At eight years old, I was always into costumes. The Lone Range, Zorro and Tarzan impacted my childhood just as Davy Crockett and the Alamo influenced my dad. But one character stood above all others at that time - Superman. As the premier thin child of the school yard, I was guaranteed the attention of bullies in training. I decided to wear my Superman Halloween costume under my school clothes as a cotton suit-of-armor. When this brilliant plan went awry, it would stick with me like luggage for years.
I was to young to see Rocky in the theater in 1976 but in '79 those giant white letters scrolled across my 19 inch wooden, floor model T.V. and that Bill Conti score, Fanfare For Rocky, crackled from the single speaker, punching me in the gut, my DNA was forever changed.
But the bullies never changed.
After another losing fight my grandfather, a bald-headed, broad-shouldered ex-coal miner called me to his house where he explained the beauty, and for me, the necessary love and compassion of family . He knew I found in Rocky a yard stick to which I would eventually measure my life to. Handing me his old black fedora and his beaten-into-submission-by-life, old black leather jacket. These two items were the catalyst that along with Sylvester Stallone and his best friend, Rocky Balboa would eventually get me to believe in myself.
I tell you this - I learned more from watching ROCKY in two hours than I ever learned in school. For me, ROCKY is the purest form of inspiration in the universe, and that's a big place.
Graduating high school in 1986, counselors asked us what we'd like to do. "I want to wear a black hat and be Rocky," was my standard reply.
"Oh, you want to be a boxer." A confused counselor asked.
"No, I want to walk around like Rocky and get paid for it."
"Oh, right. You want to be an actor."
"No. I want to be Rocky."
I was told I needed help, I was irrational, actually, "delusional" was the word used in a note read to my mother who, at certain times, considered therapy for me, I'm sure. But to her and my fathers credit, I would find my way without the help of modern medicine or rational thought.
I continued dressing like Rocky with a smattering of Rambo at certain times but it ALWAYS came back to Rocky, always.
in 1990, my then girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife and I set sail on a day trip to Philly in hopes of finding Rocky filming locations armed only with several Polaroids we took off the T.V. while we paused the VHS tape of key locations in the film. An adventure Indiana Jones himself would find to be exhausting - what with no google maps or internet.
All this time one must have a job to pay the bills and jobs I had. At least twenty-five. Some of them were, cleaning horse stables, pulling auto parts, parking cars, loading/unloading Persian rugs, Burger King, grocery clerk, hanging drywall, stuffing ads in mail-out flyers, UPS (1 day), delivering copy machines, donut maker, police officer (one of my favorites), gas attendant, mini-mart manager and something that would truly show growth - optician.
In 2006, Stallone came back to Philly, filming Rocky Balboa and through the absolute beauty of my wife suggesting an almost inconsequential fast look at "Adrian's" and my friends at The Victor Cafe, (they insured me several days on the set for not only this film but ten years later during the filming of CREED) my life was about to take a massive and direct change.
Shortly after this, The Victor Cafe entered me into a national Rocky look-alike contest that I eventually won. Setting my future in stone.
The American economy, in 2008, would send me reeling, nearly losing everything I worked so hard for, landing forever as a paint clerk/delivery driver had I not written a book called, Cue The Rocky Music and social media. This led to several early Rocky filming tours on a school bus and a basic concept - bring fans to Rockyland.
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING would prepare me for what was to come.
All this has led me to personal conversations with Spider Rico, Tony "Duke" Burton, Balboa's Lil' Marie and Milo "Robert Balboa" Ventimiglia. I was fortunate to get to know Burt "Paulie" Young as well as "spar" with Carl Weathers in full Apollo Creed mode. But, the conversations I had with CREED director, Ryan Coogler and Adonis Creed himself, Michael B. Jordan put to ease any doubts I had about CREED. Not to mention my time on set with Rocky Balboa himself. At one point, Sly and I were out front of The Victor Cafe during his 60th birthday dinner, each of us doing our best Rocky impression; he won but not before noticing my resemblance to him thirty years ago.
"You should do something with that. Get a black hat and a leather coat, tourist would love it."
A local events group saw me and began hiring me part-time for events dressed as Stallone's most famous creation. That led me to my manager, Chris Wiseman and we never looked back.
In 2011, during a charity event, I became close personal friends with Chuck 'The Bayonne Bleeder" Wepner, the catalyst for Stallone to write Rocky. This is a friendship that has deepened over the years.
I write this short Bio to show the great care I take with those inspired by Rocky. The movie and it's cast of unforgettable characters has become a philosophy for me. It was never about the muscles or money, for me it was always about being my personal best. Maybe I can't be the best in the world but I can be the best in my world.
I do not take the inspiration of Rocky lightly, it's my motivating force in life.
If you're looking to time travel to 1976 and you don't have a DeLorean, please consider The Yo, Philly! Rocky Film Tour. I won't let ya down.
Best of life, Mike