on track.
Next came a shift to a different path for his career- reality television. Following in the successful formula of The Apprentice, producer Mark Burnett paired Stallone, because of his Rocky association, and boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard in The Contender (2005). The concept saw Stallone as both host and a mentor to the 16 hopefuls vying for a career as a professional fighter as well as a $1 million prize. The series was well-received by critics but struggled to find a wide audience.
Stallone returned in 2006 with the sixth and final installment of the successful Rocky series; Rocky Balboa. The film saw the legendary prize fighter coming out of retirement to mount yet another heavyweight comeback and was an international hit and climax to the series, taking over $150 million worldwide and gaining well-earned positive reviews.
Stallone has proved his worth as the original action hero, continuing to draw in the fans 30 years after his first screen appearance as Rocky. To double his long-reigning franchise success, Stallone is currently in post-production on the fourth installment of another Rambo film, John Rambo.