Sylvester Stallone is one of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood. Synonymous with the title characters from movies like "Rocky" and "Rambo," Stallone has churned out action movies, sports movies, dramas, and even some ill-advised comedies over the last 40 years, and although those films haven't always been met with the best reviews, he's also scored some critical hits — including some major award-winners — along the way. Needless to say, Stallone is a very public figure, but even after all these years in the spotlight, there are still many sides to him that aren't very well known. With all that in mind, here's a look at the surprising truth about Sylvester Stallone.
He used to clean up lion poop and scalp movie tickets
Despite coming from a slightly well-to-do background, Stallone still had to earn his own way as a young man. He lived in New York City in the 1960s and early '70s, and worked a variety of odd jobs while trying to score roles in plays, movies, and TV. Among those positions: cleaning out the lion cages at the Central Park Zoo and working as an usher at a Walter Reade Cinemas. He made extra money at the movie theater by scalping tickets to sold-out shows. That tactic — and the job — ended when he tried to sell a ticket to "M*A*S*H" to the owner of the theater.
He did a little porn
By 1970, Stallone had been living in New York for about a year, and like most actors who move to the Big Apple, he was starving and endured periods of homelessness. So he did what he had to do and took a job starring in a softcore pornographic movie called "The Party at Kitty & Stud's." Stallone plays "Stud," and the "party" is more of a drugged-out orgy. Stallone earned a cool 200 bucks for the movie. While there's a ton of nudity, all the sex was simulated.
Rocky was a DIY thing
Apart from the lead role in "Party at Kitty & Stud's" and bit parts in movies like Woody Allen's "Bananas," Stallone had a hard time landing much acting work at first. So in 1975 he sat down and wrote himself a juicy role: down-and-out boxer Rocky Balboa, the star of "Rocky." He wrote it just under four days, and producers offered him $350,000 for the screenplay. One problem: they didn't want him to star. Even though he had just $106 in his bank account and a pregnant wife at home, Stallone held firm and got the part — in exchange for taking just $20,000 for the script and $20 to star. The film itself was budgeted at just $1 million ... but it went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards and instantly put Stallone on the A-list.
He could've been Superman
A big-budget, big-screen version of "Superman" went into production in 1976-'77, just after Stallone became a huge star with "Rocky." He was in consideration to play the Man of Steel, but director Richard Donner ultimately didn't think he was right for the part, as well as wanting to go with a relatively unknown actor (the role ended up going to Christopher Reeve, and the rest was history). But it was the rejection of another major player that may have really sealed Stallone's dismissal: his intense, sensitive-tough guy performance in "Rocky" earned him favorable comparisons to Marlon Brando. Brando had been cast in "Superman" as Jor-El — and he reportedly refused to be in a movie with someone who might upstage him.
As a major movie star for more than 40 years, Stallone has almost landed plenty of roles. On a 2014 appearance on "The Tonight Show," Stallone revealed that he auditioned to play Han Solo in "Star Wars." He could instantly tell that director George Lucas wasn't interested and bowed out, telling filmmakers that he "would look like crap in spandex, leotards, and a ray gun." In 2006, Stallone told Ain't It Cool News of "several films I missed out on and wished I'd done." Those films: the 1978 Vietnam War homefront drama "Coming Home" (which earned an Oscar for Jon Voight), the 1985 Amish country police mystery Witness (which landed Harrison Ford an Oscar nomination), and the dark and twisted 1995 thriller "Se7en."
He plays the sport of kings
While Stallone very convincingly played a boxer in umpteen "Rocky" movies and, to a lesser extent, a soccer star in "Victory," the sport he's spent the most time playing is not what one would expect. From childhood until the present day, Stallone has been heavy into polo. (After all, Stallone translates to "stallion," which is a type of horse.) After his father's chain of Maryland-based hair salons brought a lot of cash into their family, Stallone played in his first match at age 11. He's even participated in celebrity polo tournaments in Los Angeles.
He packed on the pounds on purpose with pancakes
After spending much of the '90s starring in critically savaged (and largely commercially unsuccessful) duds like "Oscar" and "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot," Stallone earned real critical praise and Oscar buzz for the first time since "Rocky" with the 1997 police drama "Cop Land." To play the role of a past-his-prime New Jersey sheriff who takes on corrupt cops, Stallone had to replace all the muscles he'd shown off for "Cliffhanger" and the "Rambo" movies with fat. In total, Stallone packed on about 40 pounds. And he did it the fun way: by eating as many diner pancakes as he could stomach. "These pancakes were so big you could put an axle in them and drive home," Stallone said about the experience.
He had his own magazine
Just like Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, and Martha Stewart, Stallone had his very own magazine. Hitting newsstands in 2005, Sly was aimed at men over 50, offering fitness and nutrition tips and other articles about healthful, high-quality living. (And, in the case of the first issue, an interview with porn star Jenna Jameson, for some reason.) Sly folded ... after just four issues.
He sold a line of pudding
In the early 2000s, a food scientist and an inventor got together to create a specially formulated pudding just for bodybuilders. It was intended to compete with energy bars or powders, but had no sugar and tons of protein. Stallone, sensing a good investment, founded a nutritional supplement company called Instone and marketed the low-carb, low-calorie, high-protein food as "Stallone High Protein Pudding." The business deal ultimately soured and the pudding quickly disappeared from store shelves, but not before Stallone put in a bizarre appearance on Larry King Live touting how science made his pudding an ideal health food for people who don't have "that kind of biotanical grocery store next to you." Stallone also said that the pudding was great for "burning thermogenics" and "forcity" (whatever those things are).
He's a visual artist
Stallone writes ("Rocky")! Stallone directs (the Broadway musical drama and "Saturday Night Fever" sequel "Staying Alive")! Stallone ...paints! He actually started when he was eight years old (with a portrait of a proto-human in a jungle setting), but took it up seriously around 1975. In the past 40 years, he believes he's finished as many as 400 pieces, including "Finding Rocky" and "The Electric Burst of Creativity." His style is expressionistic, bordering on abstract. Stallone has held exhibitions of his work at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice, France.
The Razzies love him
The Golden Raspberry Awards were established in 1981 to "honor" the worst films of the year. At the ceremony, held in Los Angeles the night before the Academy Awards, recipients of the "Razzie" receive a gold spray-painted raspberry trophy. No one has received more vitriol from the Razzie Awards than Stallone — he's been nominated more than 30 times and won on 10 occasions. Among these "victories" are Worst Actor trophies for "Rhinestone," "Rambo III," and "Tango & Cash"; Worst Screenplay for "Rambo: First Blood Part II"; and Worst Screen Couple (with Sharon Stone) for "The Specialist." The Razzies even created special awards just to trash Stallone a little more, including Worst Actor of the Decade (covering his 1980s output) and Worst Actor of the Century in 2000. After Stallone was nominated for Worst Actor of the Century, Razzies founder John Wilson told The Hollywood Reporter that he received "a voicemail that sounded like" Stallone, complaining. "For legal reasons we can't say it was him — but his point was 'my movies make money, stop picking on me.'
However, after his Academy Award-nominated turn in 2015's "Rocky" spinoff "Creed," the organization showed him a little love, honoring him with the Redeemer Award, for moving "from all-time Razzie champ to award contender." Four years later, he was back to earning the disdain of the Razzies, racking up Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor, and Worst Screen Combo (alongside "his impotent rage") for the franchise-ending "Rambo: Last Blood."
Sylvester Stallone almost landed a high-ranking job in the Trump administration
Shortly after Republican Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, he started to staff the many soon-to-be-vacant spots in his incoming administration. In December 2016, The Daily Mail reported that President-Elect Trump was considering Sylvester Stallone, who had supported Republican candidate John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and had reportedly publicly called the new chief executive "larger than life," for the position of chairman of National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA is a federal-level agency that provides funds and grants to artists and creative undertakings, and Stallone taking the job wouldn't have been without precedent, as another actor, Jane Alexander, once chaired the organization.
According to Deadline, Stallone was at least informally considered for the job, which carried a $146 million budget. In a statement, he said he was "flattered" by the idea, but wasn't interested, expressing a desire to serve his country in some other way. As he put it, "I believe I could be more effective by bringing national attention to returning military personnel in an effort to find gainful employment, suitable housing, and financial assistance."
Sylvester Stallone's role in The Suicide Squad was written for him at the last minute
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
The 2021 movie "The Suicide Squad" represents many surprising Hollywood comebacks. It's a second take for "Suicide Squad," a film that just five years earlier earned $750 million, is written and directed by James Gunn, getting a second chance after a Hollywood rejection over old and unseemly tweets, and it features one-time long-ago action movie superstar and Academy Award-winner Sylvester Stallone in a rare supporting role that doesn't even show his famous face. In the film about a team-up of villains in the Batman universe, Stallone voices King Shark, a walking, talking land shark that eats people but who's still a likable guy.
At a promotional event (via TheWrap), Gunn admitted that he wrote the role with Stallone in mind, but said he was "afraid" that the actor's distinctive voice wouldn't be a good fit. "So we had a huge audition process with tons of voice actors," Gunn said, revealing that three different voice actors each recorded virtually the entire movie, but none of them felt right. In the end, Gunn approached Stallone. When he described King Shark as a "big, kinda chubby, human-eating shark," Gunn tweeted that Stallone laughed and signed on, quipping, "Anything for you, brother."
Is Sylvester Stallone starting to slow down?
In its first weekend of theatrical release in August 2021 "The Suicide Squad" earned $35.1 million and became the No. 1 film at the North American box office. That achievement was also monumental in the career of Sylvester Stallone, who voices King Shark. Since his career began in earnest in the mid-1970s, according to Deadline, Stallone has starred in 46 theatrically released films, of which nearly half — 20 in all — topped the weekly box office charts. Not only does the actor have a lot of hits, he's been consistent with them, and for a very long time. In fact, Stallone has appeared in aNo. 1 movie in six straight decades, from the 1970s, through to the 2020s, a Hollywood scarcity.
Stallone has established a long resume of films, if not a legacy, and as he approaches his late 70s, he's starting to look back on what he's done — and what, if anything, is left. "At my age, I look at every film like maybe it's my last bullet. I try to aim it in the right direction and work hard on it," he told Esquire Middle East. "It wasn't always like that. In the '80s I felt like I was going to live forever."