I’m scarred but not permanently mangled.
Sylvester (Rocky) Stallone moves restlessly on in search of some new metaphor to do justice to the melodrama of his life. “It was like I was involved in a volcanic experience,” goes his latest. “I was in the lava, boiling, boiling. And I exploded and scattered all over the place. But eventually I cooled down and returned to being lava…Rocky lava!” The heat goes on, but Stallone is barely exaggerating the reality of the personal upheavals in his 32nd year. Granted, his rousing pug epic, Rocky, was the Hollywood Alger story of 1977. Yet Sly himself—a newly minted sex symbol and box office heavyweight—ended up an admitted “paper success,” playing rope-a-dope with the body blows of star shock.
In front of a we-told-you-so movie community, the Italian Stallion swaggered off into a crazy time of self-importance. He left Sasha, his through-thin-and-thick mate of eight years (three his wife), for a fling with Joyce Ingalls, the 26-year-old co-star of his forthcoming Paradise Alley. Earlier, his semiautobiographical novelization of this auteur film (he’s director, writer, and star) was stomped on by jeering literary critics. Ugly stories seeped from Stallone’s sets—that he wouldn’t allow anyone to use the bathroom during shooting and issued Napoleonic bans on actors taller than his own 5’10”.
Then too there was the embarrassment of A Party at Kitty and Stud’s, a soft-core nudie film Stallone made during his scrambling days—which was revived on Hollywood private screening rounds. (“I was cold and sick and broke,” he has explained.) Sly was personally disappointed that though Rocky won the best picture Oscar, he himself lost both best actor and best writer bids. Stallone’s “roaches to riches” (his sardonic phrase) Rocky profits, meanwhile, were frozen in a dispute with United Artists. At the same time, Stallone was shaken further when his longtime manager and friend Jane Oliver died of cancer at 46.
“I feel as though I am 10 to 15 mental years older,” reflects a chastened Sly after his yearlong rocky horror show. “But through all the pain and chaos, everyone has emerged visibly matured.” The first sign that Stallone was exorcising his personal demons—not to mention Joyce Ingalls—came at the ritzy L.A. film festival premiere of his current and first post-Rocky film, F.I.S.T. (in which he plays a Hoffaesque labor titan). Dramatically, he appeared clutching Sasha’s hand to announce that their three-month split had healed. “We got together the evening before,” explains Sasha, 27. “Sly said, ‘You’re going with me,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’ ”
Sly professes not to understand now why he left Sasha for Ingalls (who also separated from her film-editor husband). While making F.I.S.T. over an eight-week stretch in Dubuque, he claims, “the pressures became overwhelming. The problems of the character were burrowing into my own life. There was a radical change in my behavior, bordering on witchcraft. I was possessed,” he concludes, adding, “Poe said it best: ‘I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.’ ” Stallone’s manager Herb Nanas blames it on “the social changes” of stardom. “It just happened. After many years of being with someone, you’re not always as madly in love as you were the first day.”
So what brought him back to Sasha? “The little pieces of seven-grain wholewheat bread she left outside my door,” he jokes (both are health food junkies). More seriously, he says he suddenly realized, “I was beginning to careen off into a way of undiscipline.” It has been suggested Stallone may also have felt that Ingalls was using him to advance her career.
As part of his pax vobiscum, Stallone has simultaneously made up with F.I.S.T.‘s author Joe Eszterhas, from whom he forcibly extracted a co-screenwriting credit. “We had a clash of egos,” admits Sly. “Now I feel as though I was robbing his house.” After the premiere Stallone embraced Eszterhas, saying, “What’s up there is 95 percent yours. You will collect the Oscar.” (With mixed notices neither may need a tux.) At the premiere director Norman Jewison held up a broken left wrist from playing ice hockey and ruefully cracked, “This is not a result of fighting with Sly over the ending.” (In fact, Stallone had argued unsuccessfully against the tragic denouement.)
Sly does seem to be mellowing and sorting out his professional life. When he finally collected his Rocky money after a year (his other manager, Jeff Wald, got Hubert Humphrey to intercede), the check was delivered in an armored truck. The total is known only to the IRS, but his price leaped to a half million for F.I.S.T. and a reported $2 million for the Rocky II sequel that begins shooting in September with “a much better script than Rocky I,” says author Stallone. (He and Talia Shire wind up marrying.) As for the comments about his Paradise Alley megalomania—it’s a sort of Stallone docudrama about his old New York City Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood—Sly did bring it in under its $4 million budget and ahead of schedule. “The character is like me,” he says, “not an intellectual, but a genius and extremely devious.” Regarding the reports about not letting his crew go to the bathroom, Stallone protests, “I run a tight set, not a smelly one.”
Is it possible that behind all the Stallone braggadocio lurks a sensitive soul? “I’m crazy about him,” raves Melinda (Close Encounters) Dillon, Stallone’s co-star in F.I.S. T. “I admire his inaccessibility, his ability to protect his space, to protect himself. He comes on tough but is very, very gentle.” For all his macho posturing, Sly himself recognizes that “unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, my exterior does not reflect my inner self. I seem to be a street sort—dangerous, unmanageable, rebellious. All true.” But, he adds, “there is also a library of emotions inside of me that are much more on the gentle side.”
Ever since their reconciliation, Sasha reports, Sly has turned “more vulnerable” at home with her and their son, Sage Moonblood, 2. (Even during the separation Sly continued regular visits to see Sage, who was conceived only after his parents consulted astrological charts to ensure his birth under the sign of Taurus, Libra moon and Leo rising—for intelligence.) They are moving from a Beverly Hills place rented furnished from Edie Adams to a French-style country house in swanky Pacific Palisades, which they selected before their split.
Though he still surrounds himself with sycophants, Sly is learning to be “suspicious” of motives. “People butter me up on both sides, like a stale piece of toast. I get stroked so much I feel like a 185-pound blister,” he laughs. As for the turmoil of the last year, “It’s all been a blur,” he reflects. “It’s like going past the countryside at 100 mph and somebody asks, ‘Did you see that beautiful oak tree?’ and you say, ‘Well, they all look the same after a while.’ I’m going to have to go back and slow down, put my life in reverse and see that oak tree.” In the meantime, he claims to be “happier than I’ve ever been,” then amends himself. “I try to remain happy Monday through Friday and then I go into an inconsolable depression on weekends. That way,” he smiles, “I get a nice balance.”