Knock Out Your Financial Problems Like Rocky

We were deeply pondering over a poignant question raised by Grace (of Graceful Retirement) when we read her article last Sunday.
Question LadyTwo recent news items have left me both depressed and thoughtful about the loss of financial security and the subsequent impact on one's mental health. The first was the death of 53 year old Carlene Balderrama who could not face the debt she had hidden from her family nor the impending foreclosure on their 4-year old home.

The second and most recent was adoptive mother, Sylvia Sieferman, age 60, in Minnesota. She not only tried to kill herself, but her two 11 year old Chinese daughters as well. Sylvia's story struck me the hardest. She is closer to my age, she has adopted children, she is a single parent, and she is participating in an age-discrimination lawsuit against her former employer.......... And yet, how did money ever get to be more important than life itself?
After some careful contemplation we arrived at the conclusion that money does become greater than life when we choose to give it that much importance. Don't get us wrong. We do understand that money is a necessary means of exchange to procure requisite resources to sustain life. But it can never be greater than life itself. Money cannot buy life. Else the rich would have never died! They would have bought a way out each time death arrived, thus paving their way to the ever elusive "immortality."

If we look around, we'll see that the universe has been constantly upholding inspiring stories where the human spirit has triumphed over difficult obstacles presented by life. And in the process each soul has emerged ever stronger than before. We shudder to think about the consequences if these people had ended their lives instead of facing it like brave warriors.

Sylvestor StalloneOne such befitting story which is an uplifting example for those of us struggling with financial problems is that of Sylvester Stallone. His perseverance and courage is heart rending and has always inspired us to the core of our beings.

Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone was born to Frank Stallone Sr. and Jacqueline Labofish, in Hell’s Kitchen, NY on July 6, 1946. Right from his first moments at birth, he was set on a road for a challenging life. An accident during his forceps delivery severed a nerve in his face, which resulted in his trademark slurred speech and drooping facial features. Stallone’s parents had a rough relationship, leading him to spend several years in foster homes during his childhood.

Eventually he returned to his family in Maryland with his younger brother Frank. That did not mean good times were ahead. His parents divorced soon, leaving Stallone to relocate with his mother to her new husband’s hometown of Philadelphia, PA. The trauma and stress of his early years were often expressed by frequent expulsions from schools and bouts with loneliness and anger. By the time he landed in a school for troubled youth, his classmates had given him the name “Most Likely to End Up in the Electric Chair.” At this time, the only positive outlets for his energy were through exercise and sports.

Now let's move on to Stallone's adult life when he was trying hard to launch his acting career. Though he had a brawny physique, his speech impediment made it difficult for him to find substantial roles. By 1973 he had more than 600 rejections in total. Almost every casting agency in New York city had shown him the door.

To keep himself afloat and try his luck with casting agents during the day time, Stallone took up whatever odd jobs that came his way: like being a fish-head cutter, lion cage cleaner, bouncer, usher and more. Even that was not enough to make ends meet. So he began writing screenplays. And it was definitely far from easy. Here is a recall of his first screenplay in his own words:
I had written one hundred and eighty pages of garbage ..... but even though the script was bad, it gave me a sense of accomplishment .... I did sit down and I did complete a story from beginning to end. For better or worse, it's there. This was something new for me because I was a man who had never passed an English course.
The next eighteen months saw Stallone persevering and completing eight screenplays. That was good news. The bad one was that he was unable to sell any of them. At this point, he realized that New York was not working out for him. So he decided to move to Hollywood and try his luck there.

The year was 1975. Unfortunately Stallone still had no luck in selling his scripts at Hollywood either. His bank account had only $106 and his beat-up car had just blown up. To add to his woes his wife, Sasha, was pregnant with their first child. Things were definitely not rosy. Soon he ran out of money and life saw him standing outside a store trying to sell his beloved dog and best friend, Butkus (a 135 pound bullmastiff) to strangers for $50. Someone finally bought the dog for $25 leaving a tear stained Stallone walking back home alone. He still remembers that day as one of the lowest points of his life:
It was either the dog or us. Trust me. I thought it was over.
Sylvester & SashaSoon after that, life presented him with a seed of an opportunity. He saw a fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner in which the latter was a 30:1 underdog. This inspired him to develop the screenplay for Rocky. It called for dedication and hard work but Stallone was never shy of them. For the next three and a half days, he and his wife immersed themselves into completing the first draft for Rocky without sleep! This was a great feat considering the fact that Sasha was pregnant.

When Stallone took the finished script to his agent, he was given an offer of $75,000 from United Artists. For a person in Stallone's shoes, that was a great amount of money. More so, because he was broke and his first baby was on its way. However there was a catch to the situation. United Artists wanted a well-known actor like Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman or Al Pacino to play the lead role. But Stallone's heart was set on playing the lead. To pacify him, United Artists came back with an offer of $200,000 for the script without Stallone in the lead role. Sylvester refused to budge! United Artists jacked up the offer to $340,000 to which Stallone said:
I would sooner burn the script .... than to have anyone else play Rocky. Even if the price goes up to a million, no sale.
It takes a lot of courage to do what Stallone did when one is broke and going through a lean patch in life. It definitely shows that great people passionately believe in their dreams and give it top priority even when they have their back on the wall.

Stallone & ButkusComing back to Stallone's story, the producers at United Artists finally gave in and allowed him to play the lead in Rocky. But it came with a price. Since he was a rookie (as a lead) they lowered the budget for the film to $1 million (from $2 million) dollars. Stallone was paid a meager $20,000 for the script and a paltry salary of $350 per week for his acting duties. But Sylvester was clever enough to negotiate the deal so that he could receive 8 percent of the film's net profits.

Wait, don't go off. That is not the end of the story. There is more to show that life is more important than money.

After Stallone received $20,000 for the script, guess what he did with it? He returned to the store to look for the stranger who had purchased Butkus, hoping that the man would return. But he had no luck on the first day. Nevertheless he kept on trying. On the third day the man returned and Stallone offered to buy the dog back from him for $100. The man professed his love for the dog and refused to sell it. To this, Stallone offered him $1000 to which he replied that no amount of money was going to buy Stallone his dog. This made Stallone even more determined to get back his dog. He eventually paid the man $15,000 for Butkus and a part in Rocky! Now he was left with only $5,000 for his wife's pregnancy. But he had faith that he would weather it and things would work out. Butkus went on to play Rocky's dog in the movie :). Through this incident, Stallone proved that love, life and dreams had higher priorities than money.

Moving on to 1976. Rocky opened in theaters on November 21. It was a huge success and went on to gross $117 million in U.S. box office sales with Stallone making more than $5 million dollars. The rest is history ...........
Rocky Stallone's life teaches us to persist even when the going gets tough. It is a natural tendency to quit when we experience defeat, rejection or pain. But if we persevere through those stages, then life prepares us for victory. It is very akin to the process of a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly. In that perspective, the key is to keep trying till we succeed. When we put in our best, the journey becomes as beautiful as the end!

We look forward towards your views, thoughts and experiences in dealing with difficult real life situations. So long friends.

  1. Yahoo Movies: Sylvester Stallone Biography
  2. Wikipedia: Sylvester Stallone
  3. Taylor, Cameron C: Does Your Bag Have Holes?
  4. Grosset & Dunalp, 1977: The Official Rocky Scrap Book
Image Source(s): iStockPhoto, WestLord

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