Eye Of The Codger

Rambo Shoots Up To Keep On Shooting

Years ago, during a college graduation commencement address, Sylvester Stallone instructed graduates to lie on their resumés.

To be fair, he probably made the suggestion half-jokingly, but also, perhaps, in an effort to level with them about how hard it can be to get your foot in the door. One of Stallone’s first pictures was a porno. Like most old hands in Hollywood, he knew you had to be ready to do whatever it took and, if necessary, cut corners. Needless to say, his advice wasn’t well-received.

I remembered this obscure trivia when I heard that Stallone had gotten busted for mistakenly smuggling human growth hormone into Australia earlier this month. He was apparently on his way to Southeast Asia to film the latest installment of Rambo.

Still cutting corners, I guess. But prepared to do whatever it takes.

As a fading, but still almost universally recognizable Hollywood icon, there is no doubt Stallone figured his baggage would receive less scrutiny than most travelers’ and this assumption got him into a bit of a pickle. But if Rambo IV is at least a moderate box office hit, the pickle will serve as little more than the relish that we put on our hot dogs when we cram into megaplex theatres to watch Stallone gratuitously beat the stuffing out of foreign evildoers in some quasi-noble cause Americana.

Rambo’s brand of justice will no doubt be the product of performance-enhancing human growth hormones, but we won’t give it a second thought because, like diehard baseball fans, we don’t care what our heroes are hopped up on as long as they are kicking ass.

Therein arguably lies the biggest downside of being a screen idol. No one wants to see you grow old and, when you do, you lose appeal, garner less attention and demand and, ultimately, become passé. The celebrity and adulation you enjoyed as a star begins to fade and soon you’re just a cinematic footnote.

Marilyn Monroe and James Dean got off easy. They died relatively young and before their appearance and screen appeal had begun to seriously deteriorate. Bogart had begun to fade, but passed away before a complete aesthetic collapse. Brando held up well through The Godfather, but started gaining weight by Apocalypse Now and never slimmed back down. He went the way of Orson Welles, but at least never had to resort to wine commercials.

The chief male Hollywood icon that comes to mind as having aged with style and grace is Paul Newman. He’s 82 this year. He never gained much weight, never pumped himself up to stave off wrinkles and never injected synthetic hormones to beef up his screen appeal. He seemed to take advancing years as they came, maturing, growing — allowing himself to age and act his age. Stallone obviously isn’t following in his footsteps.

A screen icon like Stallone — even with all his insanely popular hits in the 80s — is no heavyweight like Brando or Newman. Or even Dean. But his films did titillate the American psyche for a time. In the original Rocky, Stallone rewrote Brando’s “Terry Malloy,” from On the Waterfront, allowing him not to become just a contender, but a champion. And in the original Rambo, Stallone puts a twist on Robert DeNiro’s “Michael Vronsky,” from The Deer Hunter. In an exaggerated meditation on being a discarded vet of an unpopular war, Stallone’s “Rambo” externalizes his frustrations and indignation towards the society that under-appreciates him, and terrorizes a small town full of yokels.

The film was hokey, but still a huge success. And Rambo II succeeded even further, stoking patriotic disdain for the purported political bureaucracy that prevented us from “winning” the Vietnam War and, more importantly, giving Ronnie Reagan unlimited mileage in his Cold War meanderings by depicting Rambo as a righteous American warrior doing battle with evil cardboard cut-out Communist (Vietnamese, Russian, etc.) villains (Thank god George W. Bush didn’t have an ass-kicking, put-upon ideologue like John Rambo taking it to the Islamic Extremists on the silver screen during the first few years of our “war” in Iraq — his approval rating would still be over 50%!?!).

I’m sure Rambo IV will be at least mildly entertaining to the multitude, because Stallone is still clever enough to milk his most iconoclastic characters for likable, low-brow epilogues. But behind the nostalgic, feel-good revue is the ugly downside of life. We get old. We don’t look as good. We don’t get around as well. It’s unpleasant and frustrating, but also natural and authentic. The real deal.

Watching 60-year-olds like Stallone stomp around in artificially enhanced muscles isn’t terribly inspirational. It’s fake, it’s silly and it’s sad. I have no problem with raging against the dying of the light, but there’s a big difference between standing up and leaning into the wind with what’s left of your natural fortitude or dignity and injecting synthetic napalm into your bloodstream so you can storm the box office for one or two final, frenzied flame-outs before you collapse.

I’d rather remember Stallone the way he was depicted in the original Rocky or the recent Copland (in which he still looked like a normal human being), instead of Rocky VI or Rambo IV.

Did he need the money? Did he just want his two most successful silver screen characters to go out in a decent production rather than the drivel they had succumbed to in the late 80s? Neither reason makes shooting up with human growth hormone worth the price of admission.

In Cobra, “Marion Cobretti,” one of Stallone’s most forgettable characters, calls a dangerous thug a “disease” to which he — Cobra — is the “cure.” These days, respectable sequels, favorable reviews and/or box office successes or no, Stallone is part of the disease. The cure is box office absenteeism.

Native Texan E.R. Bills is the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious and Texas Oblivion: Mysterious Disappearances, Escapes and Cover-Ups. Read other articles by E.R..

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. In his Defense said on June 4th, 2007 at 2:03pm #

    Well i say this, and i dont mean to be offensive, but, shut the hell up. Evidently the author of this article is what Arnold Schwarzenegger would refer to as ‘a girly man’.
    You quote cobra ‘your the disease, im the cure’ etc
    The author of the above article is the disease. The disease of girly men running rampant over the planet like flies round dog mess. Obsessed with health & safety, the moral implications of somebody elses actions, hacked off because they amounted to nothing more in life than a washed up bum.
    Ok, taking hgh aint the best thing to do. But hell, the mans rich, his body is his job. He is more than likely under the guidance of a doctor, and like it or not, he looks a damn site better than any other men of his age. Hell, he is in better shape than most 20 year olds. But i suppose your response will be ‘if you think hes in shape then your deluded’. Bull.

    Look around america, the uk, we are surrounded by super sized, blotated, hog dog eating, milkshake drinking, game show watching over weight obese heaps of human trash.

    Stallone busts his balls in the gym, he makes good movies, ones that have inspired thousands to get their fat asses out of the arm chair and into the gym.
    To make waves like that you gotta do something extreme, in his case make his body extreme – which he succeeded in doing, and people around the globe have strived to achieve what he managed. So what if he used hgh? does it really matter that much?

    My point is to the author of the original article.

    Know your role.

  2. Lou Vaughan said on June 5th, 2007 at 3:03am #

    The older I get, the more I’m amazed at writers. They never can seem to get over the popularity that others get and they don’t. Bashing an aging actor is not going to get you that pulitzer or the nobel. Stallone will continue to be popular and rich, and you will still be unknown and poorly paid for your work. Get over it!!!! Watch the movie and enjoy.

  3. CH said on June 5th, 2007 at 9:50am #

    If you don’t agree with the writer, then state why, but please don’t tell him to “shut the hell up.”

    I know a guy who once worked in a gym where Stallone went for his workouts sometimes. Once he saw Stallone trapped underneath his barbells as he was doing a bench press, requiring his assistants to save him. He must have forgotten to take his hormones that day.