Adam Khoo asked:
Surely one of the best examples of the power of commitment and how ‘doing whatever it takes will get you what you want’ is the story of Sylvester Stallone.
At his peak, Stallone was one of the most popular and highly paid stars in Hollywood, commanding a fee of US$20m per movie. Was he just born under a lucky star? Was he a naturally talented actor? Was he at the right place at the right time? Hardly. He was someone who seemed to have all the odds stacked up against him.
His family was so poor that his mother had to give birth to him on the doorsteps of a school. A blotched delivery by students caused a facial nerve to be severed, leaving him paralyzed on the right side of his face. As a result, Stallone had to live the rest of his life with slurred speech. He even had to deal with having a drooping lower lip and being made fun of because of his name ‘Sylvester’ (associated with the Looney Tunes cat). Despite all these limitations, young Stallone dreamed of becoming an actor and inspiring millions of people through his movies.
As you know many young people go through a phase of wanting to be an actor, a star, the difference between Stallone and the rest of youthful dreamers was that his dream was not a merely wishful thinking. To Stallone, it was an absolute must. He was truly committed to doing whatever it took to make it happen.
First he enrolled in acting school and then started going for auditions. Predictably, with his wooden acting, his dopey looks and his slurred speech, Stallone was rejected for every part he applied for. But he never gave up. Doggedly he just kept changing his strategy and taking action.
The way he landed his first part is a fine example of how he was willing to do whatever it took. When he was rejected after yet another audition, he pulled up a chair in front of the manager’s office and sat down, refusing to leave unless they gave him a chance. After sitting there for hours, they were so moved by how much he wanted a chance that they relented and gave him a part. Although he appeared for a couple of minutes (as an extra), it gave him that first breakthrough he was after.
Unfortunately, that experience was followed by yet another string of unsuccessful attempts at getting another acting job. At that point, his wife told him to give up his ‘stupid dream’ and get a real job. His reply was, ‘If I get another job, I would lose the only thing I have got going for me, my hunger.’ ‘By quitting and getting a job, I would be selling out on my dream’.
Stallone eventually wound up so broke and desperate that he was forced to sell his dog for $50 in order to survive. It was the saddest moment in his life because his dog was the one friend he had got left.
At this, the lowest point in his life, he watched a boxing match between then world heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner, an underdog that everyone thought would be defeated within three rounds. What no one expected was Wepners’ determination and tenacity. He lasted the total of fifteen rounds with Ali, just refusing to go down.
Sly was so inspired by what he saw that he had visions in his head about a movie that he was going to write. He started writing profusely for 72 hours non-stop until he finished the manuscript for ‘Rocky’. He was so excited by the script because in his mind he knew that this was going to be the movie that would change his life and his fortune.
But when he went round attempting to sell his script, everyone felt that it was too predictable and that nobody would be interested in watching a movie about boxing. But he didn’t give up. He kept on going and going until one company made him an offer of 125,000 for the script and the rights to make the movie. This should have made Sly overjoyed but his dream was to be an actor and not a writer.
So, he told them that the condition of sale was that he be cast as the lead actor. They objected saying, ‘You’re a writer! you’re not an actor!’ ‘There is no way we will let you act!’ But Sly stood his ground and refused to sell the script if he wasn’t the lead actor. They even increased their offer to $250,000, but Sly kept insisting that he fitted the role of ‘Rocky’, and no one else. Although he was broke and hungry, he refused to sell out his dream for a six- figure pay check. That was his level of commitment!
Eventually they reluctantly agreed, on the condition that the movie be made on a shoe string budget of less than a million dollars and Stallone would get only $35,000 for the writing, directing and acting. Sly would however, get a percentage of the profits, if the movie made money. He agreed immediately.
The first thing Sly did when he got his money was to go in search of the man who bought his dog to buy it back. When he finally tracked down the man, he offered to buy his dog back for $100. The man declined his offer saying that he was not interested. Sly upped his offer to $500. Still the man refused. Sly again upped his offer, this time to $1000. The man still would not budge saying, ‘No amount of money will ever convince me to sell this dog.’
While most of us would give up at this point, Sly knew that if he was committed to do whatever it takes, he would find a way. Eventually he did get his dog back. He paid the man a whopping $15,000 and also gave him a part in the movie as part of the deal.
When Rocky was launched at the box office, it grossed over $225 million and was nominated for ten academy awards (including best actor), eventually winning an Oscar for Best Picture & Best Director. Sylvester instantly shot to fame as an action star and lucrative offers came in for future blockbusters, which were to eventuate in First Blood, Rambo and the Rocky sequels. His eventual success came from the fact that to him, becoming an actor was truly a must. He believed that when you are committed enough, there is always a way!