Why Stallone Killed Off Adrian In Rocky Balboa (Was It A Mistake?)



  • Adrian’s off-screen death in Rocky Balboa was a risky move that paid off, creating a weighty absence and empowering Rocky’s journey.
  • Adrian’s death improved the original story of Rocky Balboa by providing a richer and more heart-wrenching narrative centered around grief and purpose.
  • Adrian’s absence allowed for the exploration of Rocky’s relationship with his son, creating one of the best aspects of the movie and a fitting end for the character.



Given how important she was to the main character and his franchise, many fans wonder what happened to Adrian in Rocky. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and Adrian’s (Talia Shire) characters both complement each other superbly throughout the series. Watching Adrian from Rocky slowly come out of her shell, assert herself more, and gain confidence mirrors Rocky’s own underdog journey. Unfortunately, due to a tragic death, her character isn’t present past a certain point in the franchise’s timeline. The franchise has carried on into the Creed movies and even lost Rocky himself along the way, but the questions remain how did Adrian die in Rocky and why she was killed off.

Unfortunately, Adrian from Rocky is written to have lost a battle with cancer off-screen in the time between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. While promoting Rocky Balboa in a 2006 interview with Moviehole, Stallone explained that Adrian would’ve been much more one-dimensional in the movie’s original storyline – which he didn’t want. He also preferred that the film had a “visceral, emotional journey” in lieu of its original plot, which was more focused on Rocky saving his gym. He eventually landed on Adrian’s off-screen death to get to embed this “journey” within the movie because “there’s nothing more traumatic than taking Adrian out of his [Rocky’s] life.”

RELATED: Every Rocky Movie, Ranked By Letterboxd

Writing Out Adrian Balboa Was A Risk Worth Taking

Rocky and Adrian about to kiss

What happened to Adrian in Rocky became a controversial subject when Rocky made his long awaited return to the big screen. Bringing back Rocky in Rocky Balboa after 16 years was a daunting task, made harder without a key piece of the franchise returning. In a 2006 article from USA Today, Stallone also noted that, though it was hard to tell Shire about Adrian’s fate, she handled her character’s death and exit from the franchise “with such dignity.” In addition, Shire herself speaks positively about the creative call within the piece:

The film has great regard for the process of mourning. Sly utilizes mourning to empower Rocky, and Adrian is made very mythical.”

This is true, as right from the film’s opening scenes, a weighty absence is felt. Though it’s the first entry without her in it, she’s still very much a part of it, and a propulsive force at that. Choosing not to put Adrian in Rocky Balboa was a dicey venture to an extent, but it certainly paid off. Plus, Adrian wasn’t just telling the titular boxing star what not to do, as Stallone himself acknowledges had been planned.

As any TV/movie lover knows, there are times when characters are sloppily written out of a series or even taken out of the equation in a bungled manner that had good intentions behind it regardless, but the real skill is in the execution. The opposite is the case for Adrian’s off-screen exit in Rocky Balboa. Actor Burt Young (who played Adrian’s brother, Paulie) summed it all up well in the USA Today piece: “Adrian’s probably more prevalent by not being in this movie than if she was.”

How Adrian’s Death In Rocky Balboa Improved Its Original Story

Rocky and Adrian talking on the beach in Rocky III

The original story of Rocky Balboa was supposed to see the main character fighting solely for his gym and his family. However, these factors alone might not have been able to drive Stallone’s character Rocky in an interesting way. Choosing to focus the film around the boxer’s grieving process after the death of his one true love – one of the few problems he can’t punch his way out of – made for a richer and more heart-wrenching narrative.

Rocky Balboa was able to deliver as a direct result of the tragic but necessary absence of Adrian’s character. It gave Rocky a purpose outside himself and provided a plausible motivation for revisiting the main storyline. If Adrian were to have fulfilled her original role in the movie, it would’ve done an injustice to the character and could’ve subsequently thrown away her arc and Rocky’s resulting journey.

Adrian’s Death Made Rocky’s Story With His Son Better

Rocky and Robert Balboa talking in the street in Rocky Balboa

What happened to Adrian in Rocky certainly left a hole in Rocky’s life but it opened up the opportunity to explore other relationships in his life. Rocky Balboa reintroduced Rocky’s son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) who was now a young adult struggling with living life in the shadow of his famous father. Their relationship created one of the best aspects of the movie, including the powerful speech Rocky gives to Robert about not letting life push him around. However, this relationship would not have been the same if Adrian was still alive.

Adrian’s loving and caring nature is likely what kept the family together even as Robert was struggling with these personal feelings. With her gone, the father and son drifted apart, leaving a personal issue in Rocky’s life that he needed to address. Creed II ends with Rocky deciding to leave the life of boxing behind and spend time with Robert and his family. Stallone doesn’t appear in Creed III, but the idea of him starting over with his son makes for a fitting end for the character.

Talia Shire Knows How To Work Adrian Into The Creed Movies

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in a leather jacket sitting on the bed confessing his fears to Talia Shire as Adrian, who lies in the bed looking up at Rocky with attention

What happened to Adrian in Rocky Balboa made sense for Rocky as a character, but there is still an unresolved feeling. Interestingly, Talia Shire has an idea of bringing Adrian into the Creed movies despite the character’s death. Shire mentioned (via: Cinema Blend) that she envisions a possibility of Adrian returning in a dream sequence allowing her to reunite with Rocky. She even suggested the image of Rocky carrying her as a bride as he did in Rocky II. Of course, with Sylvester Stallone not appearing in Creed III, this idea might never happen. However, it is a good idea for potentially the final Rocky movie, perhaps one where the boxer meets his end, as fans get to see him and Adrian happy together again.

Key Release Dates

  • Creed 3 Poster


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