For Mike Corleone, 46, of Franklin Square, Rocky Balboa is more than just a character in a film — he’s an icon.
“His come-from-behind underdog spirit is the epitome of what America stands for,” says Corleone, who owns Kayo Boxing in Garden City Park.
Balboa, of course, is the title character in “Rocky,” a 1976 low-budget personal tale of a down-and-out boxer from Philadelphia, played by Sylvester Stallone, who gets a random shot at the heavyweight championship, thus altering the course of his life.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Oscar-winning film, which will be screened Saturday at the YMCA Boulton Center in Bay Shore with special guest Burt Young, who plays Rocky’s buddy Paulie Pennino in the film.
“Even though it’s fictional, ‘Rocky’ has the flair of being real,” says Young, 76, who lives in Port Washington. “It’s a story about a man standing up. People like to see that.”
Young, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar, delivered a raw performance of an unhappy man who was jealous of Rocky’s good fortune.
“Paulie is angry, feels unloved and underappreciated,” says Young, who will do a Q&A and a VIP meet-and-greet at the screening. “His best friend was getting a little lucky, and he can’t control himself.”
An established character actor, Young was charmed by Stallone’s talent and good humor.
“We shared a pigeonhole trailer together,” says Young. “I remember right before we began filming, he stepped out and took a big breath. After all the baloney of getting this picture through, he realized he had to put up or shut up. We still talk about that to this day.”
“Rocky” is the type of film that’s constantly played on TV and commonly re-watched.
“People revisit it because it’s comforting, it’s a feel-good film,” says Justin Woodwell, 37, of Syosset. “Rocky is an endearing character who is believable because of his humanity, will and determination. We grew up with Rocky, therefore we feel a connection to him.”
Eddie Haeffer, 46, of Smithtown says he was so moved by “Rocky” that he entered the ring, boxing competitively from 1992 to 2012.
“To me, Rocky symbolizes hope,” says Haeffer. “At the end of the first film, he loses, but the message is you can lose and still have great things come of it.”
Stallone’s personal journey was similar to that of his alter ego. At age 29, he wrote the “Rocky” screenplay but refused to sell it unless he was attached as the star. Although he was broke, he took a chance on himself.
“This guy could hardly feed his own dog,” says Young. “But he was a young, strong, talented kid who invented a style by speaking from his own truth. I liked him a lot. How could you not?”
In 2006, “Rocky” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, and in 2008, the American Film Institute named it one of the greatest sports films ever made.
“What makes ‘Rocky’ a classic is that it can translate to multiple generations,” says Ingrid Dodd, 48, of Lido Beach, co-founder of the Long Beach International Film Festival. “Anyone can relate to being knocked down, getting up and keep going.”
One of the memorable scenes from the film shows Rocky victoriously running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — an iconic image in cinematic history.
“It’s a symbol of overcoming adversity,” says Jimmy Lamendola, 43, of Northport. “I dare anybody not to get chills when you hear that music and see him run up those stairs.”
In fact, Linda Cirigliano, 46, of Glen Cove says she thinks any human, despite age or background, can relate.
“Everyone has a little bit of Rocky inside of them,” she says. “He proves that anything is possible.”
‘Rocky’ screening with special guest Burt Young
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Saturday, June 18, YMCA Boulton Center, 37 W. Main St., Bay Shore
INFO 631-969-1101, boultoncenter.org
ADMISSION $30 ($85 VIP; $125 VIP includes post-show cocktail reception, signed memorabilia, photo with Burt Young)