Sylvester Stallone fortune: How Rocky star once had to sell beloved dog to keep him fed

Rocky III: Sylvester Stallone stars in trailer for 1982 film

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The 80’s action movie heartthrob Sylvester Stallone – who turns 76 today – has a rags-to-riches story like no other. Here, delves into the story of how Stallone was forced to sell his beloved dog to ensure he’d be fed, but, in a heartwarming twist of fate, was reunited with his four-legged best friend after making the big time.

Die-hard fans of the Rocky saga may remember the bullmastiff Butkus who appeared in the first two instalments.

However, few know that this was actually Stallone’s own dog which he was forced to sell for $50 (£41) before selling the script for Rocky.

When Stallone first pitched the Rocky script to producers, he had just $106 (£88) in his bank account and was offered $360,000 (£302,000) on the condition that he would not play the title character. 

Now, almost 50 years later, Stallone is worth over $400million (£335million) having made the choice to stick it out in poverty until he could play the lead. 

In total, the Rocky franchise has earned over $1.4billion (£1.18billion), earning its place as one of the most successful franchises of all time, with Stallone’s personal reality being almost as inspiring as Balboa’s. 


Stallone struggled for years as the stereotypical destitute actor before Rocky would give him his big break. 

His first starring role was in an adult feature film, being paid $200 (£167) for two days’ work, and he would later admit he had taken the role due to pure desperation. 

He had been homeless and sleeping in a bus terminal in New York City for weeks, noting his only options were “do that movie or rob someone”.

By 1972, after years in poverty, he was on the verge of giving up his acting career when he was rejected to be an extra in The Godfather but soon found himself with a few starring roles in small films.

But this would still not pay enough to keep up with the bills, leaving Stallone with no choice but to sell his beloved dog “or he wasn’t going to be very well-fed”. 

Stallone asked for $100 (£83) for his beloved pet, but received only $50 (£41) from a man known as “Little Jimmy”.

His breakthrough to cinematic glory and Hollywood fame would come in 1976 with Rocky, which he had written the script for after watching a fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner. 

It is said the script was only 90 pages long, having been written in just three days and that only a third of it was used in the actual film.

Stallone tried pitching it to multiple studios with the set-in-stone condition that he had to play Rocky Balboa and refused to sell under any other terms. 

Many producers had their own casting ideas, offering him varying amounts for the script and suggesting acting legends at the time like Robert Redford to take over the titular character from unknown actor Stallone.

Stallone had been offered $360,000 (£302,00) for the script if he didn’t play the lead, and at the time he only had $106 (£88) in the bank. 

While others may have seen this as a clear indicator to compromise and take the money, Stallone viewed his time in poverty as a motivator to wait it out. 

In an interview with Michael Watson, Stallone commented: “I thought, ‘You know what? You’ve got this poverty thing down. You really don’t need much to live on.’ I sort of figured it out. I was in no way used to the good life. So I knew in the back of my mind that if I sell this script. and it does very very well, I’m going to jump off a building if I’m not in it.”

Eventually Stallone got his wish, receiving a $1million (£840,000) budget to make the movie with himself in the lead. 

Once the script had been sold, Stallone headed straight back to Little Jimmy, pleading to get his dog back, with little success. 

Little Jimmy took $3,000 (£2,518) from Stallone in return for the dog he had owned for barely a week, and to finally get rid of him Stallone put him in Rocky as well.

Stallone shared with Shortlist magazine: “I ended up putting him in the movie. Do you remember in Rocky where the little guy goes, ‘Hey, did ya win?’ and I go, ‘What are you, deaf?’ and he goes, ‘No, I’m short.’ That’s him.”

Despite the incredibly low budget, Stallone had spent years being incredibly money-savvy, and utilised this in the movie to the point where they actually came in under budget, using family and friends for the cast, handheld cameras and single takes to film as much of the film as possible. 

Rocky would gross over $200million (£167million) and was nominated for 10 Oscars, with Stallone being cited as the next generations’ Marlon Brando. 

The film earned $117million (£98million) at the box office despite a shoestring budget and its sequels and spin-offs received similar fame and fortune. 

Stallone would go on to make his mark on action movie history with roles in Rambo and The Expendables, continuously showing off his writing talent was just as good as his acting. 

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