Nationality: American. Born: Michael Sylvester Stallone in New York City, 6 July 1946; brother of actor Frank Stallone. Education: Attended Devereux High School, Berwyn, Pennsylvania; an American college in Leysin, Switzerland (also served as athletic coach); University of Miami, Coral Gables. Family: Married 1) Sasha Czack, 1974 (divorced 1985), sons: Sage Moonblood, Seth; 2) the actress Brigitte Nielsen, 1985 (divorced 1987); Jennifer Flavin, 1987, daughters: Sophia Rose, Sistine Rose. Career: Worked as a pizza demonstrator, swept zoo cages, and worked as an usher in New York while trying to get acting parts, late 1960s; made his film debut in Party at Kitty and Studs, 1970; won stardom playing the title role in Rocky, from his own script, 1976; directed his first film, Paradise Alley, 1978. Awards: Honorary César Award, 1992; Best Actor Stockholm Film Festival, for Cop Land, 1997; Academy of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Lifetime Achievement Award, 1997. Agent: c/o William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
The Italian Stallion (Party at Kitty and Studs) (Milton Lewis and Morton Lewis) (as Stud)
Bananas (Woody Allen) (as mugger)
No Place to Hide (Shaftel) (as Jerry); The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Frank) (as youth in park); The Lords of Flatbush (Verona and Davidson, + co-sc) (as Stanley)
Farewell My Lovely (Richards) (as Kelly/Jonnie); Capone (Carver) (as Frank Nitti); Death Race 2000 (Bartel) (as "Machine Gun" Joe Vitebo); Rebel (Schnitzer) (as Jerry Savage)
Rocky (Avildsen) (as Rocky Balboa, + sc); Cannonball (Carquake) (Bartel) (cameo)
F.I.S.T. (Jewison) (as Johnny Kovak, + co-sc)
Victory (Escape to Victory) (Huston) (as Robert Hatch); Nighthawks (Malmuth) (as Deke DeSilva)
First Blood (Kotcheff) (as John Rambo, + co-sc)
Rhinestone (Clark) (as Nick, + co-sc)
Rambo: First Blood, Part II (Cosmatos) (as John Rambo, + co-sc)
Cobra (Cosmatos) (as Marion Cobretti, + co-sc); Over the Top (Golan) (as Lincoln Hawk, + co-sc)
Rambo III (MacDonald) (title role, + co-sc)
Lock Up (Flynn) (as Frank Leone); Tango and Cash (Konchalovsky) (as Ray Tango)
Rocky V (Avildsen) (title role, + sc)
Oscar (Landis) (as Angelo "Snaps" Provolone)
Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (Spottiswoode) (as Sgt. Joe Bomowski)
Cliffhanger (Harlin) (as Gabe Walker, + sc); Demolition Man (Brambilla) (as Sgt. John Spartan)
The Specialist (Llosa) (as Ray Quick); A Century of Cinema (Thomas) (doc) (as himself)
Judge Dredd (Cannon) (title role); Assassins (Richard Donner) (as Robert Rath); Your Studio and You (Parker) (short) (as himself)
Daylight (Cohen) (as Kit Latura)
The Good Life (Harrison); An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (Hiller, Smithee) (as himself); Cop Land (Mangold) (as Sheriff Freddy Heflin)
Antz (Darnell, Guterman) (as voice of Weaver)
Get Carter (Kay) (as Jack Carter)
Eye See You (Gillespie) (as Jake Malloy)
Films as Director and Scriptwriter:
Paradise Alley (+ ro as Cosmo Carboni)
Rocky II (+ title ro)
Rocky III (+ title ro)
Staying Alive (co-sc, + co-pr)
Rocky IV (+ title ro)
By STALLONE: books—
The Official Rocky Handbook, New York, 1977.
Paradise Alley (novel), New York, 1977.
By STALLONE: articles—
Interview with Pat H. Broeske, in Stills (London), December 1985/January 1986.
"Sly's Body Electric," interview with Zoe Heller, in Vanity Fair (New York), November 1993.
"The Underdog Triumphs!," interview with Graham Fuller, in Interview (New York), October 1994.
"Sly," interview with Joel Silver, in Interview (New York), July 1995.
"My Daughter's Health is the Best Christmas Gift I Could Have," interview with Andrew Duncan, in Radio Times (London), December 21-January 3, 1996–97.
"Body Language," interview with David Eimer, in Time Out (London), 5 November 1997.
"The American Expresses," interview with John Naughton, in Empire (London), January 1998.
On STALLONE: books—
Daly, Marsha, Sylvester Stallone: An Illustrated Life, New York, 1984.
L., Christophe, and Guy Braucourt, Sylvester Stallone, Paris, 1985.
Rovin, Jeff, Stallone! A Hero's Story, New York, 1985.
Neibaur, James L., Tough Guy: The American Movie Macho, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1989.
Sanello, Frank, Stallone: A Rocky Life, Trafalgar Square, 1998.
On STALLONE: articles—
Calhoun, J., "Sylvester Stallone," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1982.
Hibbin, S., "Star Profile: Sylvester Stallone," in Films and Filming (London), March 1984.
Pally, M., "Red Faces," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1986.
Gauthier, G., "Western-Eastern," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), April 1986.
Brauerhoch, A., "Glanz und Elend der Muskelmänner," in Frauen und Film (Frankfurt), August 1986.
Stauth, Cameron, "Requiem for a Heavyweight," in American Film (New York), January 1990.
Brown, Ian, "Portrait of the Artist as a Movie Star," in Premiere (New York), February 1991.
Crawley, T., "The End of Stallone's Rocky Road," in Film Monthly (Berkhamsted, England), February 1991.
Weinraub, Bernard, "All Right, Already, No More Mr. Funny Guy," in New York Times, 9 June 1993.
Current Biography 1994, New York, 1994.
Lee, C., "Starstyle," in Movieline (Escondido), September 1995.
Susman, G., "Cop To It," in Village Voice, 9 September 1997.
"Knockout Punch," article in Newsweek (New York), 28 June 1999.
* * *
Regardless of how one may feel about Sylvester Stallone and what he represents, he is still a bankable star of the first magnitude. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, he is the preeminent action-movie star of his era, an actor whose mere presence in films with such generic titles as Cobra, Cliffhanger, The Specialist, Demolition Man, and Judge Dredd signals to audiences a certain kind of contemporary movie: mindlessly violent action films where character development is secondary to special effects, gushing blood, and high body counts. Stallone's appeal in such films is based on a combination of his brawn and the physical heroics his character undergoes, rather than any acting ability. Often, Stallone grunts his way through his films, having been given hardly any dialog lasting beyond a few sentences at a time. But then, his characters are meant to be men of action, rather than words.
This is not to say that Stallone has made flawless career choices. He has involved himself in movies that have flopped. In F.I.S.T., a box-office failure (which is nonetheless one of his better films), he had one of his more ambitious roles as a Jimmy Hoffa-like labor leader. Not all of his action films have been successes, either. One example is Judge Dredd, a film that on paper seemed a sure-fire hit but which disappointed at the box office. And for the most part, he has met disaster whenever taking a role in a non-action film. Rhinestone, for example, starred him with Dolly Parton as a New York cabdriver who becomes a hillbilly singer. As with most Stallone films, it earned dreadful reviews, but in this case audiences stayed away en masse. Stallone's failures when veering from tried-and-true formulas are what separates him from Schwarzenegger, who has worked successfully in other film genres, even to the point of self-parody (as in Twins and Junior).
Stallone's most popular and enduring characters remain boxer Rocky Balboa and Vietnam-veteran John Rambo; he appeared in each role in a separate, hugely successful film series. Indeed, it was a combination of his performance as the lovable proletarian lug Rocky Balboa, compounded by the real-life, rags-to-riches story of how the film came to movie screens, which earned Stallone his initial mass fame. Stallone was just another struggling, unbankable actor, playing bit parts and featured roles as hoods (in, respectively, Bananas and The Lords of Flatbush), when he penned the Rocky screenplay. In a shrewd move, he refused to sell the script unless he would be allowed to play the title role. He won out, and in so doing became one of Hollywood's most well-publicized success stories and an American myth come to life.
In the great American tradition, the characters of Rocky Balboa and John Rambo reflect the idealized triumph of the individual, and herein lies the essence of their appeal. At the same time, politics also plays no small part in the Rocky-Rambo films. Rocky Balboa may have started out as an endearing pug, a heartfelt symbol of the common man who lives out the fantasies of millions of other common men in that he gets his one shot at fame by fighting for the world championship. But as the story of Rocky continued through its sequels, Rocky literally wraps himself in the American flag. John Rambo, meanwhile, rises out of the ashes of the Vietnam folly. He is a bigger-than-life, thoroughly indestructible superhero—the good guy who can never, ever be defeated, and the good guy that America wishes itself to be. As Rambo battles the yellow and red perils (in Rambo: First Blood, Part II and Rambo III), American males are meant to fantasize about filling his shoes, just as they fantasize about filling the shoes of a Don Mattingly or Dan Marino.
The Rambo films in particular are throwbacks to the 1950s, a simpler age. America was then the self-proclaimed leader of the free world. Good and bad were clearly defined, and war movies were popular because they reenacted battles in conflicts from which the United States emerged victorious. So for the Rambo films to have been popular, they must portray a soldier as a winner in battle—even if the facts tell you that the war is lost. First Blood, the initial Rambo film, focuses on the character's status as a Vietnam veteran. Next, he returns to the Asian jungle to liberate MIAs and rewrite the Vietnam history book. Then, he finds a new war. This one may be set in Afghanistan, but it is against the usual enemy: ludicrous commiemiscreant caricatures who claim that they "try to be civilized" as they beat unconscious their red, white, and blue-blooded foes. But after being exposed to a strong dose of Rambo, they are destined to fall like cattle rustlers in a John Wayne Western. Indeed, in the 1980s, Stallone came to replace Wayne as the celluloid symbol of love-it-or-leave-it, hit-first-and-ask-questions-later conservatism.
In effect, in his subsequent big-budget action extravaganzas, Stallone has played thinly disguised Rambo variations. In the trailer for The Specialist, viewers are told all they need to know about Stallone's character when informed that "the government taught him to kill"—a description that also holds true for John Rambo. In Nighthawks, Stallone plays a stalwart New York City cop who learned his killing skills—where else?—on the battlefields of Southeast Asia.
Now well into his fifties, Stallone has not yet abandoned playing action heroes. However, he has proven that he can be up to the challenge when assigned a multi-dimensional dramatic role. He offers a sensitive performance in Cop Land, playing the antithesis of the standard, brawny, and cartoonish Stallone character: a paunchy, ineffectual sheriff who is mocked by the rough, tough, "real" (not to mention corrupt) lawmen who work in New York City but reside in his New Jersey town. Cop Land is of course the rare exception, rather than the rule, for Stallone. Yet however you view him, it cannot be denied that he has made his mark as a late-twentieth-century celluloid icon. His screen persona should not easily be dismissed, just as his pop-cultural success cannot be ignored.
—James M. Welsh, updated by Rob Edelman