Magazine article Newsweek

Rocky's Final Round; after 16 Years, Sylvester Stallone Is Back in the Ring, and That's No Joke. the Series-Ending 'Rocky Balboa' Is a Surprisingly Moving Story of Aging and Redemption

Magazine article Newsweek

Rocky's Final Round; after 16 Years, Sylvester Stallone Is Back in the Ring, and That's No Joke. the Series-Ending 'Rocky Balboa' Is a Surprisingly Moving Story of Aging and Redemption

Article excerpt

Byline: Sean Smith (With Jac Chebatoris)

Boy, did I get a beating," says Sylvester Stallone, sitting in the living room of his Italian-style villa high above Beverly Hills. A year ago the 60-year-old actor was in the ring being pummeled by a 37-year-old professional boxer for the climactic scene of "Rocky Balboa," the sixth and final installment of the franchise that launched Stallone's career. That kind of hammering can't be healthy. "The second knockdown in that scene was real. It doesn't hurt so much as it stuns you. You're lying facedown, going, 'I'm fine. Just let me stand here a minute'." He laughs. "I had to spend a couple of nights in a hyperbaric chamber to get oxygen back in me. It helps repair injuries quicker, but it kind of felt like Poe's 'Premature Burial'." He knows a thing or two about that.

If you've been in a theater when the trailer for "Rocky Balboa" plays, you've probably witnessed--or participated in--the rather unkind response: laughter, mixed with a few cheers. When Stallone announced he was doing this, 16 years after "Rocky V," comedians cracked jokes about Lipitor and Depends, and the consensus in Hollywood was that Stallone was grasping at faded glory. "A lot of people said, 'Just sit down, don't embarrass yourself'," Stallone says. "There is this incredible resistance to anyone who seems to want a second shot: 'You had your moment, now f--- off'." But there's a sweet twist to this story: the movie, written and directed by Stallone, is not only not embarrassing, it's a provocative exploration of heroism and aging, and provides a poignant exit for a character that has become a baby-boomer icon of American manhood. Early in the film, when Rocky begins to think about fighting again, he tells his brother-in-law, Paulie, "I think there's still some stuff in the basement." You don't need to talk to Stallone for long to realize he's still got some in his. "It nags me that I took the easy way instead of the high road," he says. "But everyone makes mistakes. I look around at people my age, and I can see it in their eyes--a kind of bittersweet reflection: 'I didn't live the life that I wanted, and now I've got all this stuff I want to say, but nobody wants to hear it.' I was feeling that, and if you don't get it out, it can become a beast that tears you apart."

When "Rocky" was released 30 years ago, it was a scrappy, low-budget movie with a lead actor whose previous credits included roles such as "Subway Thug No. 1." According to "Rocky" lore, Stallone wrote the screenplay in 86 hours and then, even though he had only $106 in the bank, refused to sell it unless he got to star. The film became a sensation. "Rocky" earned $117 million and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. It won best picture, beating out "Taxi Driver," "Network" and "All the President's Men." Stallone was 30. "It was so much, so soon, and it kind of distorted everything," he says now. "Where do you go from there? You become, in a sense, a brand. It's a good thing, but if you wanted to be a character actor, that's over." In fact, audiences weren't eager to see him play anything else, except maybe Rambo. While the "Rocky" and "Rambo" movies killed at the box office, and made Stallone one of the highest-paid actors of the '80s, most of his other work--"Tango & Cash," "Oscar," "Judge Dredd"--was derided, ignored or both. Of the 22 other films he made between 1976 and 2002, only one, "Cliffhanger," grossed more than $65 million. Over the years, Stallone often complained that he wasn't being allowed to grow beyond the "Rocky" movies. Still, he kept making them. Then "Rocky V," featuring a bankrupt Balboa, flopped. "It was my fault," he says. "Everything in it was dark and dismal. People came to that movie for uplift and I took them into a mine shaft and turned out the lights." By the mid-'90s, Stallone, who had been on Hollywood's A list for almost 20 years, was suddenly on nobody's list. He hasn't had a starring role in six years. …

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