One of Stallone’s earliest, most vociferous champions was Roger Ebert. In his 1976 review of “Rocky”, Ebert wrote that Stallone reminded him of a young Marlon Brando. This was understandable, if only because Stallone’s only other performance of note was as a Brooklyn street kid in “The Lords of Flatbush.” He basically came out of nowhere and effortlessly inhabited the part of a good-natured, down-on-his-luck palooka who gets a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the world heavyweight boxing title.
If Stallone had anything in common with Brando, it was that his off-screen personality was jarringly brash. There was nothing humble about him. Though he played the talk-show game well enough while promoting “Rocky” in 1976, he let his ego run amok in the years to come. In a 1979 interview with Ebert timed to the release of “Rocky II,” Stallone reckoned with his public-facing miscues. As he told Ebert:
“They’d ask me questions which I, as an actor, knew nothing about, and I was so enchanted by the sound of my own chatter that I’d spout off my opinions. One day I was doing that on the ‘Dinah Show.’ And after the show was over, this innocuous-looking gentleman walked up to me. His eyes were glistening. He said one thing: ‘Why are you doing this?’ Then he turned and walked away.”
This landed with the jar-rattling force of an Apollo Creed uppercut. Stallone might be the intellectual antithesis of Balboa (he is an avid reader whose rare book collection, which was auctioned off in 2017, contained works by writers as varied as Leo Tolstoy, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Plutarch), but his fans didn’t see him that way. They viewed him as an agreeably punchy sweetheart who liked just about everyone.