Sly Stallone, Sylvester Stallone, Rocky. Rocky’s story is this even, right? But Sly’s is too. Sly is a good friend of mine and when I first met him years ago, he’s listening to my tapes and stuff and he invited me over for dinner. We started talking and I said, “You know, I’ve heard your story from other people. But I would really like to hear it from the horse’s mouth. I don’t know how much is mythology and urban myth and how much is true.”
So he told me his whole story. He said the essence of it though was he knew his whole life what he wanted to do since he was very, very young. He wanted to be in the movie business, period. I mean not just TV, movies. Yes, he said why was – for him it was a chance to have people – not only escape but to inspire people and by the way, that drive is what made most of his movies inspire people to what they’re capable of, to overcome unbelievable obstacles because in his own life, he felt like he did that.
When he was born, he was pulled out by the forceps that’s why he looked the way he did. That’s why he talked the way he did. And he said, “So I really want to do that and I knew why I want to do it and I wasn’t going to settle for anything else.” And he said, “What happened was, I went out to try and get jobs and it’s not like [0:00:58] [Indiscernible] and they went, ‘You, you’re a star.’ It didn’t work out real well.”
They looked at me and said, “Hey, you’re stupid looking. Do something else.” He was just talking like this. “There’s no place for you in that stuff. You’re never going to be a star in the movies. You’re insane. No one is going to want all of this if somebody looks dopey and talks out of the side of their mouth, right? And he got no after no after no after no. He said, “I was thrown out more than 1500 times of agent’s offices in New York.” I said, “There aren’t 1500 agents in New York.” He said, “I know. I’ve been to them five, six, seven, eight, nine times.” [02:01:31] [Indiscernible] went in there and I got in there at 4 o’clock and he wouldn’t see me so I stayed there and I wouldn’t leave and I stayed overnight. When he came back the next morning, I was still sitting there. He said, “That’s why I got my first job.” The guy said, “Fine. Come in here.” He sat down and he went through this and he gave him that first movie. I said, “Oh really? I thought Rocky was your first movie.” He said, “No, this other movie.” I’ve never heard of it. I said, “Well, what character do you play?” He said, “I was in it for about 20 seconds. I was a thug that somebody beat up.” He said, “Because they made me feel like [Indiscernible] you’re getting beat up. It will be a good thing.”
He did like three movies like that, never got anything, kept going out, rejection, rejection, rejection. So finally he realized it wasn’t working. So he changed his approach. He said, “I was starving by the way.” He said, “I couldn’t pay for even to have heat in my apartment. My wife was screaming at me everyday to go get a job.” I said, “Well, why didn’t you?” He said, “Because I knew that if I got a job,” he said, “I would get seduced back and I would lose my hunger.”
He said, “I knew that the only way I could do this is if it was the only choice, if I burned all other bridges because if I did a normal job, pretty soon, I would be caught up in that rhythm and that stuff and I would feel OK about my life and I feel like my dream would just gradually disappear.” He said, “I wanted to keep that hunger. That hunger is the only thing I thought was my advantage.” He said, “My wife didn’t understand that at all.” He said, “We got these vicious fights,” and he said it was freezing. “So I was broke. We have no money,” and he said, “So I finally went to the public library one day because it was warm.” He said, “I didn’t want to read anything. Just I went in, the New York Public Library.” He said, “I was hanging out there. I sat down this chair and somebody left a book there,” and he said, “I looked at this book and there were stories of Edgar Allan Poe.” And he said, “So I started reading it. I got totally into Edgar Allan Poe.” He said, “I know everything about him,” and he goes on for another 20 minutes telling me about Edgar Allan Poe. He knows everything, how he died, what he was about, what really happened.
I said, “What did Poe do for you?” He said, “Poe got me out of myself. He got me to think about how I could touch other people, not worry about myself so much.” He said, “He made me decide to become a writer.” I said, “Just imagine, Rocky the writer, right?” And he said, “So I tried to write a bunch of screenplays. Nothing worked. Nothing worked. I was totally broke.” He said, “I didn’t even have 50 bucks,” and he said, “Finally, I sold a script. It was called Paradise Alley. It’s the movie I made many years later but I sold it.” And he said, “I sold it for 100 bucks.” He said, “But 100 bucks was a ton of money, man. I was so thrilled. I thought I’m on my way but it never led to anything.”
He said, “So finally, I kept going and going and going.” He said, “Finally, we were so broke, I hocked my wife’s jewelry.” He said, “Tony, there are some things in life you should never do.” He said, “That was basically the end of our relationship. She hated my guts so much.” He said, “Now we are so broke. We had nothing, no food, no money.” And he said, “The one thing I love most in the world was my dog.” He said, “I love my dog because he gave me unconditional love unlike my wife.”
And he said, “So what happened was that we were so broke, that to survive, I couldn’t even feed my dog so I went to a liquor store.” He said, “It was the lowest day of my life and I stood outside the liquor store trying to sell my dog to strangers.” He said, “I tried to sell my dog for 50 bucks.” And he said, “Finally, this one guy negotiated with me and bought my dog from me, my best friend on earth for $25.” He said, “I walked away from there and I cried.” He said, “It was the worst thing that ever happened to my life.”
He said, “Two weeks later, I’m watching a fight between Muhammad Ali and Wepner, this white guy that’s getting bludgeoned but just keeps on coming,” and he said, “I got an idea.” He said, “As soon as the fight ended, I started writing.” He said, “I wrote for 20 straight hours. I did not sleep. I wrote the entire movie in 20 hours straight, right then. Saw the fight, wrote the movie, whole thing done.” He said, “I was shaking at the end. I was so excited. So I really knew, man. I knew what I wanted. I knew why I wanted it.” He said, “Just like [0:05:03] [Indiscernible] formula.” He said, “But man, I took the action. Now it’s time to deliver.” So he said, “I went out and started trying to sell it to agents and they all would read it and they would say, “You know, this is predictable. This is stupid. This is sappy.” He said, “I wrote down all the things they said and I read them the night of the Oscars when we won.”
Right? It was really good, right? So the greatest revenge is massive success. So what happened was he said, “I kept going, trying to sell it, trying to sell it. Nobody got it. I’m broke. I’m starving.” He said, “Finally, I meet these guys. They read it and they believed in the script and they loved it and they offer me $125,000 for my script.” I said, “Oh my god. You must have been out of your mind.” He said, “I was. I said just one thing though, guys. You got a deal based on one thing.” And they said, “What’s that?” He said, “I got to star in it.” They went – what are you talking about? You’re a writer. He said, “No, no. I’m an actor.” They said, “No, no, no. You’re a writer.” He said, “No, no. I’m an actor. That is my story and I’m Rocky.”
He said, “I got to play it. I got to be the head person. I got to be the starring role.” “There’s no way we’re going to pay you $125,000, take some no-name and stick you in that and throw our money away. We need a star.” And they want to have Ryan O’Neal play Rocky, to give you a picture. Can you imagine? That’s who they picked, right? And so he said, “No way. Ryan O’Neal isn’t Rocky. I’m Rocky. We do this whole thing right.” They said, “Well, take it or leave it.” He said, “I left the room.” I said, “If that’s what you believe, you don’t get my script,” and he left. Here’s a man with no money, none, totally broke, offered $125,000, more money that he had seen in his lifetime and he walked away because he knew his real – what? Knew his real what? And why he wanted it. He was committed to it.
So he said they called him a few weeks later and they came running back and they offered him a quarter of a million dollars, not to star in his own movie. He turned it down, $250,000. They came back. Their final offer was $325,000. They wanted this thing. He said, “Not without me,” and he said no. They finally compromised and they gave him $35,000 and [Indiscernible] [0:07:10] of the movie because they said, “If this is going to happen, then you’re going to take the risk with us and the bottom line is we don’t take it [Indiscernible] and spend a bunch of money on you.”
And then they only spent a million dollars to make Rocky and it grossed $200 million. I mean it was done pretty well but what’s interesting about this is here’s – I said, “What did you do?” Even $35,000, it’s not a quarter of a million, that’s a lot of money when you only have 25 bucks. I said, “What’s the first thing you did? I figured you went out and partied or something.” He said, “I went to that liquor store for three straight days and hoped that the man who had my dog frequented the store.”
He says, “I want to buy back my dog.” That was really cool, right? That was really cool. I said, “What happened?” He said, “Third day I was there, this guy walks by and I see him and I can’t believe it and there’s my dog. And I looked at him. I said, ‘Sir, remember me?’” And he said, “It had been about a month and a half by the time this had all come about.” He said, “Remember me? You know, I’m the guy who sold you the dog.” He goes, “Yes, yes. I love the dog.” He said, “Look, I was so broke. I was starving. He’s my best friend. I’m sure you love him too but I got to have him back. Please, I beg of you.” He said, “I will pay you $100 for the dog. I know you paid me $25. I will give you $100.” The man said, “Absolutely not. No way. It’s my dog now. You can’t buy him back.”
All right? And Sly said, “You know, Tony. Know your outcome.” He said, “I knew it. I kept changing my approach so I went $500 for the dog.” The guy said, “Absolutely no way.” He said, “A thousand dollars for my dog.” The guy said, “No amount of money is ever going to get this dog for you.” So what did you do? He said, “I knew my outcome.” Right? [0:08:39] [Indiscernible] He said, “I started taking massive action.” He said, “I got my dog. I just kept changing my approach so I got him.” I said, “What did it cost you?” Fifteen thousand dollars and a part in Rocky. The guy is in Rocky. You know that dog in Rocky? Butkus? That’s Sly’s real dog. Right? That’s the dog. He bought it back. So he put his dog in the movie and he put the guy in the movie, paid him 15 grand while he only had $35,000. Isn’t that pretty cool? It’s pretty awesome.
Thanks for sharing Sam – lessons here are that he believed in something and went all out after it. And he absolutely refused to take no for an answer. I don’t think anything can stand in the way of a person that has that level of belief and commitment.