Sylvester Stallone and Rocky songwriter Carol Connors:
Revealing “The Common Thread” They Share of
Creativity and Perseverance
As I penned The Common Thread of Overcoming Adversity and Living Your Dreams, it became evident that there is indeed a common thread to success no matter walk of life or background a person is from. I am once again fascinated how two individuals, a struggling actor and a young girl who grew up in a time when there just wasn’t a level playing field for women have used very similar habits and disciplines on their journeys to success.
“The Arts” is defined as a physical manifestation of the internal creative impulse…but is that all you need to be successful in the music, art, dance, and theatre professions? Attaining success in The Arts, or any field for that matter, takes more than just a creative impulse – it takes perseverance, drive and commitment, which are just a few of the “common threads” that you will find if you delve in the backgrounds of those who have reached great heights in The Arts.
Stallone, the recent Academy nominated actor for his seventh time playing his iconic film creation Rocky and Carol Connors, the lyricist and composer who wrote songs for Walt Disney and Placido Domingo. Would you ever think these two highly acclaimed talents would share the same mindset when it comes to overcoming challenges on their pathways to greatness? Would you ever guess that they would cross to create an iconic unforgettable artistic moment?
This overlapping commonality has made them lifelong learners, achievers and creators. They each have channeled their creativity in more than one area of The Arts and their action-oriented lifestyle has given them the ability to persevere, push boundaries and remain relevant through careers that have spanned decades.
Stallone was born in 1946 in New York’s grimy Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, his parents divorced when he was nine and like others who have tried to break into the entertainment industry, Sly soon found out there are overwhelming odds against making it in Hollywood. He held down plenty of odd jobs—from being a hairdresser in his family’s business, to cleaning out lion cages at Central Park Zoo, and working on the Philadelphia waterfront. He said his first apartment was a mere eight feet by nine feet.
Connors was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her father was a jockey and her mother escaped from Poland before losing her entire family in The Holocaust. Connors described her early years:
“We were really poor, had very little money and lived in a tiny matchbox house.” So when she had an opportunity while still in junior high school to record a demo with her classmate Phil Spector, she had to beg her parents to come up with $10 to add to the $30 recording fee.
These remarkable talents who have shared their gifts with the world did not let their circumstances define them. Rather, like other successful people, they used all of their experiences as building blocks to prolific careers on the stage and screen.
Often there are defining moments where either you rise to the occasion or remain content with the status quo. The mindset of those who succeed compels them to use those moments to propel them forward.
Stallone’s moment came while staying true to himself after writing the script for Rocky in 1975. The script looked promising, but the movie studios wanted a well-established actor for the title role. They wanted a star like Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Ryan O’Neal—they all were in their heyday, and any of them would be a big draw at the box office. Sly, on the other hand, was relatively unknown. But he had a dream that he simply wouldn’t give up on.
He was offered $25K for the script—then $50K, $150K, and finally over $300K. But Sly would have nothing to do with it. He wanted to play the part, and he wasn’t about to give up on himself. He stood his ground despite the fact that he had less than $100 to his name, a pregnant wife, and a dog named Butkus. (Yes, that was Sly’s real dog in the movie.) Later, he said, “I never would have sold it. I told my wife that I’d rather bury it in the backyard and let the caterpillars play Rocky. I would have hated myself for selling out.”
Like many, when Rocky hit the theatres, I certainly identified with the film’s title character, who was a million-to-one shot. The music, the training scenes, and Rocky’s struggles captivated me—I even started eating raw eggs before working out. I figured if it was good enough for Rocky, it was good enough for me. And, that was my defining moment.
The Academy Award winning film Rocky proved to also hold a defining moment for singer songwriter Carol Connors who wrote the lyrics to the theme song for the film, “Gonna Fly Now.”
Co-written with Bill Conti and Ayn Robbins, the song became a box office giant and received a Oscar Nomination, a Grammy Nomination and the ASCAP Award of Excellence.
When I asked Carol about Stallone, her first words were “Yo, Rocky.” I knew I was in for a great conversation. “Sly was and is the most focused person I ever met with an incredible belief in himself,” she said. “He is my role model when it comes to work ethic. He refused to give up on his dream.” She fondly remembers the moment she came up with the words to Conti’s music for the scene in Rocky where he runs up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She was in the shower replaying the scene and melody in her mind when she came up with the iconic three words, “Gonna Fly Now.”
“At that moment in the film, Rocky could go the distance, maybe win, he could do anything he set his mind to,” she said. “When John Avildsen (the director) put it in slow motion on the top step, he could even fly. That is the most pivotal moment of that film.”
Staying Strong and Relevant
What celebrities and those in the public eye accomplished yesterday isn’t always relevant to today’s audience, particularly in The Arts. In order to be put into the category of “legend” and have a long sustained career, one must stay strong and continue to reinvent themselves. Sylvester Stallone has remained relevant over his career, becoming the only person to star in films opening atop the box office charts for five consecutive decades from 1970 through 2010 and now nominated as a best supporting actor in Creed. From the Rocky to Rambo to The Expendables, Sly continues to bring exciting heartfelt action films to the big screen. He has also lent his voice to a number of animated characters and made his mark on reality TV as co-producer of The Contender. I was fortunate to meet with Sly several times. I fondly remember being invited to the premier of Rocky Balboa, when Sly gave a very uplifting speech, helping the crowd see the film as more than a story about a fighter. Rather, it was about a man who still had something left—who still had something in his tank, who wanted to remain relevant. “A lot of people reach a certain age and think it’s over,” he explained. “But it’s not over until you say it’s over.”
Early in his career, Sylvester Stallone bet on himself and won. He has created a legacy of inspiration for future generations to come. But maybe most important, he has shown us all that if you believe in yourself, being the underdog is not always the worst thing in the world. Some people would say that being a 4’11” woman in the male-dominated music industry would classify Carol Connors as an definite underdog, but she has persevered and continued to be relevant.
Long before Rocky, when Connors was still in high school, Phil Spector fell in love with her voice and she became the lead singer of the Teddy Bears in 1958. Her first record, “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” (the one she borrowed $10 to produce) is the reason Elvis Presley became her first love… He too fell in love with her voice and they fell in love with each other.
Soon after, Carol became the only woman to have co-written, with her brother Marshal, a mega hit in the ultra-macho genre of hot rod songs: “Hey Little Cobra” by The Rip Cords, which was and remains an American car song classic. It is considered, by Billboard magazine, to be one of the most important songs of the Hotrod era.
Her film and TV work has become legendary and includes music and lyrics of such varied films as: The Earthling, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Dressed to Kill, The Onion Field, Butterfly, Orca and Walt Disney’s The Rescuers.
Connors is one of the woman pioneers of music for film and TV. She has been nominated twice for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, as well as nominated for five Emmys, one Grammy and two Golden Globes. Connors has built a niche for herself in the music world and hasn’t slowed down one bit. She is currently writing the music for Angels in the Sky, a multimillion-dollar documentary about the birth of the Israeli Air Force and the 155 pilots from around the world that came to Israel to fight in the War of Independence.
There is also a movie in production about her life which will be titled, The Last Song for Elvis. She emotionally spoke about the night he passed away. “When he died I stayed up all night to write a song how I felt about him. The song was called “You Loved My Love Away.” For 38 years it has been sitting in my piano draw, but now I think it’s time.”
According to an interview with People Magazine, Connors career abruptly shut down after high school for 12 years, but in in 1973 she said to herself, “I’m 30 years old. I’m too young to be a failure.’ I decided to give the music business a real shot or get out.”
Exploring Passions and Giving Back
Creativity, passion, perseverance – Stallone and Connors have all three, but what they also have is a desire to follow their personal passions through their own unique outlets. Stallone paints and Connors is an avid scuba diver aka also known as a mermaid.
Stallone find his peace through painting. Stallone says he paints every day. An avid art collector and owner of pieces by Claude Monet and Francis Bacon, Stallone began appreciating art and started to paint at 8 years old. Since childhood he has identified his true calling as a visual artist and has even stated that if he had a choice, he would spend his life painting and sculpting instead of starring in action movies.
While writing Rocky, he painted a picture, “On Finding Rocky,” to help explore the inner workings and soul of his inspiring and iconic Rocky character. A 40-year retrospective of 300 of Stallone’s paintings, titled “Real Love” were on exhibit in France in 2015. In a review of the show by Blouinartinfo.com, Stallone explained, “There is a public face and a private face, and I feel the same way about art. It’s a collage of emotions. And when you can transfer that onto the canvas, it’s an amazing feeling,”
In another interview with inquistir.com, he said, “My art isn’t one that educates, you know. It’s not making social statements. It’s not drawing conclusions. It’s not declaring what is right. It is not political. It’s just one man’s struggle and success and all emotions you go along in life, ups and downs.” Stallone’s sensitive side doesn’t end on the paint canvas; he is a strong supporter of a variety of charities including diabetes, autism and pediatric epilepsy.
Connors still scuba dives everywhere she can with her friend and model and singer Barbi Benton, who holds the title for most Playboy covers, along with Pamela Anderson, who she calls her mermaid buddy. Together they have been all over the world endorsing ‘Body Glove Wet Suits’. She also dives with Jean-Michel Cousteau in Fiji where they help in a huge endeavor to save the Reefs around the world.
She also has a passion for The Wounded Warriors Project. Last year, Connors conducted a 117-piece orchestra at the Kennedy Center in a benefit concert for the Wounded Warriors charity. Despite all her life experiences, she calls that concert “my Rocky moment and the highlight of my career.”
So what’s “the common thread” of success that we can all learn from…for those in The Arts who want to experience true success, maintaining and practicing the right mindset should not be a part-time job—it is actually a lifestyle. It is the understanding that there is nothing to regret—only experiences from which to learn and grow.
Stallone and Connors both operate on the understanding that commitment, dedication and belief in yourself, combined with old-fashioned effort and diligence, is still the right formula to gain the knowledge required to truly make a significant impact on your life and the lives of others. They leave nothing to chance or luck. They have taken the necessary steps to solve problems that others have not; they have the “stick to it” attitude and the mindset to expect more from themselves.
As Carol Connors says, “You must have laser beam clarity. Make your dream a priority. No one will do it for you. If you don’t eat it, sleep it, think it, drink it, need it – forget it! Forgot working 24/7 – make it 25/8 that’s how focused you need to be!”
Jerry Gladstone is the author of the International Best Selling Book The Common Thread of Overcoming Adversity and Living Your Dreams. Jerry is a success and life coach as well as a corporate speaker. TheCommonThreadGroup.com