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Stallone had planned to kill off Rocky in V. A pregnant Adrian was to have delivered Rocky's eulogy after he died in a street brawl: "At 9:15 my husband passed away. He was not a great man. But he did great things. And as long as there are people willing to take a chance—the way my husband did—the world will always...have...its Rockys."
But Stallone couldn't pull the trigger. "It would have been too traumatic for the audience," he says. It might have been too traumatic for Stallone, too. He would have killed off his dreams, his fantasies, a big chunk of his personality and a money machine that has already spit out a billion dollars in box-office receipts.
Instead, Stallone retired Rocky as a prizefighter. This time around, Rocky has lost his money, his mansion and possibly his mind. "He's showing signs of brain damage," says Stallone. "I wanted to play him like a 12-year-old, but stopped halfway through the filming. It was like seeing your favorite dog with dysplasia."
Too old, too slow, too punched out to fight, Rocky returns to South Philly and becomes a trainer in his old gym. He takes on Tommy Gunn, a raw, musclebound farm boy who reminds Rocky of his younger self. Gunn is part Tyson, part Nielsen, part Judas. "Rocky gives up everything for an ideal," Stallone says, "and that ideal betrays him and almost destroys him."
Gunn dumps Rocky for George Washington Duke, a sinister boxing promoter obviously modeled after Don King. "Rocky doesn't understand that loyalty doesn't count for much in the boxing racket," Stallone says.
He sees the film as a parable of the movie industry. "This business is a fire-breathing dragon," he says with disgust. "It constantly needs new stuff to devour. The studios pressure you to keep doing the same thing over and over, and the money they offer is very, very tempting. But there's a danger in just repeating your successes. It can kill you creatively."
Hey, Mick. What do you think we're gonna do when it's over"?
I don't know. Maybe join up with a circus.
Winter in Philadelphia is chill and bright, and the Civic Center is packed with 8,000 natives posing as fight fans. Outside, the stark sun; inside, steam and sweat and frustration. These extras have been waiting all morning for Stallone to show. The arena fills with chants of Roc-KEE! Roc-KEE! Roc-KEE! Finally, Stallone emerges from the shadows and treks through the crowd, surrounded by bodyguards. He climbs through the ropes and punches the air, raising a howl of cheers.
"Yo!" he shouts.