In Focus

Sylvester Stallone Still Has the Eye of the Tiger

Sylvester Stallone recently donated
Sylvester Stallone recently donated "Rocky" memorabilia, including boxing shorts, shoes, gloves and his famous robe, to the National Museum of American History. (Mark Finkenstaedt - For The Washington Post)
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2006

Now a proud member of the National Museum of American History's collection, alongside Ray Charles's tuxedo and Judy Garland's ruby slippers, are Rocky Balboa's boxing gloves.

Rocky's gloves, not Sylvester Stallone's.

"It's not Sylvester Stallone being put in there, you know, it's Rocky," he says after the dedication ceremony. "I'm just there in the audience with the rest of the people, watching."

Stallone likes to tell the story of what happens whenever he shows up at a Philadelphia sporting event. It happened again this month, during a "Monday Night Football" game. His face appeared on a Jumbotron and the chant began: "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!"

But the people aren't cheering for a writer and thespian who lives in Los Angeles and enjoys the wrinkle-reducing power of certain chemical concoctions. They're cheering for a scruffy underdog boxer who takes knock after sledgehammer knock and inevitably staggers back to his feet for a mettle-fueled victory.

It's a strange thing, certainly, for a real man to be devoured by a fictional one. Henry Winkler was synonymous with the Fonz. Christopher Reeve was Superman. Stallone has it worse with Rocky.

He is creator, embodiment and steward of the character. He owns the myth but has done stints as slave to his Frankenstein. Now he's throwing the old boy in the ring once again, trying to choreograph a final fight and redeem Rocky's good name, which is maybe the only way he can resurrect his own.

That it might backfire, bringing ridicule on them both, is the risk he is choosing to ignore. The release of "Rocky Balboa" (which opens Wednesday) has at least brought him back into the spotlight, stopped people from forgetting.

" 'Rocky VI' is about being a little obsolete. The parade has gone by," Stallone said to a crowd of flashing cameras posturing for a shot of the aging Italian Stallion. "And actually, the parade had gone by."

There was a time, three decades ago, when Rocky's life didn't much mirror Sylvester Stallone's. Stallone was a man of the arts, after all, a guy who spent time teaching physical education in Switzerland and later a drama major at the University of Miami. Rocky was a barely intelligible lug with a brutal life contained in the gray expanses of Philadelphia's streets.

But from the moment Stallone gave Rocky over to the masses, their fates seemed to merge. And the two have never been more inseparable than now, both fighting for relevance in a world plenty ready to move on.

It was in Washington that Stallone first realized he had been replaced by Rocky. Shooting a scene from the forgettable "F.I.S.T." (1978) on the floor of the Senate, he heard someone shout, "Yo, Rocky! Yo, Rocky!" and looked up to see Sen. Edward M. Kennedy waving from the balcony.

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