He’s an actor who’s best known for playing the iconic characters Rocky Balboa and John Rambo in over a dozen movies. And his skills aren’t limited to acting and doing his own stunts, he’s also a successful screenwriter, director, and producer. But is Sylvester Stallone vegan?
No, Sylvester Stallone is not vegan. He eats meat and other animal products and wears leather and other animal materials. He also used to play polo and still frequently rides horses. He has never publicly spoken about veganism, plant-based diets, or animal rights.
Similarities between Sylvester and Rocky
Sylvester wrote the screenplay for Rocky himself, and there are some similarities between him and the fictional boxer. These similarities extend to how they relate to animals. Although Rocky is not a vegan by any means, as evidenced by the fact that he drinks raw eggs, uses dead cows as punching bags, and chases a chicken as part of his training, he does like to interact with animals. The same goes for Sylvester.
In fact, Rocky’s dog Butkus was actually Sylvester’s dog in real life. Sylvester even jokingly referred to Butkus as his co-writer, as Butkus sat next to him while he was writing the Rocky screenplay and he would read lines out loud for the dog’s approval. Butkus passed away five years after the movie was released, but he still has his own IMDb page where he’s referred to as the actor Butkus Stallone.
In 2017, Sylvester posted a picture of himself and Butkus on Instagram with the following caption: “I absolutely love pictures like this. When I was 26, totally broke, going nowhere VERY fast, owned two pair of pants that barely fit, shoes that had holes in them and dreams of being successful were as far away as the sun… But I had my dog, BUTKUS, my best friend, my confidant, Who always laughed at my jokes, and put up with my moods, and was the one living thing that loved me for who I was! #man’s best friend#BullMastiff #Loyalty #NewYorkCity#AmericanDreams”
In the movie, Rocky also has two turtles, Cuff and Link. He bought them from Adrian, who worked in a pet store, before they started dating. Although Sylvester didn’t keep these turtles himself, he did keep in touch with the man who has been taking care of them all these decades, and he has made sure they also made their appearance in the sequels.
In 2018, he posted a picture of himself with the turtles on the set of Creed 2:
Not unlike Rocky, Sylvester also has a habit of talking to animals who just happen to cross his path. He sometimes posts videos of those encounters as well:
A dog-related legend and abuse accusation
Legend has it that Sylvester was so poor before he sold the Rocky screenplay that he didn’t even have money to feed Butkus anymore. So, out of sheer desperation, he sold him. But, not long after that, he managed to sell his screenplay. And the first thing he did when he got paid was find the man who had bought Butkus to buy him back. However, even though the man had bought Butkus for less than a hundred dollars, he would only sell him back for thousands of dollars. Sylvester would do anything to be reunited with his dog, though, so he happily paid.
There are multiple versions of this story, with different amounts and different details. In some versions Sylvester didn’t know the man’s name and had to wait next to a liquor store for three days until the man finally showed up. But it’s unclear if the story ever actually happened. The head of marketing at United Artists has admitted to making up a lot of stories about Sylvester to promote the movie and this may have been one of them.
Unfortunately, not all stories involving Sylvester and dogs are positive. He has also been accused of animal cruelty once. This happened during a legal battle with contractor Mohamed Hadid in 2013. Sylvester had accused Mohamed of defrauding him of $1.4 million by performing shoddy construction work on his kitchen. But Mohamed accused Sylvester of harassing and threatening him, being verbally abusive towards his own wife, and behaving aggressively towards his own dog. According to Mohamed, Sylvester grabbed his dog by the neck and threw the animal in a fit of rage.
Both of them denied each other’s accusations, and they eventually settled out of court and declined to comment on it further. So, we can’t be sure if this really happened either.
Playing polo and riding horses
Rocky’s ring name is “The Italian Stallion,” and that name didn’t come out of nowhere. Sylvester has said that “the name Stallone translates as stallion, or horse.” His father emigrated from Italy to the U.S. and was, among other things, a professional polo player.
Sylvester has said the following about his father and family history: “My family were horse people to begin with, going right back. But they weren’t rich people, they were peasants. [My father] moved to America to get more money but also to get away from horses, to do something else that the Stallones hadn’t done. But he carried on playing polo. He couldn’t give it up, no matter how hard he tried!”
It’s important to realize that Sylvester had a difficult childhood and his parents had a bad marriage. They got divorced in the year Sylvester turned 11, and after that Sylvester stayed with his father, who he had a “very tough relationship” with. He started playing polo that year and polo became one of the few things they bonded over.
Sylvester played polo for 15 years and he had a polo park with 30 horses at his home in the late 1980s. Polo players refer to the horses as ponies, but they’re actually full-sized horses. Although Sylvester stopped playing polo, he didn’t stop riding horses. He does it to this day and also encourages his daughters to engage in horseback riding competitions like reining.
No form of horseback riding is considered vegan. It’s so normalized in our society that it can be hard to see anything wrong with it, but horseback riding is actually entirely based on overruling the horses’ own desires and making them do what we want instead. Horses don’t need humans on their backs telling them in which direction to go, whether to walk or run, when to stop, and when to jump. And if we had collars that would give us this level of control over dogs, we would consider it cruel to use them.
Naturally, if horseback riding is part of a competition, the horses’ desires and needs move even further to the background. Sylvester’s mother has said that she once saw Sylvester’s father punch a horse so hard that the blow knocked the horse down, only because the horse didn’t want to do what he wanted the horse to do. And Sylvester was trained by the same person who trained Prince Harry, who once made the news because he had made a horse bleed with his spurs, and another time because his horse got a heart attack and died during a polo match. It wasn’t the first sudden death in polo.
Injuries and deaths aren’t limited to polo matches, they’re common in horseracing and other forms of horseback riding as well. And while we can choose to see every injury and death as an incident, the fact remains that we can prevent all of those incidents by not climbing on horses’ backs for our own amusement.
Many vegans were into horseback riding before they became vegan, but they have since found ways to spend time with horses that don’t involve riding them. Hopefully, Sylvester will do the same.
Sylvester chose looks over health
Sylvester is known for his impressive physique, but looking healthy doesn’t always equate to being healthy. Being an actor and not an athlete, Sylvester has chosen looks over health at various points in his career. He has personally acknowledged that he followed a dangerously unhealthy diet at times when he looked his best.
A good example of that is the diet he followed when shooting Rocky III. He was on “a very high protein diet which did not provide much physical or mental energy.” Expanding on that, he said: “During the period I only ate very small portions of oatmeal cookies made with brown rice and up to 25 cups of coffee a day with honey and a couple of scoops of tuna fish.”
As a result of this diet, devoid of fruit and vegetables, too low in calories in general, and containing an excessive amount of caffeine, Sylvester’s body fat went down to 2.9 percent, which he personally described as “a really dangerous level.” Research has shown that body fat this low can actually decrease your heart rate and testosterone levels and cause other health problems as well.
“I may have looked pretty good on the outside,” he said, “but inside it was [a] very dangerous thing to do.” He described his health problems and strategy to deal with them as follows: “Between rounds I would get lightheaded and quite exhausted. … I would literally go to the corner between rounds, when I wasn’t directing and try to get some blood back into my head so I could carry-on with the complicated fight choreography.” Here’s what that looked like:
Does Sylvester “hit like a vegetarian”?
Sylvester seems to have learned from his experiences. So, hopefully, he no longer puts himself on extremely unhealthy diets like that. But, unfortunately, he still eats meat and other animal products.
Despite the fact that Sylvester has never publicly spoken about veganism, plant-based diets, or vegetarianism, and is open about eating meat, there are still some people who think he’s a vegetarian. The reason for that is a scene in the movie Escape Plan, which came out in 2013. In that scene, Sylvester’s character and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character stage a fight. Sylvester hits Arnold and in response Arnold laughs and says: “You hit like a vegetarian.”
To be clear, this was just a line in a movie. Sylvester and Arnold were both playing fictional characters and neither of them had even been involved in the writing of the script. The line had no relationship to Sylvester’s actual diet.
More importantly, the idea that we need to eat meat to be strong has been disproven long ago. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that appropriately planned vegan diets, so diets without any animal products whatsoever, are suitable for athletes. They specifically state that all protein needs can be met on these diets as well.
Arnold himself also realized this a few years after Escape Plan came out. In 2018, he even starred in the documentary The Game Changers, available on Netflix, which focuses on professional athletes who have improved their health and performance on plant-based diets. He said: “I ate a lot of meat. … But as I got older and as I started reading up on it, I recognized the fact that you really don’t have to get your protein from meat, or from animals, as far as that goes.” He had significantly cut down on animal products, and, as a result, his cholesterol had gone down. “It was the lowest that it ever was in my entire life, at almost 69,” he said.
Given that we can thrive without any animal products, we don’t need to keep exploiting and killing animals. It’s completely unnecessary. Hopefully, Sylvester will come to this realization as well and decide to go vegan.
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