An icon of machismo and Hollywood action heroism, Sylvester Stallone is responsible for creating two characters who have become a part of the American cultural lexicon: Rocky Balboa, the no-name boxer who overcame all odds to become a champion, and John Rambo, the courageous soldier who specialized in violent rescues and revenge. Both characters are reflections of Stallone's personal experiences and the battles he waged during his transition from a poor kid in Hell's Kitchen to one of the world's most popular stars.
According to Stallone, his was not a happy childhood. On July 6, 1946, in the aforementioned part of Manhattan, Sylvester Enzio Stallone was born to a chorine and an Italian immigrant. A forceps accident during his birth severed a facial nerve, leaving Stallone with parts of his lip, tongue, and chin paralyzed. In doing so, the accident imprinted Stallone with some of the most recognizable components of his persona: the distinctively slurred (and some say often nearly incomprehensible) speech patterns, drooping lower lip, and crooked left eye that have been eagerly seized upon by caricaturists. To compound these defects, Stallone was a homely, sickly child who once suffered from rickets. His parents were constantly at war and struggling to support Stallone and his younger brother, Frank Stallone (who became a B-movie actor). The elder brother spent most of his first five years in the care of foster homes. Stallone has said that his interest in acting came from his attempts to get attention and affection from those strangers who tried to raise him. When he was five, his parents moved their family to Silver Spring, MD, but once again spent their time bickering and largely ignored their children. Following his parents' divorce in 1957, the 11-year-old Stallone remained with his stern father. The actor's teen years proved even more traumatic. As Stallone seemed willing to do just about anything for attention, however negative, he had already been enrolled in 12 schools and expelled several times for his behavior problems. His grades were dreadful and his classmates picked on him for being different. Stallone coped by becoming a risk taker and developing elaborate fantasies in which he presented himself as a brave hero and champion of the underdog. At age 15, Stallone moved to Philadelphia to be with his mother and her new husband. By this time, he had begun lifting weights and was enrolled in Devereaux High School, a facility for emotionally disturbed children. There he took up fencing, football, and the discus. He also started appearing in school plays. 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 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.
While working a variety of odd jobs, Stallone auditioned frequently but only occasionally found stage work, most of which was off-Broadway in shows like the all-nude Score and Rain. He even resorted to appearing in the softcore porn film, Party at Kitty's and Studs, which was later repackaged as The Italian Stallion after Stallone became famous. Stallone's face and even his deep voice were factors in his constant rejection for stage and film roles. He did nab a bit role in Woody Allen's Bananas (1971), but after he was turned down for The Godfather (1971), Stallone became discouraged. Rather than give up, however, Stallone again developed a coping mechanism -- he turned to writing scripts, lots of scripts, some of which were produced. He still auditioned and landed a starring role in Rebel (1973). During his writing phase, he married actress Sasha Czack in late 1974 and they moved to California in the hopes of building acting careers. His first minor success came when he wrote the screenplay for and co-starred in the nostalgic Lords of Flatbush (1974) with Henry Winkler. The film's modest success resulted in Stallone's getting larger roles, but he still didn't attract much notice until he penned the screenplay for Rocky. The story was strong and well written and studios were eager to buy the rights, but Stallone stipulated that he would be the star and must receive a share of the profits. Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff accepted Stallone's terms and Rocky (1976) went on to become one of the biggest movie hits of all time. It also won several Oscars including ones for Best Picture, Best Director for John Avildsen, and a Best Actor nomination for Stallone.
Suddenly Stallone found himself on Hollywood's A-list, a status he has largely maintained over the years. In addition to writing four sequels to Rocky, he penned three Rambo films (First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Rambo 3) and F.I.S.T. (1979). Stallone made his directorial debut with Paradise Alley, which he filmed in Hell's Kitchen. He also wrote and directed but did not appear in the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive (1983). In addition, Stallone has continued to appear in the films of other directors, notably Demolition Man (1993), Judge Dredd (1995), and Copland (1997), a film in which he allowed himself to gain 30 pounds in order to more accurately portray an aging sheriff. Occasionally, Stallone has ventured out of the action genre and into lighter fare with such embarrassing efforts as Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) and Oscar (1991), which did not fare well at the box office. Following these missteps, Stallone found greater success with the animated adventure Antz (1998), a film in which his very distinctive voice, if not his very distinctive physique, was very much a part. Stallone was back in shape for the 2000 remake of Get Carter and hit the race tracks in the following year in the CART racing thriller Driven.
Though the early 2000s found his career sputtering along with such forgetable duds as D-Tox and Avenging Angelo, Stallone took his career into his own hands by returning to the director's chair to resurrect two of his most iconic characters. Lacing his boxing gloves up once again for Rocky Balboa, the veteran action star proved he still had some fight left in him, and venturing into the jungles of Burma as John Rambo just two years later, he proved that hard "R" action could still sell in the era where most filmmakers were playing it "PG-13"safe. That trend continued with Stallone's all-star action opus The Expendables in 2010, with the success of that film leading to a sequel (with Simon West taking over directorial duties) featuring even more action icons in 2012. Incredibly, not even a broken neck suffered during production of The Expendables proved capable of slowing Stallone down, and 2013 found him teaming with Walter Hill for Bullet to the Head -- which followed a cop and a killer as they teamed up to take down a mutual enemy.
Despite his great professional success, Stallone has still had his share of personal grief. With his first wife Sasha, Stallone had two sons, Sage (who launched his own acting career in addition to co-founding Grindhouse Releasing with Oscar-winning film editor Bob Murawski) and Seargeoh, the second of whom was diagnosed as autistic in 1982. The stress of the situation caused Stallone's marriage to end in 1985. Afterwards, Stallone began dating many women and became a favorite topic of the tabloids, especially when less than a year after the breakup, he married statuesque model Brigitte Nielsen and then divorced her in a well-publicized battle 18 months later. In the late '80s, Stallone met 19-year-old model Jennifer Flavin. The two lived together for three years and married in May, 1997. By summer's end, they had a baby girl, Sofia, who was born with a hole in her heart. In October it was repaired and the now healthy girl has proven to be a fighter, just like her famous dad. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi