Given her importance to the main character and the franchise, many fans are curious about Adrian’s fate in Rocky. Rocky’s (Sylvester Stallone) and Adrian’s (Talia Shire) personas complement each other beautifully throughout the series. Watching Adrian Rocky gradually emerge out of her shell, establish herself more, and develop confidence echoes Rocky’s own underdog story.
Unfortunately, due to a terrible demise, her character does not appear after a specific point in the franchise’s narrative. The franchise has continued into the Creed films, and Rocky himself has died along the way, but the questions remain: how did Adrian die in Rocky, and why was she killed off?
Unfortunately, Adrian from Rocky is said to have died of cancer off-screen somewhere between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. In a 2006 interview with Moviehole, Stallone revealed that Adrian would have been considerably more one-dimensional in the original script of Rocky Balboa, which he did not desire.
He also liked the film’s “visceral, emotional journey” over its initial premise, which centered on Rocky saving his gym. He eventually decided on Adrian’s off-screen death to incorporate this “journey” into the film because “there’s nothing more traumatic than taking Adrian out of his [Rocky’s] life.”
Writing Out Adrian Balboa Was a Risk Worth Taking
What happened to Adrian in Rocky became a contentious issue when Rocky made his long-awaited return to the big screen. Bringing Rocky back in Rocky Balboa after 16 years was a big endeavor, made more difficult by the absence of a major piece of the brand. In a 2006 USA Today story, Stallone also stated that, while it was difficult to inform Shire of Adrian’s destiny, she accepted her character’s death and retirement from the franchise “with such dignity.” In addition, Shire talks highly about the creative call inside 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 accurate, as a palpable absence is felt from the film’s very beginning. Though this is the first entry without her, she remains a driving force. Choosing not to cast Adrian in Rocky Balboa was a risky move, but it paid off. Furthermore, Adrian wasn’t simply advising the titular boxing great what not to do, as Stallone admits was planned.
As any TV/movie fan knows, there are times when characters are poorly written out of a series or even removed from the equation in a fumbled fashion that had excellent intentions in the first place, but the true skill lies in execution. The opposite is true for Adrian’s off-screen exit in Rocky Balboa. Actor Burt Young (who played Adrian’s brother, Paulie) summed it up nicely in a USA Today article: “Adrian’s probably more prevalent by not being in this movie than if she was.”
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How Adrian’s Death in Rocky Balboa Improved the Original Story
The original plot of Rocky Balboa had the main character fighting exclusively for his gym and family. However, these factors alone may not have been sufficient to propel Stallone’s character, Rocky, excitingly. Choosing to center the film on the boxer’s grief process following the death of his one true love – one of the few difficulties he can’t pound his way out of – resulted in a richer and more heartbreaking story.
Adrian’s tragic but necessary absence allowed Rocky Balboa to perform. It gave Rocky a purpose outside himself and provided a credible reason for returning to the main storyline. If Adrian had played her initial part in the film, she would have done the character an injustice and risked losing her arc and Rocky’s following journey.
Adrian’s Death Improved Rocky’s Story With His Son
What happened to Adrian in Rocky certainly left a void in Rocky’s life, but it also provided him an opportunity to explore other relationships in his life. Rocky Balboa reintroduced Rocky’s son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), who was now a young adult growing up in the shadow of his renowned father.
Their friendship inspired one of the best parts of the film, including Rocky’s passionate speech to Robert about not letting life push him around. However, if Adrian had still been alive, this relationship would have been very different.
Adrian’s compassionate and caring character most likely kept the family together even as Robert struggled with his thoughts. With her gone, the father and son drifted apart, leaving Rocky with a personal issue that needed to be addressed. Creed II concludes with Rocky opting to leave boxing behind and spend time with Robert and his family. Stallone does not appear in Creed III, but the thought of him beginning over with his kid provides a fitting conclusion for the character.
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Talia Shire Knows How to Work Adrian Into the Creed Films
What happened to Adrian in Rocky Balboa made sense for Rocky as a character, but it left an unsatisfied sensation. Interestingly, despite Adrian’s death, Talia Shire is considering bringing him back into the Creed films. Shire stated (via Cinema Blend) that she anticipates Adrian returning in a dream scene, allowing her to reunite with Rocky.
She even suggested that Rocky carry her as a bride like he did in Rocky II. Of course, with Sylvester Stallone not appearing in Creed III, this idea may never be realized. However, it is a fantastic concept for the final Rocky film, perhaps one in which the boxer meets his end, as viewers will be able to see him and Adrian happy again.