“Sly”: Hard Earned Success

Marvin Liao
3 min readApr 9, 2024

I finally finished the Netflix documentary on Sylvester Stallone. A poor kid growing up with a physically abusive father, he was the last person anyone expected to become a Hollywood movie star. But boy has he ever. Not just a movie star, but writer and director who has started 3 major franchises, Rocky, Rambo and the Expendables. And maybe more impressively, done this over a 50 year old career. It’s pretty amazing and inspiring.

He did not fit the mold of movie star so he wrote scripts and he had so much belief in himself that even when the studios were willing to buy the script of Rocky for $500,000, which was a lot of money at that time, and especially as he was broke. He was unwilling to sell it unless they were willing to allow him to star in the movie. Talk about betting on yourself.

And the rest is history. This led to his breakout and fame. He was relentless.

“I am not the richest, smartest, or most talented person in the world, but I succeed because I keep going and going and going.”

He never quit.

“Every time I’ve failed, people had me out for the count, but I always come back.”

He was willing to experiment throughout his career and try new genres like comedy. Even though these didn’t work out, he learned.

“They said, ‘Look, why don’t you do what you do maybe what you were meant to do?’ Going back to my roots you might say. To the point I said ‘Okay, Action, action, action.’
I realized at that point, it’s important to stay in your own lane, to become a specialist. Like an artist. You have that style, you’re a Rothko, and no one can do Rothko better than Rothko.

Everyone goes: ‘Oh We can do the full spectrum.’ We can be anything. No you can’t. You have certain manifest weaknesses and great strengths. And I said, focus on the strengths. Don’t sit there and try to do Shakespeare when you look like me.”

The magic was that he was able to use his writing and acting to transmute the pain he felt and disappointment he had in life. Something we all feel sometimes.

He said: “I try to take something that is what I wish I had done in real life, but I wasn’t able to do that in reality. And so, quite often, I would do it theatrically, magically.

You know, unfortunately, you put things before your family, and the repercussions are quite radical and devastating.”

And he talks a lot about regret and it’s something I feel many times in my life. Especially with family and especially with your kids.

“There’s always that regret. I could have learned so much more if I hadn’t been so self absorbed and dealing with other people. You think about what you should have done at this age. And now they are this age. What did I mess up on? I’m there making a stupid movie instead of making their life.

They make me happy. They make me really sad. They bring me emotion. I had to almost lose it to respect it. So the act of loving my children now, actually taking such stock and value of the time…..Jesus….it’s so callous and brutal. And it sneaks up on you, and you go: ‘Okay, time to check out, Sly.’

Now it’s a matter of, I want to be the juggler. A really good juggler. You know, just….family, life, children, wife, you know? Art, just everything. Just….in balance.”

There is a deep lesson in that. So many of us career driven Type A people learn, always the hard way. Yet the way he is able to convert all his angst, pain and regret and lessons and turn it into something good. That’s something we can also learn from too.

“But if you have no guidance, and you have to go through life devalued every inch of the way, that leaves a hole. And that hole is never filled. What I can do is fill it through imagination. I want to somehow show hope. I’m in the hope business, and I just hate sad endings. Sorry. Shoot me.”

Well said. I recommend the documentary and hope folks check it out and learn from it like I did.



Marvin Liao

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything! www.marvinliao.com