Dolph Lundgren, best known for his role as the Soviet antagonist who fought against Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV, recently revealed that he’s been battling cancer for the past eight years. A fighter through and through, Lundgren continues to show improvements. We certainly look forward to him starring in even more of the action films he has become synonymous with.
He also revealed a different type of fight – a feud that he and Stallone have maintained ever since those Rocky days.
Lundgren got his big break in the Rocky franchise
Lundgren was born in Sweden on November 3, 1957, and from an early age showed academic promise. He did exceptionally well in school, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemical engineering. As a boy, he enrolled in Kyokushin karate, something he kept up with throughout his life, ultimately becoming a 4th dan blackbelt and European champion in 1980-81.
When Lundgren moved to the US, he was riding a scholarship at MIT in Boston, but soon abandoned his academic pursuits. He moved to New York with his then-girlfriend, Grace Jones, to try his hand at acting. His first role was a minor one, cast as a KGB henchman in the James Bond film A View to a Kill. He then heard that Sylvester Stallone was looking for a fighter for his upcoming film. He sent in several videos of his fighting abilities. The videos eventually reached Stallone, and Lundgren was ultimately cast in his most iconic role as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.
He went on to have a very fruitful acting career, sticking to the action genre he came to know best. After starring in several other films, he landed a comfortable role alongside Stallone once again as Gunner Jensen in the Expendables franchise, which produced three movies and is expected to release a fourth. Additionally, he reprised his role as Ivan Drago in the 2018 film, Creed II, part of the Rocky franchise.
His original diagnosis was very bad news
Now 65 years old, Lundgren is only just revealing the secret battle he has been fighting with cancer. During an interview on In Depth With Graham Bensinger, he shared that he was first diagnosed in 2015 after a cancerous tumor was removed from his kidney. However, it wasn’t until 2020, when Lundgren thought he was experiencing acid reflux, that an MRI revealed several more tumors were found in his kidney area, and later in his liver.
Lundgren explained, “There’s a picture there I was going to direct and star in that was starting in the fall. The doctor called me when I was in Alabama ready to shoot and said they found one more tumor in the liver. So I was like ‘Oh okay.’ At that point it started to hit me that this is kind of something serious.” He said that the doctor told him to “take a break and spend more time with your family,” explaining that the tumor was so large that it was inoperable. When Lundgren asked how long he had left to live, the doctor said two, maybe three years.
“I thought it was it for sure,” he said. “I’ve had a great life. I’ve lived like five lifetimes in one, so it wasn’t like I felt bitter, but I felt sorry for my kids and my fiancée.” His fiancée, Emma Krokdal, explained that the alternative treatment he was originally provided had horrible side effects on him. “His mouth got really sore,” she said. “His hands got sore, [his] feet, and he couldn’t eat anything warm, anything cold or anything spicy. So that was a struggle to get food down so he kept losing weight.”
After the harrowing news, he sat down with his 27-year-old daughter, Ida Lundgren, to discuss what it could mean for the future. In an emotional retelling of the events, she said, “I had a deep conversation with my dad about what would happen if he, you know, passed away and stuff. That was a horrible conversation.”
A second opinion changed the trajectory of his illness
At this point, Lundgren felt that there was nothing for him to lose in seeking a second opinion, something he is certainly glad he did. He met with oncologist Dr. Alexandra Drakaki, who re-evaluated his tumor. What she discovered was a mutation that made the cancer treatable using a medication with off-label use. It has helped to significantly shrink the size of the tumors.
“Within three months things were shrinking by 20, 30%,” Lundgren said. “2022 was basically watching these medications do their thing, and finally things had shrunk about 90%.” Dr. Drakaki confirmed this, saying, “There are certain parts of his body that the cancer is responding really well. There’s some lesions that we cannot see them anymore. So that is above expectations.”
Lundgren explained that moving forward, “The prognosis is that, hopefully, when they take these out there’s no cancer activity and the medication that I’m taking is going to suppress everything else.” Currently, he is in the process of having the scar tissue from the tumors removed.
The entire experience has made Lundgren “appreciate life a lot more.” He explained that with something like this, “You appreciate every day. You just appreciate being lucky enough to be alive.”
Talking about his cancer experience has helped a lot of people
Since opening up about his experience with cancer, Lundgren’s health has been improving. One of the biggest things he hoped to achieve by revealing his medical journey was to help others who may have experienced similar experiences themselves. It seems to have already done its job, as people around him are approaching him to ask for advice, which he feels has been very rewarding.
He explained that his story has helped “A lot of people. It feels good, it feels great. As a matter of fact, my two next projects both people involved, producers involved and other people are asking for advice. It was cool, it was nice. The reason I did it, I said to myself, ‘If I can help one person then I’m going to do it.’ I’ve already done that,” Lundgren said.
He and Sylvester Stallone are still feuding
In another recent interview, Lundgren also revealed that he and his old co-star Sylvester Stallone have had an ongoing feud all these years. “We had some good times and bad times,” Lundgren told In Depth With Graham Bensinger, “kinda like family to some degree.”
He shared a story about a time that the two men almost got into a physical confrontation. During filming for 2010’s The Expendables, director Stallone apparently was too harsh on Lundgren, yelling at him in front of the entire crew and subjecting him to lots of takes. Lundgren said he felt humiliated and called his wife to vent. “I basically just told her, ‘If he says one more word, I’m gonna knock him out and… I’m outta here,'” Lundgren said. “And then I had a tap on the back and it was Sly. And he was like, ‘Uh, I’m sorry about that. Let’s just do another take and let’s just keep moving on.’”
However, Lundgren insists that despite some “run-ins” over the years, the two remain friends. They both reprised their Rocky roles in 2018’s Creed II. Last year, MGM announced the development of a Rocky spinoff film centered on the Drago family. Stallone publicly voiced his opposition to the spinoff, stating that he was never informed about its development and referring to tension between the two actors.
Lundgren responded to the situation by urging Rocky fans to remain calm. He clarified that no script, deals, or director had been confirmed for the spinoff and said he was under the impression Stallone was involved in the project.
The two actors went on to star in two sequels of The Expendables together, and are set to appear in The Expendables 4, scheduled to open in theaters on September 22.