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Sylvester Stallone returns to Philadelphia – and the steps he made famous – for inaugural ‘Rocky Day’

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Fans sprinted up the steps leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as if they were running behind Rocky Balboa.

But they were simply trying to get a view of the man who made the steps famous by climbing them nearly five decades ago. Unlike that “Rocky” scene, the celebration was at the bottom of the stairs rather than the top.

That was where Sylvester Stallone was honored on Sunday during the inaugural “Rocky Day” in Philadelphia, which was held on the 47th anniversary of the original movie’s release in 1976.

“December 3, Sunday, Rocky Day,” Stallone said to a sea of people, some wearing Balboa’s fedora, others in boxing robes or leather jackets, nearly all holding umbrellas on a rainy afternoon. “Remarkable. Who would have believed it? Certainly none of the 13 schools I went to would have.”

Nor the studios who rejected a movie that went on to win three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Stallone, whose was also nominated for Best Actor and Best Writing for the first movie in the franchise, was praised Sunday by local officials – and special guest Chevy Chase – and presented with a key to the city. The movie made Philadelphia a co-star of sorts, turning Stallone and the underdog-turned-champion he portrayed into its adopted son.  

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“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart – and Rocky’s, too – because we’re very close to all of you, who, believe it or not, are the real-life Rockys,” Stallone told the crowd. “Because you live your life on your own terms, you try to do the best you can and you keep punching.”

The celebration included a ribbon-cutting grand opening of the Sly Stallone Shop situated inside the Parkway Visitor Center Outpost between the base of the steps and the Rocky statue.

The shop sells “Rocky” merchandise, apparel and prop replicas, all of which have been designed or approved by Stallone himself. Kathryn Ott Lovell, the president and CEO of the Philadelphia Visitor Center Corporation, received a phone call days before the shop’s soft open in October.

It was Stallone.

“It was shocking to hear his voice on the other end of the phone,” Ott Lovell.  “He just wanted to personally express how much the shop means to him.”

Stallone is donating a portion of the proceeds from the shop to the restoration of the art museum’s steps.   

“I’ve been around the world. I’ve seen a lot of things, been lucky to see a lot of things. A lot of amazing sites,” Stallone said. “Pyramids, things like that, Coliseum. But for some reason, these 72 steps inspire me and excite me. It’s like you get to the top, you feel inspired, you feel special, hopefully, happy.  And most of all, proud of yourself when you get to the top.”

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It was atop those steps where Rocky first debuted his famed arms-raised pose. At the bottom, that pose is forever immortalized by an eight-and-a-half-foot bronzed statue that’s visited by approximately four million people every year. Stallone, after the ceremony, posed for hundreds of pictures at the statue with fans who won a contest for the photo opportunity.

One young fan even used the moment to reenact an iconic Rocky speech with Stallone.

Ro Knight, a 9-year-old fan of ‘Rocky,’ reenacted one of the iconic character’s most memorable scenes from the movie franchise while meeting Stallone on Sunday during the first “Rocky Day” in Philadelphia.

Those who weren’t as fortunate did what they could to try get Stallone’s attention. Tony Penecale left his home in Harleysville, Pa., at 4 a.m. dressed in Apollo Creed’s red, white and blue outfit from “Rocky IV.”

“I was like, ‘What would stand out more to maybe get me a chance to meet the man,’” Penecale said. “People are gonna be here wearing Rocky stuff, but who else is going to be wearing this?

“Hopefully he sees this, and it stands out, and he’s like, ‘Yo!’”

But because the crowd was so massive, Adrian herself might not have even gotten a “Yo!” from Stallone. That fan devotion, particularly amid poor weather conditions, is why every Dec. 3 will forever be declared “Rocky Day” in the beloved character’s hometown.

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“This will be an annual holiday here in Philadelphia,” Ott Lovell said. “It’s more than just a fictional character. There really is a little piece of Rocky in each and every one of us.”

And in each and every one of those steps.     

“To me,” Stallone said, “when you’re up there, you feel like you can be perhaps the champion of your dreams. It’s a possibility. It’s a sliver of hope. See, cause to me, life is a fight. It’s a tough fight. And get ready, you’re gonna win some and you’re gonna lose a lot.

“But the real victory is in never giving up and going the distance for yourself, for your loved ones. And standing at the top of these steps, you are reminded that all things are possible. Keep punching!”

Source: NBC New York

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