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As with many things, the news of Sage Stallone's untimely passing today took me back to my days working at Dave's Video, a laserdisc store that was a major industry stomping ground back in the early '90s.
Sage had an account with the store. Not his dad, but Sage. At the time, he was around fourteen or fifteen years old. He would arrive at the store with his big-ass bodyguard in tow, a guy who also served as his driver, and he'd shop for hours. He was a voracious film fan, and his interests definitely tended to the obscure.
What blew me away was just how adult he was, even at that point. It wasn't that smarmy over-precocious kind of adult, either. Sage carried himself like he was much older, and in conversation, he was just a rabid film lover, someone who had seen at least as much as the older film nerds I knew. He was constantly on the hunt for some rare title, and any time he could cross a film off his huge list of "things I want to see," it was a major accomplishment.
What also struck me at the time was how solitary he seemed. His bodyguard wasn't just there to protect him. He also served as a barrier, keeping people out of Sage's space. It was impossible to just walk up and start chatting with him. I'm not sure if that's how Sage liked it or if that was the way his father wanted things, but it was definitely not easy to approach him. After we got to know him because he came in so often, things changed, but at first, there was a definite barrier in place, and as we got to know him, that loneliness seemed to be a major part of his make-up.
I wasn't surprised at all when he co-founded Grindhouse Releasing a few years later. He was still very young at the time, and the company was exactly what he hoped it would be, a quality distributor of hard-to-find titles of real exploitation significance. Sage didn't view exploitation fare as trash, and he certainly didn't look down on it. When his company picked up a film like "Pieces" or "Cannibal Ferox," it was because they genuinely love those films and they wanted to make sure people had access to great quality prints of them. They spent money to make sure that everything they released was as good as it could look. There was real joy in everything they released. Stallone, along with his partner Bob Murawksi, did what they did for themselves as much as for anyone else, and it showed in the way they would push to get their titles theatrical runs as well as widespread video distribution.
I never got a chance to see the short he directed five or six years ago, and I hadn't seen him or spoken to him in probably a decade when I heard the news today. I was immediately hit by a wave of regret, because I always assumed I'd have a chance to reconnect with him at some point. He was one of those guys who could pick up a conversation years later like no time had passed, and who always seemed to be getting one step closer to figuring out his place in the world.
It would have been easy for him to step into an on-camera career. His dad cast him in "Rocky 5" as Rocky's son, and he also appeared in "Daylight." I never got the sense that was what he wanted, though. His heart lay in other areas in the business, and I'd like to think that he was happy with the work he'd been doing since 1996, and that he was always working towards even greater happiness.
I find it hard to believe that he is gone at the age of 36. I cannot imagine the sorrow his father must be feeling right now, and my heart goes out to everyone who was in his immediate life. He was a good and decent guy, and he will be missed by many.
Watch a crazy nasty Italian gore film in his memory this weekend. That would probably make him happier than any other tribute could.