There comes a time where a man has to sacrifice everything he has in order to make it in life. When you hear of the name, Sylvester Stallone, you think of The Great Rocky, a story about a small time boxer in Philadelphia getting a chance to fight against Apollo, the world’s heavyweight champion, eventually winning, and bringing Rocky to fame.
But the story’s script isn’t just about a story of a boxer; it’s about a story of a struggling person in real life, trying to make it big. Before Rocky, Sylvester Stallone, also known as “Sly” had to find a way to make people believe in him. But it was very difficult, especially since at birth, there were complications during his mother’s labor that caused parts of his face to be paralyzed, giving him a slurred speech and a drooping lower lip.
All his life, he had to cope with this. From coaching in Switzerland, to studying in the University of Miami, to trying to pursue his dream as an actor in New York, a state known for its many fashionable and entertainment cities, he already looked kind of different from other the people. When he went and tried out for jobs as an actor, he was often put down.
“They looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you’re stupid looking. Do something else…’”
They simply told Sly that there was no place for him in “that stuff”. They told him that he was never going to be a star in the movies because nobody wants to listen to someone who looks dopey and talks out of the side of their mouth.
But Sly knew what he wanted. Ever since he was very young, he had always wanted to be in the movie business, and wouldn’t settle for anything else. It was a chance for him to not only let people escape for the moment, but to also inspire people at the same time.
So he kept at it. He kept pursuing more jobs, but each time, he got no after no after no. He said that he even went to agencies five, six, seven eight times. They all told him the same thing.
One day though, he was in luck. He had tried so many times that he remembers meeting this one man at an agency. It was 4 o’clock when he went there but the man said he wouldn’t see Sly. Sly didn’t leave however. He stayed there overnight. The next morning, the man came back and saw Sly still waiting there.
The man felt bad and said to him, “Fine come in here.” He sat down with him, told him about everything, and gave him his first movie appearance and his first job.
The bad thing was the role he played in was only for 20 seconds. He played the role of a thug that somebody would beat up in the movie. He did three movies like this because it was the only role he could get. Never getting anything out of, he realized it just wasn’t working. He needed to change his approach.
But the same time, he was struggling with financial issues. Sometimes he would starve, and other times he couldn’t even pay to have heat in his apartment. His wife would scream at him, telling him to go find a job. But he couldn’t. He knew deep down inside of him that he just couldn’t because of the consequences he might have if he were to ever get a normal job.
“I knew if I got a job, I’d get seduced back and I’d lose my hunger… I’d be caught up in that rhythm and that stuff… I’d feel that I got my life, and that my dream would gradually disappear. I wanted to keep that hunger, that hunger was the only thing I thought was my advantage.”
His wife didn’t understand though. They would go into these vicious fights. Furthermore, he was broke, he had no money, and his apartment was always freezing cold.
One day he decided to go into the public library because it was warm inside. He didn’t go inside to read or anything. As he was sitting down in this chair though, he realized that somebody had left a book there. It was a book on the poems of Edgar Allan Poe. He started reading it, and soon got into this man’s life, from how Poe died to why he lived such as mysterious life.
This was when things started to change for Sly.
Poe allowed Sly to get him out of himself. Life wasn’t about him so much anymore, but it started to become more about how he could touch other people and not worry so much about himself. That’s when he stopped trying to sell his acting talents and start working on his writing talents.
Sly started to write a bunch of screenplays, but nothing worked for him. He enjoyed what he did, but the more he wrote the more money he lost. He got to a point where he didn’t even have 50 bucks. Finally, he was able to sell a script that he wrote called Paradise Alley for 100 bucks. Even though he thought he had finally sold a script and thought he would make it big there, it didn’t do that much for him at that time. Eventually he was so broke that in order to survive; he pawned his wife’s jewelry in order to get some money.
His wife hated his guts after that he did that and their relationship ended. Now he didn’t have a wife, he didn’t have any food, and he didn’t have any money. The only thing that he had left was his dog, Butkus. And unlike his wife, Butkus was always there for him, giving him a kind of unconditional love that made him happy. He loved his dog more than anything else in the world.
But because he was so broke, he couldn’t even afford to feed his dog. There was only one last thing for him to do, and that was to sell his dog away for some money so he could survive. He went to the liquor store trying to sell his dog to strangers 50 bucks. Finally, a man came up to him and said that he wanted the dog, but didn’t want to pay 50 bucks for him. Sly was desperate and needed the money, so they negotiated. The man ended up giving Sly 25 bucks for the dog, and walked away with his best friend. It was the lowest day of Sly’s life, and all he could do was cry as he was walking away from the liquor store.
Two weeks later, he’s at home watching a fight between Muhammad Ali and Weaponer, this white guy who’s getting knocked around and beat up. But the weird thing he notices is this guy just keeps on coming back. He keeps on taking the hits and he keeps on fighting. Right then and there, he gets an idea.
As soon as the fight ended, he started to write like he’s never written before. He wrote for 20 straight hours and didn’t go to sleep. The script was about a nobody who gets a chance to fight one of the greatest boxers in the world. When he was done writing the script, he was shaking. He knew what he really wanted to do now. The hard part was over. Now, it was time to deliver.
Sly started going to agents asking if they would buy the script. They would all read it and tell him that this script was predictable… some said it stupid… others said it was sappy. Although he was broke and starving, he kept going trying to sell it. Nobody called him.
Finally, he meets these guys and they read it and believe in the script. Sly at the time was struggling to survive just to get food. He sold his dog for just 25 dollars, and when these guys were done reading the script, they offered him 125,000 dollars for it!
He said he would only do it under one condition though – if he were to star in it.
These guys were in disbelief, was this guy crazy?
“What are you talking about, you’re a writer,” they told him.
“No, no, no I’m an actor,” he replied.
“No, no, no. You’re a writer,” they replied to him.
“No, no, no I’m an actor,” he replied back, “This is my story and I’m Rocky. I got to play in it you know… I got to be the head person. I got to be the starring role.”
They told Sly that there was no way they were going to pay him 125,000 dollars to take some no-name in the movie and throw all their money away. They needed a real star. They told Sly to take their offer or leave it.
He left it.
With no money, broke, here was an offer for 125,000 dollars – more money than he’s ever seen in his lifetime – but he walked away because he knew what he wanted and was committed to it.
A few weeks later they came and brought him back in. This time they offered him a quarter of a million dollars not to star in his own movie. He turned down again. The 250,000 dollars out the window because he knew what he wanted.
Finally, they called him back one last time and offered him 325,000 dollars! They really wanted this script. But Sly told them that without him, the answer was no.
So they started to compromise. In the end, these guys didn’t give him 325,000 dollars, they didn’t give him 250,000 dollars, nor did they give him 125,000 dollars. They gave him 35,000 dollars and let Sly play the starring role in his movie script.
They told Sly, “If this is going to happen you’re going to take the risk with us and the bottom line is we don’t think it’s going to work, but at least we won’t spend a bunch of money on you.”
And they didn’t. They only spent a million dollars to start working on the script, but at least he was finally able to sell it and star in the movie. After he got 35,000 dollars, he didn’t have to worry about food or starving so much anymore. But he missed his best friend, Butkus.
Instead of celebrating after making the sell, he walked back to that same liquor star hoping that the man with Butkus might show up again. For three straight days, he had hoped and hoped that the man would show up at the store. He really wanted to buy his dog back.
The 3rd day he was there, the man and his dog walks by. He couldn’t believe it. It had been about a month and a half since he’d seen Butkus. He goes up to the man and says, “Do you remember me? I’m the guy who sold you that dog.”
“Yeah, yeah I remember you. I love the dog.”
“Look, I was so broke and I was starving. He was my best friend and I’m sure you love him too, but I got to have him back. Please I beg of you. I’ll pay you 100 dollars for the dog. I know you paid me 25 dollars for the dog, I’ll give you 100.”
“Absolutely not. There’s no way. He’s my dog now and you can’t buy him back.”
He changed his approach. He knew what he wanted.
“500 dollars for the dog.”
The man still remained stubborn.
He tried again.
“1000 dollars for the dog.”
The man then told him something Sly didn’t want to hear.
“No amount of money is going to ever get this dog from me.”
How did he finally get his dog back?
Sly offered the man 15,000 dollars and a part in Rocky. Rocky, the movie, which took 1.1 million dollars to make, ended up making 225 million dollars worldwide.
Life isn’t always easy. At least this is what I’ve learned from Sylvester Stallone’s story. Whether we are an aspiring writer, an artist, a musician, a dancer, a boxer, or a blogger, we got to be willing to accept the struggles we may face in our journey to chase our dreams. Life isn’t always going to hand us the opportunities we want; in fact, life can be really mean to us.
Sometimes we have go through the struggles, the rejections, the criticisms, the many-no’s from other people before we get a single yes. But there are some things in life that we are so hungry for that we’re not willing to settle for anything else, even if it causes us to sacrifice a part of us.
We might not have the looks, the intelligence, the fame, or the money right now, but if there is anything that the story of what Sly or Rocky can teach us is that if we are willing to go through a journey, however painful it may be, and keep going; it doesn’t matter what kind of disadvantage we may be at, eventually we will find a way to get there. That something, is what I refer to as, “the hits of life”. Each hit that life gives us makes us stronger and the harder life hits us, the more we need to bounce back and move on. That’s what makes a winner at the end of the day.