Sylvester Stallone’s life story is a true underdog tale. His rise from an impossible situation to the fame and fortune he now enjoys is almost unfathomable – and is certainly more dramatic than the Rocky Balboa story itself.
(The following extract is taken from http://belowzerotohero.com/sylvester-stallones-zero-to-hero-story)
Stallone’s Zero-to-Hero Story
Not a lot of people know this, but due to complications during labor, the lower left side of Stallone’s face is paralyzed, including parts of his tongue, lip and chin. This incident at birth is the cause of his trademark snarling look and his slurred manner of speaking.
For the first five years of his life, Sylvester Stallone lived in an area of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen. He bounced from one foster home to another while his parents fought and squabbled endlessly in a bad marriage.
Although he was eventually reunited with them, his troubled past and his oddly paralyzed face made him an outcast among his classmates. He often received suspensions for his frequent fights, poor grades, and behavior problems.
Below Zero Status
His adult life was just as difficult. Hard times and a lack of income resulted in the actor getting evicted from his apartment. As a result he was forced to live on the streets for close to three weeks.
Eventually he came across a casting call for a soft core pornography film; out of desperation he attended the casting call. For two days of filming the actor received $200.
According to Stallone “it was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end, the very end of my rope”.
After getting back on his feet he was eventually able to attend college. However, deciding this path was not for him, he left before graduation and moved to New York to pursue an acting career.
He tried out for nearly each and every casting call he could, and contacted as many casting agents as he could find, with no victory. After numerous failed attempts he made the decision to try his hand at writing various screenplays.
After numerous failed attempts he found himself broke once again. In an act of desperation he waited outside of a local liquor store asking people if they would buy his dog; his closest and best friend. In the end someone bought his dog for roughly $50. Stallone was extremely devastated that his life had come to that point.
With options few and far between he began to run out of money. By now he was desperate to get a job but he still was not ready to settle on just any job. He wanted to be an actor and that was what he had his mind set on.
The underdog’s journey to success
One day as Stallone walked the cold streets of New York City he wandered into the local library to warm up. While he browsed through the many books he discovered some of the best classics by many famous writers which inspired him to work harder on his screenplays and various writings.
In 1975, Stallone saw the Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner fight. That night Stallone went home, and in three days he had written the script for Rocky. He tried to sell the script with the intention of playing the lead role. However, months passed with enormous rejections from many producers, until eventually someone loved it and they agreed to do the movie.
As poor as he was, Stallone turned down the great sums of money he was offered because he insisted that he must play the lead role in the film. Studios were not willing to cast him in this role because he was a complete unknown, and they wanted a well known star. They told him he was not an actor but a writer.
There is a story that Stallone had been offered more than a hundred thousand dollars for his script as long as someone else could take the lead role, but he refused. He was so sure in his heart that this part was meant for him, and him alone. He refused to compromise.
Finally the studio agreed to allow Stallone to proceed with the film, provided that it was made on a shoestring budget. Stallone accepted the deal and used part of his money to go back to the liquor store and get his dog back.
As you all probably know, Rocky became a worldwide commercial success and Oscar winner. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards in all, and went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Film Editing.
The sequel, Rocky II was released a few years later and also became a major success. The film series has grossed more than $1.25 billion at the worldwide box office.
What can we learn from this?
Whether you appreciate his ‘art’ or not, I’ll guarantee that you probably feel a greater sense of respect to the man than you did before you read this story. The reason for this is simple. Stallone’s story is the quintessential underdog narrative. It contains the two key underdog components: 1) a disadvantaged position (e.g. hailing from humble beginings) and 2) showing a passion and determination to triumph against the odds. These components are essential to the romance of the underdog narrative and are prevalent in all underdog brands. Truly an inspiration to us all.
By the way, both his dog and little Jimmy (the guy who bought it from him) both had cameo roles in the original Rocky movie.