SYLVESTER STALLONE HAS A PENCHANT FOR THINGS THAT LAST, WHICH COULD EXPLAIN WHY HE’S DRAWN TO FINE ART, LITERATURE AND CIGAR BRANDS WITH HERITAGE
IN THE LATE 1990S, Sylvester Stallone was going through something of a career crisis. He’d decided to hang up his boxing gloves and his gun holsters, and was attempting to rejuvenate his image as an actor. He wanted to star in more dramatic films, films that didn’t depend on shots of his bulging biceps, or of him gunning down endless bad guys.
After all, the man’s always been a fine art lover, and so he wanted to reflect that in his own art (he wrote or co-wrote most of the Rocky and Rambo films). Even at the height of his action-man era, Stallone belied his on-screen, tough-guy persona by, in private, snapping up priceless works of art, historical artefacts and beguiling properties. He also developed, during this time, a taste for fine wines and, of course, cigars.
What’s ironic about this point in Stallone’s life is that, during this century, he has found success in returning back to his position as a man of action. After a reasonably dire few years in Hollywood, his career was reinvigorated with the release of the last Rambo film (2008). And from there, he would go on to create the Expendables, an all-action series featuring a mash-up of the world’s best-loved action heroes since the 1980s. Perhaps he felt that his artistic self was better kept private, and that the action hero would be his public persona. After all, he’s always taken that attitude with cigars.
“I don't know whether that's conscious or not, but I feel sometimes that smoking is, believe it or not, more of a private affair. It's something that I look forward to, that I covet,” Stallone said in a 1998 interview when asked about his attitude to smoking cigars.
Stallone began his cigar-smoking career when he was filming F.I.S. T. in the late 1970s. He’d been a heavy cigarette smoker for most of his life, to the point where, even when he was filming the first Rocky film, he’d be puffing away right before getting into the boxing ring to film. But he decided enough was enough, and around the same time, decided that, in F.I.S. T. the main character could benefit from being a cigar smoker. At the time, he explained that the cigar helped him to get into the character’s mindset, because, to him, a cigar conveys a sense of loftiness.
“A cigar does that because we've grown up seeing cigars as having a connotation of power or prestige, or at least the man who smokes them seems to be very glamorous and almost monolithic compared to a cigarette smoker. A guy who smokes a cigar seems to be a very confident human being. After that point, I went back to cigarettes once or twice
and then I quit totally. Cleaned out my lungs for three years and then went back to smoking cigars intelligently, for lack of a better term, from a connoisseur's point of view,” he said in an interview on the subject.
And Stallone took on the role of cigar connoisseur extremely seriously, even placing his artistic eye over the cigar bands. Because of this, he’s claimed that he’s very partial to Arturo Fuentes cigars. He loves the Fuente Fuente Opusx, but he also loves the packaging that the cigars from that brand come in. Stallone once claimed that, aesthetically, he found the Opusx to be beautiful.
“And the band is kind of like a Renaissance filigree. It has a kind of bold, almost Inquisitional-type X. The band almost looks like a piece of metal; again, the band is so aesthetically pleasing. I think image has a lot to do with cigars and people don't quite understand enough that there is the aesthetic quality,” he said in the same interview.
And Stallone’s critiques of cigar bands can turn negative, too. For example, he believes ernisation of a lot of Cuban brands, preferring instead to celebrate cigars because of their heritage and history, much as he celebrates classic art.
“I think of it as reaching back into antiquity; though it doesn't go that far back, I think of it as that. And I think it is one of those things like a fine wine that has moved on into the modern era but the beauty of it is ancient. I hate to see the modernisation of the cigar,” he said.
Perhaps this gets at the reason why Stallone felt more comfortable returning to his action man roots. After all, the world has modernised, with 1980s action heroes all but forgotten. But few can deny the charm that these heroes had, and the affect that they had on us when we were younger. Perhaps, by returning to those days, Stallone is telling us to consider that progress for the sake of progress might not be the right way, and that some things are worth holding onto.