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The first image in the original Rocky is a close-up of a mosaic Christ. The camera pulls back to reveal the wall of a church, and in the middle of the church, a ring in which a savage prizefight is taking place. So, is Rocky the Christ story updated, repackaged in Everlast trunks?
"Well," says Stallone, "it is a religious allegory, but Rocky's not really Christ."
Is he an apostle?
"Yeah, maybe a lesser apostle. He's a wayward sheep, a criminal, a leg-breaker, the lowest form of human life. He's been given a gift, a miracle."
Nevertheless, in the Rocky films, Stallone genuflects at every station of the cross, from condemnation to burial. Before Rocky's first title fight with Apollo Creed, he runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, spreading wide his arms in a mixed metaphor of calvary and the Ascension.
So what about Rocky's blood brother, Rambo?
"He's an archangel," says Stallone. "He carries the sword of vengeance."
Young Sly wasn't born in a manger, but almost. The scene was a New York City charity ward in 1946. A forceps delivery severed a facial nerve, paralyzing the left side of his face. "I have a downturned smile that resembles a sneer," Stallone says, "unless I'm standing on my head." His mother was the daughter of Charles Labofish, a weightlifting district-court judge in D.C. who had once roomed with Charles Atlas, the original 97-pound weakling.
Jackie married a Sicilian immigrant named Frank Stallone. They lived in Hell's Kitchen, on Manhattan's mid-West Side, where Frank studied hairdressing and Jackie was a chorine in a Billy Rose revue. They worked so hard to get out of the neighborhood, Sly says, that they had little time for him and his younger brother, Frank Jr. Between the ages of two and five, Sly was boarded with a woman in Queens and picked up by his parents on weekends.
He always tried to get out of his crib. At three he did. He climbed down the fire escape, and a cop found him wandering around Hell's Kitchen and brought him home. After that, Sly ran away whenever he could. When he was five, the family moved to Maryland. Sly remembers riding his tricycle so far from home that he had to ring a fire alarm to get firemen to take him back.