Sylvester Stallone Says He Almost Died While Filming “Rocky IV”

Ivan Drago almost killed the Italian Stallion for real

Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) punching Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) in the movie Rocky IV, which is being re-released in November 2021
In real life, Stallone was the one who took the worst hits against Dolph Lundgren.
United Artists/Getty

In case you missed it, Sylvester Stallone is re-releasing Rocky IV 36 years after it debuted in theaters. The “new” film, titled Rocky vs. Drago, is Stallone’s full director’s cut and includes footage that didn’t make it into the first edition of the cult classic. It premieres tonight in select theaters for a one-night only engagement, and will be available on demand starting Friday.

For unlimited access to his process, Stallone’s production company has also dropped a documentary showing the 75-year-old filmmaker hard at work in the lab, cutting and editing the film to its now three-hour-plus runtime. In the doc, Stallone dishes on some previously unknown behind-the-scenes knowledge.

Dolph Lundgren, who played the iconic Ivan Drago, apparently hit Stallone so hard he sent him to the hospital. “I got really injured during the fight and I had to be flown into intensive care to California from Canada,” Stallone says.

Stallone was used to taking licks during the Rocky fight scenes; it was an occupational hazard. But he definitely wasn’t used to play-fighting with anyone quite as large as Lundgren, who was 6’5″ and at least 260 pounds during the filming of the fourth movie.

There was one massive punch to Stallone’s chest — which stayed in the film, look for it on your next rewatch — that sent the Italian Stallion on a plane from Canada to the ICU in California for four days. “I didn’t feel it in the moment but later that night my heart started to swell,” he says in the documentary. “My blood pressure went up to 260 and I was going to be talking to angels, next thing I know I’m on this emergency, low-altitude flight. I’m in intensive care surrounded by nuns and then after that, I had to go back and finish the fight.”

What’s extra remarkable about the story is that Ivan Drago actually does kill a fighter in the film — Apollo Creed dies at his hands during the exhibition fight in the beginning of the movie. Throughout the entire film, Rocky’s wife Adrian is begging him not to fight Drago, worried that he’ll suffer the same fate. He survives, of course, but the rest of the movies poke at the CTE (though Stallone didn’t have a word for it at the time), that Rocky is permanently burdened with.

The lesson here? Lundgren is a big man, whether he’s posing as a Soviet villain or acting as Stallone’s co-star. Oh, and ’80s action stars sure did love their steroids.

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