Stallone's Bout With Homelessness
The story of the action star Sylvester Stallone is one of the saddest, but at the same time most inspirational, ever told in the cinema industry.
Stallone became famous for his character Rocky Balboa, of course; the down-and-out boxer from Philadelphia. But before his success in Hollywood – specifically in the early 1970s – he was often destitute and even experienced homelessness while struggling to find work.
He once slept at the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City for three days. He was unable to pay rent or afford food. He was at his lowest point when he had to sell his dog because he didn't have enough money to feed it anymore. He walked away with $25 and tears in his eyes.
According to one of the features included with the 2001 DVD release of Rocky, Stallone was a struggling actor in every definition of the term. For one thing, he had to deal with immense rejection as an actor because an accident during childbirth left part of his face and tongue paralyzed, giving him a distinctive snarled expression and slurred speech.
Despite the fact that Stallone became an outcast his entire life as a result, he still had dreams and passions in his heart, such as an interest in writing. And in the end, he found his greatest inspiration just two weeks after he was forced to sell his dog. On March 24, 1975, he witnessed the great boxer, Muhammad Ali, knock down underdog Chuck Wepner.
"I saw the moment as a metaphor for life,” he later said, “And was inspired to write the script for the famous movie, Rocky, with its main character, Rocky Balboa, another underdog."
He wrote the resulting screenplay in just 20 hours, with the starring role, Rocky Balboa, to be played by himself. But when he tried to sell the script, because he was not famous at that time, the studios were not interested in him for the lead part. They only wanted the story, and he got an offer of $125,000 from United Artists for the script alone.
Stallone was adamant that he play the lead. Rocky was too personal to him to let anyone else play the part. Unsurprisingly, the studio said no. They wanted a "real star," they said; someone who didn’t look funny and talk funny.
A few weeks after this initial rejection, the studio actually came back to him and doubled their offer for the script, going so far as to put up $350,000. Stallone refused.
Eventually, the studio agreed to give him $35,000 for the script and let him star in it – and the rest is history! Not only did Stallone go on to star in the Rocky sequels, but he also wrote, produced and directed all but one.
Through the first film, he gained worldwide recognition; Rocky won Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Film Editing at the Oscars in 1977.
Of his experiences with poverty, Stallone later had this to say:
"Being broke is bad, really bad. Have you ever had a dream? A wonderful dream? But you are too broke to implement it? Too tiny to do it? Too small to accomplish it? Life is tough. Opportunities will pass you by just because you are a nobody. People will want your products but not you. It's a tough world. If you are not already famous or rich or "connected," you will find it rough. Doors will be shut on you. People will steal your glory and crush your hopes. You will push and push. And yet nothing will happen. And then your hopes will be crushed. You will be broke. You will do odd jobs for survival. You will be unable to feed yourself. And yes, you may end up sleeping in the streets. It happens. Yes, it does."