Each week watching This is Us, we get emotional because a certain moment rings true. For me, in the Oct. 10 episode, “Deja Vu,” it was when Kate (Chrissy Metz) told Sylvester Stallone — who guest-starred as himself, the lead in Kevin’s Ron Howard war film — that she and Kevin had watched his movies a thousand times with their dad when they were kids, and [queue the tears], “You could help him forget a 102-degree fever or a bad day at work. I just want to thank you for making my dad feel good.”
I’m guessing I wasn’t the only viewer sobbing. I’ll share my reason here. If you’d like, share yours in the comments.
Like the Pearsons, the Bierlys have long been fans of Stallone. Some of my earliest movie-theater memories are having an unintentionally private screening of 1984’s Rhinestone (I was 8), cheering with the rest of the audience while watching the Ivan Drago fight in 1985’s Rocky IV (I was 10) and being forced to see Crocodile Dundee II with my mother the evening that my father and older sister saw 1988’s R-rated Rambo III (I was only 12).
When my father was diagnosed with terminal primary central nervous system lymphoma in December 2005, the hospital where he was having his first chemo treatment still had VCRs in the rooms. I grabbed the old VHS copy of First Blood Part II from my parents’ home, and that first night, my sister and I watched it with him. We turned off the lights, and it was dark enough that you could almost pretend it was our living room, and quiet enough that the only sound on the entire floor seemed to be that of the movie and one of us occasionally finishing a line before Stallone could.
In 2006, I did a phone interview with Stallone about Rocky Balboa. He told me how he ended up in the hospital for nine days filming that Rocky IV fight. It was the only interview I ever played back for my dad. Around the time my father was having whole-brain radiation, I reached out to Stallone’s publicist, hoping it wouldn’t be too inappropriate to ask if he might sign a Rocky photo to inspire my dad to fight (a request I’m sure Stallone receives a lot). “To Roger, just keep punching,” he wrote. And my dad did. A day in 2008, when my father, mother, and I went to see Rambo in theaters, remains one of my all-time favorites.
My dad lost his battle in September 2011. I made a mix-CD of songs that he loved or made us think of him to play at the viewing. “It’s a Long Road,” the theme from First Blood, was early in the playlist, but “The Final Bell,” which plays after Rocky makes it 15 rounds with Apollo Creed in Rocky, closed it.
As Rocky tells Adrian on the eve of the bout, “It really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, even. ‘Cause all I want to do is go the distance.”
That lesson is what I really want to thank Stallone for.
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