Born to Be a Star How Sylvester Stallone’s Dog Became an Actor

Sylvester Stallone packed up his new puppy in a box and took him home. He was a pudgy brown ball of fur, and at about 6 weeks old, full of energy and spunk. Once home, Sly gave the little dog a blanket for his box, which he promptly ate.

As Stallone watched, he thought of Hall of Fame football player Dick Butkus – “That’s what I’ll call him,” he thought. “Butkus.”

Butkus, a mastiff, soon grew from a tiny pup to a 140-pound goofball who kept Sylvester and his wife laughing with his lighthearted, fun loving demeanor. Butkus, though, loved to attack large bottles of spring water and tear off the blue cap that keeps the liquid contained in the bottle. After managing to damage two apartments in one particular bottle-chomping spree, Sly didn’t leave him alone with water bottles again.

Butkus also loved to watch TV, and Sly was amazed to discover that he’d learned to play dead from watching television. This dog, it seemed, was destined to be an actor. It wasn’t long before Sylvester packed up Butkus and the rest of his family and headed to New York City, to try and make it in the movie business, and promised to treat Butkus like a king if he succeeded.

Once in New York, however, things didn’t go as smoothly as Sly had hoped, and he soon found himself struggling to keep his family afloat. Things were so bad that Stallone couldn’t afford to take care of the dog anymore, and with a heavy heart, sold Butkus to another family so he wouldn’t suffer.

Down to his last few dollars, Stallone bought a ticket to watch a boxing match, which inspired him to start writing a story. It wasn’t long before he had written the screenplay for “Rocky”, and received interest from a film company.

Rocky was supposed to have a dog in the film, so they tried the usual route of getting a dog actor through a trainer, and was surprised to find out how much it would actually cost. Someone asked if Stallone had a dog they could use instead, and Sly remembered Butkus, and the promise he made him.

Sly found the family he’d sold Butkus to, and begged them to let him have him back. He told them about the promise he’d made to Butkus, and his desire to keep his word to his friend who’d been there beside him during the lean times.

The family thought about it, but it was a hard decision. They’d had Butkus for half a year, and had grown to love him too. However, they saw how much Sylvester loved Butkus, and how much the dog loved him back, and agreed that Butkus deserved his chance to be in Sly’s film. They said their goodbyes, and gave Butkus back to Stallone who rushed back to filming.

“Rocky” was released in 1976 and was a hit, making over $225 million dollars. Butkus shared several memorable scenes with Stallone, and then went on to appear in “Rocky II”, helping solidify Stallone’s portrayal of Rocky Balboa.

Sly’s on screen interaction with Butkus helped make both the character, and the franchise he created, one of the most beloved of all time. And, in the end, Stallone kept the promise he made to his little friend back when his journey began and treated him like royalty for the rest of his days.


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