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He inherited his father's sad, heavy-set eyes, distinctive chin and that legendary last name. But as he grew up, Sage Stallone worked to forge his own identity. "Sage [and I] are entirely different," Sylvester Stallone told PEOPLE in 1996. "He avoids the gym like the plague, and is interested in abstract, art-house films. He has put himself in a position in which he'll never have to be compared to me ... I'm very proud and optimistic."

Sadly, Stallone is now heartbroken. On July 13 Sage, 36-a film distributor who costarred with Sly in Rocky V-was found dead by his housekeeper in his Hollywood Hills home. "Sylvester Stallone is devastated and grief-stricken over the sudden loss of his son," his rep said in a statement. "Sage was a very talented and wonderful young man; his loss will be felt forever."

As family and friends mourn, they await results from an autopsy that will determine the cause of his unexpected death. When the New York Post spoke to Sage's grief-stricken mother, Sasha Czack, she claimed he may have been taking painkillers due to recent oral surgery. Investigators have confirmed there were prescription-pill bottles in his house and revealed there were no signs of foul play; they do not suspect this was a suicide, either. "Sage had this bubbly personality and a real love of life," says friend and filmmaker William Byron Hillman. "He had a warped sense of humor, but he never had an ill thought towards anyone."

Sensitive and a self-described hermit, Sage turned a lifelong obsession with little-known horror movies and obscure Italian exploitation flicks into a career preserving and distributing genre classics as cofounder of Grindhouse Releasing. "Sage saved many horror classics from extinction," says actor and director Eli Roth. "Fans around the globe are grateful [he took] the time and money to save them."

Born in 1976 to Stallone, 66, and Czack, his first wife (their younger son Seargeoh, 33, was diagnosed with autism at age 3), Sage lived with his mother after his parents divorced in 1985. "Growing up, my father wasn't around a lot," Sage admitted in 1996. "In school I would get a lot of hassle because of who he was." The pair grew closer after Sage beat out 350 other actors to play Rocky's son in 1990's Rocky V, but his dad didn't push him to be a star. "He wanted me to be a normal child and not the guy in front of the camera all the time," said Sage.

Though he rejoined Sly in 1996's Daylight, Sage eventually found his place as a champion of midnight movies. "Sage could talk volumes about a movie you had never even known existed," says longtime friend and lawyer George Braunstein. Still, he didn't hide his love for one of the world's biggest movie stars. When he died, there was only one picture on Sage's walls: a snapshot of him at 14 with his dad. Says Braunstein: "He idolized his father."

  • Contributors:
  • With Elizabeth Leonard/Los Angeles.