Stalone Still Throwing Punches At Rocky
TV Times 8th - 14th September 1984
Sylvester Stallone wears the muscled shine that comes exclusively from strenuous workouts. He has been preparing for his fourth time in the ring as Rocky and it isn't easy for him to improve his physique. He points to one of his bulging biceps. 'Just to put an inch around my arm means pumping 20 tons of weight or more a day, working four hours a day, living right on the edge. It's a pain but it's the only way to do it.' The familiar lopsided grin. The shrug. 'What can I tell ya? It's gotta be done.'
The weightlifting, bodybuilding and writing-directing-acting talent he has invested in the Rocky films since 1976, have so far paid him a personal dividend of more than 60 million dollars and resulted in box office returns of more than 500 million dollars.
But although, as Rocky Balboa, he has taken more punishment than many prizefighters, the test of Stallone's endurance came in the 1980 film Nighthawks — on ITV this week — in which he plays a desperate New York undercover cop hunting down a terrorist played by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer.
It involved being hoisted 24 storeys above New York's East River, a leap from a helicopter and a crazy chase through Manhattan's underground maze. I'd never been pushed to such a physical limit before in a movie,' says Stallone.
For the cable car scenes high in the sky he also had to overcome a fear of heights: 'This was one of the reasons I insisted on doing my own stunts on Nighthawks. Life without some kind of a challenge would certainly be boring.'
While Stallone performed his chilling high-wire act, the producers of the movie took out a little insurance and placed frogmen in the East River far below him. The grin is back as Stallone finishes the story: 'The frogmen only told me much later that they were there not to save me if I fell but to claim the body.'
Only a couple of years ago just the mention of the screen character Rocky he created was enough to make Stallone storm out of a room. The Rocky films made him millions, made him a star, but also had a devastating effect on his personal life and turned him, he now admits, into an egomaniac. It is all resolved now as he sits back in a suite at a Beverly Hills hotel sipping iced water, but he doesn't forget. 'Rocky put me in a category I tried desperately to get away from. No one likes to be told they are going to be a certain thing for the rest of their life. Every role I did was being weighed against Rocky. Rocky joins the unions [F.I.S.T., 1978]; Rocky joins the police force [Nighthawks]; Rocky plays soccer [Escape to Victory, 1981]. The more it happened, the more I rebelled.
'I have finally come to terms with it. I am never going to shed the image — but it really is a blessing from God. I need Rocky more than Rocky needs me. No matter what I do, people will always see Rocky first and me second. That's the way it is.'
Now, reunited with his wife Sasha whom he married 10 years ago — they met when they were both cinema ushers in New York — after two separations and his dalliances with Goldengirl (1979) actress Susan Anton and his Paradise Alley (1978) co-star Joyce Ingalls, he admits that being a millionaire went to his head.
'I stand accused. I admit that I yielded to temptation and everything that I did — all the mistakes I made — I tried to dramatise and put into Rocky III . There is a certain fear that sets in when you arrive at a particular level in your career and you don't want to lose that position. I became very shallow. I wanted to go out and live life — wine, women and song. I threw rocks at my own image. I would go on talk shows, not to promote the films but to promote myself. It was flaunt, flaunt, flaunt. Success is the most dangerous of drugs. I felt stifled. I thought that my wife should change. Everything around her had changed so why wasn't she more vivacious?'
In the end, it was Stallone who changed. T left my family, thinking my problems would go away. When I came back I told Sasha: "You're looking at a full-grown fool. You have every reason in the world to despise me." But she took me back without conditions which shows, I think, that our marriage was right in the first place.'
Now, Stallone and Sasha with their children, Sage, 8, and five-year-old Seargeoh, live in well-above-average family style. The 'main' house is a 12 million dollar mansion in Bel-Air' filled with priceless sculptures and paintings. Their driveway contains a fleet of Mercedes, Porsches and Cadillacs. Weekends are spent at their beach home in Malibu or sailing on their yacht.
Stallone says he is more confident with his stardom now and that confidence resulted this year in his co-starring role with Dolly Parton in Rhinestone, in which he parodies himself. He plays a New York taxi driver given the Pygmalion treatment by Parton. The US critics were not keen on his role as cabbie turned into a country singer, but it was big box office. The situation was the same with Staying Alive (1983) in which he directed John Travolta.
'Staying Alive was skewered/ says Stallone. 'I didn't think the critics were justified but I don't have any complaint about it. Nowadays, I really believe that if you are going to lay it out there, you have to be able to take the heat. I've accepted that. I used to take great offence at hostile reviews but now I've developed a thick skin.'
His accountants would tell him not to worry and they are probably the one set of people who could figure out the arithmetic in Stallone's life at present. There are a lot of numbers to keep up with. He stars in three new films: First Blood II, the sequel to his highly successful outing as a Vietnam veteran taking apart a Pacific northwest town, Rocky TV, and Over The Top which is about arm wrestling. The last film offers the most interesting figure of all. Stallone was paid 12 million dollars.
It is an astonishing price and one that has Hollywood in awe — and dismay. Stallone himself says of the price tag: 'Well, they offered it. I didn't ask for it.'
The film's producers are looking to Rocky TV to make the most money, although the star says: 'It gets more difficult each time, but do have a good story. Russia enters the free market in boxing and Rocky is enticed over there to fight for the championship. Rocky no longer follows the pattern of a normal human being's existence. He's no longer a boxer; he represents a lifestyle, a philosophy, the American dream. I mean, the punches look real and the blood and all that, but it is pure symbolism.'
Who wins the fight?
'C'mon! Rocky doesn't lose. He gets battered and beaten but he wins. What can I tell ya? Rocky doesn't lose. . .'
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