Every time I drive past the Philadelphia Art Museum, no matter the weather, I see people running up the steps, and people at the bottom getting their pictures taken in front of the Rocky statue -- people from all over the world. There's just something about Rocky! So our local paper wrote about the steps after some visiting college kids who decided to run the Art Museum steps and met Sylvester Stallone at the top:
In the original Rocky, Stallone wanted to run the steps carrying his dog, Butkus, but the dog weighed 120 pounds.
"After going up a flight and a half," Stallone wrote in the foreword to ROCKY STORIES: Tales of Love Hope and Happiness at America's Most Famous Steps, "I realized I would only be completing this with a terminal case of a hernia, so I abandoned that idea." (Editor's Note: Staff Writer Michael Vitez is coauthor with Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish of ROCKY STORIES: Tales of Love Hope and Happiness at America's Most Famous Steps.)
In Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie, however, he runs the steps, at age 60, with his new dog, much smaller, on a leash, and thrusts only one hand to the sky in celebration at the top because he has picked up the pup with the other.
It was hardly surprising that Stallone returned to the steps incognito on Saturday. He loves it there.
For all his fame, wealth and success, Stallone loves the idea that nearly 40 years later, people still come from all over the nation and world and run these steps. The ritual is organic, authentic, and as we discovered in our book, the actor and movie may bring people to the steps, but they run to celebrate their own lives and accomplishments, or to get motivation for challenges ahead.
Stallone so loved the idea of our book, and this ritual, that he decided to end the movie Rocky Balboa with scores of Philadelphians running the steps and dancing at the top as the credits roll. As a gesture of kindness, he included Gralish and me. Tom has the camera and I have the notebook. Blink and you will miss us.
For my book, I asked Stallone why he thought people continue to run the steps many decades later.
"Because we are underdogs," he wrote in the foreword. "And there's very few things, iconic situations, that are accessible. You know you can't borrow Superman's cape. You can't use the Jedi laser sword. But the steps are there. The steps are accessible. And standing up there, you kind of have a piece of the Rocky pie. You are part of what the whole myth is."
I submit that Sylvester Stallone is happy at the steps. He is proud of what he inspired here, that running the steps still resonates with so many. I believe he will continue to surprise people at the steps for as long as he lives.