'While I was driving up to the Oscars, my bow tie snapped,' recalls Stallone, who was nominated as an actor and writer for Rocky. 'I thought it really wasn't going to matter if I put my collar on the outside of my tux. Did I mention my T-shirt was showing? Mr. Blackwell skewered me. From that point on I was on every worst-dressed list ever devised'

Thirty years ago, the first Rocky scored him two Oscar nominations and worldwide stardom. The new Rocky Balboa (his sixth in the franchise) earned Sylvester Stallone, 61, a broken foot, a shredded calf muscle and a bulging disk—along with surprising box office success. The actor-director-writer went a few rounds with PEOPLE's Oliver Jones, reminiscing about his life as an '80s action king, a not-so-killer comedian (Rhinestone, anyone?) and his favorite roles: father and husband.

'People say, "Why did you hit the meat?" Well, the meat is very symbolic: When you are hitting another man, he's basically a piece of meat. In Rocky I didn't have that spectacular a body. It was the beginning of the action era. Then Arnold [Schwarzenegger] came along and set the bar'

Stallone's oldest son, Sage, now 30, didn't reprise his Rocky V role as Rocky's kid. 'It would have been a little too personal,' says Stallone. 'I wanted to keep the psychodrama at home'

"This one stuck," says Stallone of his marriage to third wife Jennifer Flavin, whom he wed in 1997 after an eight-year on-again, off-again relationship. "She has just turned my life around." The couple have three daughters (from left): Scarlet, 4, Sophia, 10, and Sistine, 8. "These girls break my heart," says Stallone. "They have given me a whole new outlook. I see myself more as a protector now, as a guardian, as someone who is aggressively dedicated to seeing them grow up right." Meanwhile, "living in a house where you are the only man is a little like being the only guy left at the Alamo. They just rule. Even our two dogs are females. So there is no chance."

'This was a mistake,' says Stallone of his 1984 comedy turkey Rhinestone, in which he starred with Dolly Parton. 'It was going to be much darker, but it just became very hammy. I've learned that comedies have to be tailored like a fine suit'

"Tyrannosaurus Sex," exclaims Stallone on seeing this still from Rambo: First Blood Part II. "People think of him as this Republican icon, but Rambo was very critical of America. The last thing he was was a Republican. That's something the politicians put on him."

In Rocky Balboa, the aging champ, battered by the death of his love Adrian, decides to fight one more time. "Things really started to slow down for me about 10 years ago, and I had a lot of time for introspection," says Stallone. "You look back, and it is kind of bittersweet. That is why I wanted to write this film. If I had been cranking out films, very successful ones, I wouldn't have done this one."

'I sort of enjoyed doing it at the time, but looking back, I wonder, What was I thinking?' says Stallone of doing the Muppet Show in 1979. 'You never forget being out ad-libbed by a sock'

For more from Sylvester Stallone, go to PEOPLE.COM/STALLONE