The truth about Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone is one of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood. Synonymous with the title characters from movies like Rocky and Rambo, Stallone has churned out action movies, sports movies, dramas, and even some ill-advised comedies over the last 40 years. He's a very public figure, but there are many sides to him that aren't very well known.

He used to clean up lion poop and scalp movie tickets

Despite coming from a slightly well-to-do background, Stallone still had to earn his own way as a young man. He lived in New York City in the 1960s and early '70s, and worked a variety of odd jobs while trying to score roles in plays, movies, and TV. Among those positions: cleaning out the lion cages at the Central Park Zoo and working as an usher at a Walter Reade Cinemas. He made extra money at the movie theater by scalping tickets to sold-out shows. That tactic—and the job—ended when he tried to sell a ticket to M*A*S*H to the owner of the theater.

He did a little porn

By 1970, Stallone had been living in New York for about a year, and like most actors who move to the Big Apple, he was starving and endured periods of homelessness. So he did what he had to do and took a job starring in a softcore pornographic movie called The Party at Kitty & Stud's. Stallone plays "Stud," and the "party" is more of a drugged-out orgy. Stallone earned a cool 200 bucks for the movie. While there's a ton of nudity, all the sex was simulated.

Rocky was a DIY thing

Apart from the lead role in Party at Kitty & Stud's and bit parts in movies like Woody Allen's Bananas, Stallone had a hard time landing much acting work at first. So in 1975 he sat down and wrote himself a juicy role: down-and-out boxer Rocky Balboa, the star of Rocky. He wrote it just under four days, and producers offered him $350,000 for the screenplay. One problem: they didn't want him to star. Even though he had just $106 in his bank account and a pregnant wife at home, Stallone held firm and got the part—in exchange for taking just $20,000 for the script and $20 to star. The film itself was budgeted at just $1 million…but it went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards and instantly put Stallone on the A-list.

He could've been Superman

A big-budget, big-screen version of Superman went into production in 1976-'77, just after Stallone became a huge star with Rocky. He was in consideration to play the Man of Steel, but director Richard Donner ultimately didn't think he was right for the part, as well as wanting to go with a relatively unknown actor (the role ended up going to Christopher Reeve, and the rest was history). But it was the rejection of another major player that may have really sealed Stallone's dismissal: his intense, sensitive-tough guy performance in Rocky earned him favorable comparisons to Marlon Brando. Brando had been cast in Superman as Jor-El—and he reportedly refused to be in a movie with someone who might upstage him.

He plays the sport of kings

While Stallone very convincingly played a boxer in umpteen Rocky movies and, to a lesser extent, a soccer star in Victory, the sport he's spent the most time playing is not what one would expect. From childhood until the present day, Stallone has been heavy into polo. (After all, Stallone translates to "stallion," which is a type of horse.) After his father's chain of Maryland-based hair salons brought a lot of cash into their family, Stallone played in his first match at age 11. He's even participated in celebrity polo tournaments in Los Angeles.

He packed on the pounds on purpose with pancakes

After spending most of the '90s starring in critically savaged (and largely commercially unsuccessful) duds like Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Stallone earned real critical praise and Oscar buzz for the first time since Rocky with the 1997 police drama Cop Land. To play the role of a past-his-prime New Jersey sheriff who takes on corrupt cops, Stallone had to replace all the muscles he'd shown off for Cliffhanger and the Rambo movies with fat. In total, Stallone packed on about 40 pounds. And he did it the fun way: by eating as many diner pancakes as he could stomach. "These pancakes were so big you could put an axle in them and drive home," Stallone said about the experience.

He had his own magazine

Just like Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, and Martha Stewart, Stallone had his very own magazine. Hitting newsstands in 2005, Sly was aimed at men over 50, offering fitness and nutrition tips and other articles about healthful, high-quality living. (And, in the case of the first issue, an interview with porn star Jenna Jameson, for some reason.) Sly folded…after just four issues.

He sold a line of pudding

In the early 2000s, a food scientist and an inventor got together to create a specially formulated pudding just for bodybuilders. It was intended to compete with energy bars or powders, but had no sugar and tons of protein. Stallone, sensing a good investment, founded a nutritional supplement company called Instone and marketed the low-carb, low-calorie, high-protein food as "Stallone High Protein Pudding." The business deal ultimately soured and the pudding quickly disappeared from store shelves, but not before Stallone put in a bizarre appearance on Larry King Live touting how science made his pudding an ideal health food for people who don't have "that kind of biotanical grocery store next to you." Stallone also said that the pudding was great for "burning thermogenics" and "forcity" (whatever those things are).

He's a visual artist

Stallone writes (Rocky)! Stallone directs (the Broadway musical drama and Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive)! Stallone…paints! He actually started when he was eight years old (with a portrait of a proto-human in a jungle setting), but took it up seriously around 1975. In the past 40 years, he believes he's finished as many as 400 pieces, including Finding Rocky and The Electric Burst of Creativity. His style is expressionistic, bordering on abstract. Stallone has held exhibitions of his work at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice, France.

The Razzies love him

The Golden Raspberry Awards were established in 1981 to "honor" the worst films of the year. At the ceremony, held in Los Angeles the night before the Academy Awards honor the year's best films, recipients of the "Razzie" receive a gold spray-painted raspberry trophy. No one has received more vitriol from the Razzie Awards than Stallone—he's been nominated more than 30 times, winning ten. Among these "victories" are Worst Actor trophies for Rhinestone, Rambo III, and Tango & Cash; Worst Screenplay for Rambo: First Blood Part II; and Worst Screen Couple (with Sharon Stone) for The Specialist. The Razzies even created special awards just to trash Stallone a little more, including Worst Actor of the Decade (covering his 1980s output) and Worst Actor of the Century in 2000. However, after his Academy Award-nominated turn in 2015's Rocky spinoff Creed, they showed him a little love, honoring him with the Redeemer Award.