In a moment of reckoning and reimagining for monuments, why do millions of people each year from around the world visit Philly’s Rocky Statue? What does a statue celebrating a fictional boxer tell us about how we memorialize some stories over others? Monument Lab's Paul Farber dives deep into the story of the statue to the greatest Philadelphian who never lived.
Patron Saint of the Underdog
An estimated 4 million people visit the Rocky Statue every year. That’s more than double the amount that go to the Liberty Bell. Surprising for a monument that the city once rejected as merely a movie prop. We speak to people who wait in line to snap a picture or run up the Art Museum steps to find out what motivates this pilgrimage. Their surprising answers take us across the globe and range from quirky to deep.
Laura Holzman’s book Contested Image: Defining Philadelphia for the Twenty-First Century.
6ABC News clips from the Temple University Libraries Digital Collections.
Website for Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown.
Learn more about Haseeb Payab’s journey from Afghanistan to Philly in this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Visiting the Rocky Statue and Art Museum Steps.
The official Rocky Statue website.
Life Imitates Art
We go down the Rocky rabbit hole to understand how the fictional fighter grew from one man’s rough sketch into a global icon. Exploring Stallone’s Instagram art history lessons, interviews about his paintings with Oprah, and a limited-edition art book worth thousands of dollars, we learn that hiding behind the macho action star is a man who longs to be understood as a thoughtful artist.
Sly Stallone meets Rocky Balboa
Official website for filmmaker André Robert Lee
Sylvester Stallone, Rocky. The Complete Films
Sylvester Stallone, The Official Rocky Scrapbook
Stallone on the Oprah Winfrey Show
Stallone giving a tour of his painting exhibition, 2011
“A Real Fighter”
Ask the average person who’s the most famous boxer from Philadelphia and they’re likely to reply with “Rocky Balboa.” In fact, it was the real-life heavyweight champion Joe Frazier who ran up the Art Museum steps and boxed raw meat sides at a slaughterhouse. We examine who is remembered when we build monuments to our heroes, and who gets left out — and visit the places around Philadelphia where Smokin’ Joe’s legacy lives on.
The Fight of the Century
Mark Kram Jr., Smokin’ Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier
Official Joe Frazier website
Brent Leggs and the National Trust for Historic Preservation
James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym
Joe Frazier and the Knockouts on the Ed Sullivan Show
In a city that has seen dramatic change since Rocky’s time, why do so many still identify with this movie character? We tour the neighborhoods where Rocky lived to understand their modern-day challenges, like development, violence and addiction. Along the way, we meet courageous advocates and public artists who fight every day to bring hope and opportunity to their communities.
Rocky, original screenplay
Michelle Angela Ortiz, Our Market Project
Operation Save Our City, Roz Pichardo FB Page
Learn more about “Mama Sunshine”
Kensington Corridor Trust website
Learn to administer Narcan
Casting Rocky in Bronze
We journey to the bright lights of Hollywood to meet Rocky’s original sculptor, A. Thomas Schomberg. Also, we glimpse at rare, behind-the-scenes photos of Stallone and the artist during the statue’s creation. Back in Philly, we visit a foundry and a life-size replica of the Statue of David near City Hall to understand how statues are created. Finally, we go behind the scenes on opening night as Rocky the Musical makes its hometown debut.
Amerika Idol featuring Boris Staparac.
The works of A. Thomas Schomberg.
Rocky the Musical at the Walnut Street Theatre.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
A brief history of sculpture.
Going the Distance
We receive a mysterious micro-cassette containing a 20-year-old voicemail message from Sylvester Stallone. It allows us to tap into the mind of the man himself — uncovering why he created Rocky and what elements of Philadelphia he used to build the world around him. We meet possibly the biggest Rocky fan ever. Then, from the top of the Art Museum steps, we explore what the Rocky statue can teach us about the future of our monuments.
NPR interviews Michael Vitez and Tom Gralish, authors of Rocky Stories.
Rocky Stories, by Michael Vitez and Tom Gralish.
The documentary about Mike Kunda, The Pretender.
Kunda’s podcast, The Rocky Files.
Kunda’s Rocky Tours in Philly.
Kirk Savage, Tangled Histories blog.
Salamishah Tillet and Paul Farber, National Mall monuments exhibition.
Rocky’s 40th anniversary documentary.
This podcast is fascinating. Not only does it delve into the specific complexities of the story of that statue, but it expands out to show how that story relates to so many issues today.
A real fighter
The research performed on this piece was very superficial. I expect better from NPR.
The fictional character "Rocky Balboa" is based upon Chuck Wepner. Don King decided to give a no-name a shot at the title and picked Wepner, known as the "Bayonne bleeder," that chance. Wepner lasted 15 rounds, exactly the number of rounds that Rocky lasted in the first movie against Apollo Creed. Wepner also knocked Muhammad Ali down, something that nobody was doing at that stage in Ali's career.
As a 5the generation Philly girl who watched the original movie as a teenager, this was a great way to learn more about the back story. Thanks!