Never mind the lingering liability from complaints filed nearly 30 years ago. The ultimate threat in digging up cold incidents has shifted to reputation and collateral career damage.
The buzz around Los Angeles detectives reopening a sexual misconduct complaint against Sylvester Stallone won’t go away.
The complaint almost did. It was filed back in the early 1990s and went nowhere at the time — Stallone’s lawyers argued that the relationship was between consenting adults.
We don’t know why the probe has reopened now in the wake of the revelations Harvey Weinstein’s disgrace spawned. Apparently there’s at least a dozen old complaints working their way back to the headlines now.
That’s already shifting the online chatter around Stallone in ways his advisors almost certainly don’t appreciate.
The rise of proactive gossip
When people want to see what someone like Stallone has been doing in the post-Rambo era, they hit the search engines to find all the latest movies, the rise and fall of Planet Hollywood and so on.
The new sex story ranks high in those search results, but then again, hearing about it is probably what’s motivating people’s interest in the first place.
That storyline will resolve when the legal wheels turn. As far as anyone can tell right now, it’s not the kind of thing that ends careers or puts people in jail.
After all, the statute of limitations ran out long ago, which is why it’s so odd that the complaint resurfaced when it did and is being acted on now. Even if the girl was too young to consent, she ran out of time to come forward under even the newest California laws.
What’s immediately dangerous for 71-year-old Stallone is the other things that are coming up in those search results. People are connecting old incidents with teenagers — again, not prosecutable now — to build narratives of a lifetime predator.
The star’s $5 million payout to his stepsister is also back in the headlines, years after her death. That was a painstakingly structured arrangement that demonstrates a real effort to buy her silence.
Maybe he was simply trying to make a noisy relative go away as he claims. Either way, the money doesn’t bury the story now and the court of online public opinion moves before hearing any evidence at all.
People are digging up all the dirt. One way or another, they’re asking the Internet about his wealth, his previous scandals, where he lives and how he’s been known to resolve nuisances.
That’s a family office’s nightmare. Because with blood in the water, nuisance complaints and tell-all interviews naturally multiply.
Buzz builds. The public naturally wants to know more. An endless universe of gossip channels and sites has infinite space to worry at every detail, contact every possible witness and rehash every forgotten bit of trivia.
Sometimes it blows over fast. But online controversies leave a digital trail that never really goes away. It’s always fresh on some web archive somewhere, and the relative timelessness a lot of sites aspire toward means old rumors can cycle back up to the top of the news feed without warning.
Look at the persistent rumors that Stallone himself died years ago. They keep coming back when someone clicks on the wrong old page and misses the retractions around it. They post the headline and their friends see it. It goes viral and for a few hours Stallone is dead again.
Fighting old PR battles again and again becomes ridiculous.
An invitation to recriminations
The waves of interest also encourage fresh accusations. Whether they’re real, innocent copycats or active scam artists, the immediate impact is similar either way.
Old stories come back to mind. New faces come forward. Stallone apparently has a long history with women. This could go on and on.
And with inflated estimates of his wealth circulating everywhere online, the financial motive is tempting. He’s reportedly worth $400 million, which is roughly every movie contract he’s signed since his first divorce back in 1984 added onto what he claimed back then.
Adjusted for inflation, he’s worked hard and spent a whole lot of money, actually losing ground along the way. Maybe that’s true — Planet Hollywood was a disaster — but unless we see the spreadsheets there’s no way to know. It’s all just numbers pulled out of the air.
People who knew Stallone back in his wild days don’t know that. They think it’s authoritative and that he’s got vast amounts of money to deploy protecting his reputation.
Right or wrong, he looks like a gigantic target for blackmail and simple smear operations. Again, maybe he is. But if he isn’t, the illusory scale of his online net worth raises the stakes beyond what they’re really worth.
Someone with a grudge or a legitimate grievance can see he paid his step-sister $5 million and claims it was for nothing. They’re going to want at least that much money to settle any story with even a glint of real poison in it.
If they don’t get it, the poison gets released. And there’s always someone waiting in line for the next shot at a $5 million payout or more.
If Stallone doesn’t have that kind of cash, the estimates do him a huge disservice once they’ve fed his ego.
And we know his people have good ideas. The step-sister settlement could’ve been structured a little better (special needs, more layers separating him from it, even a blanket family arrangement for all relatives at once) but on the whole it was fairly sophisticated.
Divorce settlements were equally balanced between generosity and realism. His houses are owned in trusts. There’s no reason his liquid wealth couldn’t have moved into trusts as well, protecting them from ghosts from his past and the lawsuits they bring.
Of course in that scenario the trust would own his wealth and he’d look relatively poor by hyper-competitive Hollywood standards. That’s how trusts work.
But that way, his kids would inherit everything and the lawsuits would hit a brick wall.
Maybe his people need to be cracking down on the net worth estimates. But then, the star’s pride would get in the way.
Going forward, HNW family offices need to figure out how to navigate a world of online scandal and misinformation, whether it's superficially flattering or actively defamatory.
They need to manage the principal's entire career (including extracurricular activities) at all times because the past doesn't go away once it's online.
Sometimes standards shift dramatically in the course of a decade. That's happening now. Attitudes that made Stallone a hero to millions are now career threats.
We'll have stars in the future. But they'll be managed very differently. For now, the old ones need to evolve or fade away.