How Sylvester Stallone's Face Was Injured At Birth

With his confident swagger and calm demeanor, Sylvester Stallone has won the hearts of movie fans for more than half a century. Stallone was catapulted into international fame hrough successful film franchises like the "Rocky" and "Rambo" movies, and his trademark snarl and seemingly slurred speech have made him instantly recognizable while adding to his tough guy persona.

However, his facial features aren't a façade by the actor; in fact, they're caused by paralysis that resulted from complications that took place during his birth. In the 2023 Netflix documentary "Sly," (2023) — titled after Stallone's infamous moniker — he explained that his parents met in New York City. His father was a barber who wanted to be a beautician because there was more money in it while his mother worked as a cigarette girl at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, a hugely successful nightclub in the city's Theater District.

"Even though she was nine months pregnant, she kept riding around on the bus, and she'd gone into labor," he shared, adding that someone helped her off the bus and took her to a "charity ward," which was part of a hospital that gave out free care to low-income citizens. That's where Stallone was born, though an accident with forceps used during the delivery meant he was left with paralyzed nerves on one side of his mouth. "So I was born with this snarl," he explained. 

Forceps used at his birth damaged Stallone's face

In a People article about celebrity plastic surgery published on January 27, 1992, it was explained that when iconic superstar Sylvester Stallone was born, forceps were used to pull him from his mother's womb. However, because the tool was used incorrectly, it caused major damage to the nerves on the left side of his face.

After struggling as an actor, Stallone finally sat down and penned the script for the 1976 film "Rocky," which he did in a mere three days. He had been training hard to play the now-iconic character, but in doing so lost a ton of weight. As a result, the left side of his face started to droop, so he had plastic surgery to repair it and give it a lift. When talking to the magazine, he showed them the back of his left ear and remarked, "People see this scar and think I've had a face-lift."

He then noted that there was not a scar on his right ear, humorously asking, "What do they think? That I could only afford to have half of it done?" The interview also pointed out that Stallone will only allow photographers to take a picture of him with his right side toward the camera. He was then asked what he thought of general plastic surgery, to which he responded, "Sure. Why not do it? You have body work done on your car."

Stallone's perseverance made him a superstar

The official website of the Hollywood Walk of Fame provided further details about Sylvester Stallone's troubled birth. Apparently, the doctors who delivered him used two sets of forceps, which would explain the extensive damage to his facial nerves. This accidental but traumatic mishap impaired not only his chin but also sections of his tongue and his lip, the result of which is his changed appearance and slurred speech. However, that's far from the only adversity Stallone has experienced in life.

In the documentary "Sly," his younger brother, musician and actor Frank Stallone Jr. explained that their parents had no trouble using corporal punishment on the kids, and that they had a rough relationship. Because of their troubled marriage, Sylvester Stallone went from one foster home to another until age five. Growing up, he was bullied because of his face and ended up getting into fights and a good amount of trouble. He eventually got sent to a high school for troubled teens and ultimately got voted "most likely to end up in the electric chair," per Marca

However, his tenacity and perseverance won out, and despite being rejected by several filmmakers for his unusual looks, "Rocky" would go on to win the Oscar for Best Picture in 1976, and from there, a star was born. He also continued making sequels for many of his franchises, his most recent being "Expend4bles" in 2023, and he also executive produces and stars in the Paramount+ show "Tulsa King."