Nearly 50 years after the 1976 Oscar-winning sports film “Rocky” introduced audiences to small-time boxer Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone returned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Balboa famously sprinted up the steps as he trained for his big fight. The occasion? Philly’s first-ever Rocky Day, a new annual city holiday that falls on the same day “Rocky” was released to U.S. audiences.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart — and Rocky’s too because we’re very close — and to all of you who, believe it or not, are Real Life Rockys,” Stallone said to the crowd of thousands who had gathered in the rain to celebrate the film, many of them dressed like Rocky.
“Because you live your life on your own terms. You try to do the best you can, and you keep punching. I appreciate that, Dec. 3 … Rocky Day. Remarkable.
“Who would have believed that? Certainly none of the 13 schools I went to woulda,” he joked. “Remarkable, you know, whoever would have thought that a 12-year-old loner that used to go up and down these steps would come back to see this day and be lucky enough, alive, to have seen it.”
Stallone continued that he’d traveled the world and seen amazing sights like the pyramids, and a Colosseum, but for some reason those 72 steps that lead up to the museum inspire and excite him. “It’s like you get to the top, you feel inspired, you feel special, hopeful, happy and most of all proud of yourself. … You look out and you go, ‘I did it. I feel good at this moment,'” the 77-year-old actor said. “You feel like you can be perhaps the champion of your dreams. It’s a possibility. It’s a sliver of hope.”
The Times’ original 1976 review referred to Stallone as “a sturdy young actor” and said his film was the story of a “lumbering nice-guy loner who lives in a really crummy apartment with a goldfish, a pair of turtles named Cuff and Link and a poster of Marciano.” Stallone has said that, when he wrote the movie, he identified with his underdog character.
He echoed Rocky in Sunday’s speech, saying, “To me, life is a fight. It’s a tough fight, and get ready, you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose a lot. But the real victory is in never giving up. And going the distance for yourself. Standing at the top of these steps, you’re reminded that all things are possible.”
He ended his speech by addressing fans who’d gathered in his hometown, “Keep punching!”