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Sylvester Stallone is divorced by model wife after 25 years, TOM LEONARD examines the shock split 

Showing off the tattoo on his heavily muscled shoulder, Sylvester Stallone claimed some years back to have endured 25 hours of agony to be inked with an image of his beloved wife, Jennifer Flavin.

Yes, tattoos can be painful — especially when the image falls from the owner’s affections. Specialist ‘cover-up’ tattooists do a roaring trade creating new designs over old ones — and the Rocky star has become one of their latest customers.

Suspicions about their marriage were roused a few days ago when, as the Mail reported, Stallone revealed that the romantic picture of his wife’s face had been covered by one of his dog.

Showing off the tattoo on his heavily muscled shoulder, Sylvester Stallone claimed some years back to have endured 25 hours of agony to be inked with an image of his beloved wife, Jennifer Flavin

Specialist ‘cover-up’ tattooists do a roaring trade creating new designs over old ones — and the Rocky star has become one of their latest customers

Specialist ‘cover-up’ tattooists do a roaring trade creating new designs over old ones — and the Rocky star has become one of their latest customers

This is Stallone's third marriage, which had appeared to be one of the strongest in Hollywood, until now

This is Stallone’s third marriage, which had appeared to be one of the strongest in Hollywood, until now

Shortly afterwards, it emerged that Flavin — a former model and Stallone’s third wife — is divorcing him after 25 years of marriage. The split has shocked Hollywood, where their partnership was regarded as one of the fickle film world’s more enduring unions.

The story, however, has become even more astonishing with claims that it is the dog in the tattoo — a rottweiler named Dwight — that was the immediate cause of the break-up. Stallone dotes on Dwight — the name of his character in a new TV drama series, Tulsa King — and has posted gushing videos and photos of the pet on social media.

Family insiders told website TMZ that the actor wanted the dog to help protect the family at their homes in Los Angeles and Palm Beach, Florida.

But — while they already own other dogs — Flavin didn’t want a huge rottweiler in the house and strenuously objected. Their disagreement over Dwight allegedly caused a huge row that brought up other issues between the couple, culminating in her decision to press the nuclear button.

The pair first dated in 1988 shortly after his brief second marriage to Brigitte Nielsen had gone south

The pair first dated in 1988 shortly after his brief second marriage to Brigitte Nielsen had gone south

It remains tantalisingly unclear whether Stallone decided on the less-than-tactful tattoo modification before or after Flavin told him she was leaving him.

Certainly, the couple appear to have strongly diverging opinions on dogs in general. Stallone once complained on a chat show that Flavin had had a previous pet dog neutered because she felt the colour of its private parts didn’t go with the curtains.

Stallone, 76, has conceded that the couple — who have three daughters: Sistine, Scarlet and Sophia — had argued over the dog but insisted that it wasn’t the real cause of their divorce. ‘We did not end the relationship on such a trivial argument,’ he told TMZ. ‘We just went in different directions. I have the highest respect for Jennifer. I will always love her. She’s an amazing woman.

‘She’s the nicest human being I’ve ever met.’ He has said he loves his family and ‘we are amicably and privately addressing these issues’.

Friends say Stallone, who once described his third wife as having a capacity for forgiveness ‘almost of Biblical proportions’, was ‘blindsided’ by her announcement that she wanted to divorce, which came while he was away filming in Oklahoma City.

Jennifer Flavin has filed for divorce from Sylvester Stallone after 25 years of marriage.

Jennifer Flavin has filed for divorce from Sylvester Stallone after 25 years of marriage 

Just three months ago, Stallone marked their 25th wedding anniversary with an Instagram post praising his ‘amazing’ wife: ‘There is [sic] not enough words to describe what this incredibly selfless dedicated, patient woman has meant to our lives.’

Sadly, Flavin, 54, hasn’t been nearly so complimentary about him in papers she filed last Friday in a Palm Beach court — around the time she pointedly posted a photo of her with their three daughters and the caption: ‘These girls are my priority. Nothing else matters. The 4 of us forever.’

Mrs Stallone said the marriage was ‘irretrievably broken’ and accused her superstar husband of taking money from the marital pot, claiming he has ‘engaged in the intentional dissipation, depletion and/or waste of marital assets which has had an adverse economic impact on the marital estate’.

She’s demanded that assets they’ve accumulated during their marriage be ‘equitably distributed’. She also wants him out of the family home in Florida, at least until the divorce — and the division of Stallone’s estimated $400 million fortune — is settled.

After reportedly selling their Beverly Hills estate for $58 million to the singer Adele in January (having originally asked for $105 million), the Stallones have made their main home a $35 million, 13,200-sq ft mansion in Palm Beach where neighbours include rockers Rod Stewart and Jon Bon Jovi.

On August 16 tattoo artist Zach Perez posted himself working on Stallone's upper arm

On August 16 tattoo artist Zach Perez posted himself working on Stallone’s upper arm

Family sources say that — contrary to Stallone’s claims — there were no major issues between the couple until Dwight the dog arrived.

As recently as late July, when the family gathered for the birthday of Stallone’s brother, Frank, there had been no signs of serious marital strife.

And, in response to Stallone’s tribute on their wedding anniversary, not so long before, Flavin had trilled: ‘Our marriage keeps getting better every year! I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together!’

The actor, who wrote all six Rocky films — the first in 1976 was nominated for a remarkable ten Oscars and won three — slugs his way through movies as one of Hollywood’s most enduring tough guys.

The Rocky franchise has made $1.7 billion, while the Rambo films have grossed more than $800 million.

Stallone happily posed with Perez after the inking despite claiming he had botched the updating of his wife's picture and had to replace it with Butkus

Stallone happily posed with Perez after the inking despite claiming he had botched the updating of his wife’s picture and had to replace it with Butkus 

Yet for all this success, Stallone has had a chaotic and impulsive private life. His period of domestic bliss with Flavin represents the exception rather than the rule.

And even their relationship has had fireworks. Stallone once broke up with her in a letter sent by FedEx, while Flavin sold off all his possessions and presents to her — including a white Mercedes —in a garage sale.

She was only 19, a psychology student and fledgling model still living with her mother, when she met Stallone at an LA restaurant in 1988. He was in his early 40s, a megastar with two marriages behind him and a reputation as a womaniser.

In 1984, his affairs — including a ten-month one with actress and ex-beauty queen Susan Anton — had led to the break-up of his first marriage, to Sasha Czack. They had two sons, Sage Moonblood and Seargeoh, together. His stormy second marriage, to Amazonian model and actress Brigitte Nielsen (his co-star in Rocky IV), lasted only 548 days before the then 24-year-old Dane left him in 1987.

Nielsen’s later account of being married to ‘Sly’ — an old family nickname — was damning. She said she was ‘devastated’ when he brought a dozen-strong entourage on their Hawaii honeymoon and ’embarrassed’ when he proceeded to fill their garden with statues of her.

In May, on the couple's anniversary Stallone posted: 'Happy 25th anniversary to my amazing wife. There is not enough words to describe what this incredibly selfless dedicated, patient, woman has meant to our lives and I only wish they (sic) could be another 25!'

In May, on the couple’s anniversary Stallone posted: ‘Happy 25th anniversary to my amazing wife. There is not enough words to describe what this incredibly selfless dedicated, patient, woman has meant to our lives and I only wish they (sic) could be another 25!’

Stallone countered: ‘Hell looked like Club Med compared to my marriage to Brigitte — I thought that she was sent to haunt me for all the bad things I had done to women in the past.’

Their marriage, he said, left him feeling ‘battered’ and ‘humiliated’ and made him wary about committing to one woman ever again.

Nonetheless, his relationship with Flavin started almost as soon as they met at the restaurant — he took her out riding the next day — and she credited herself with calming down an over-stressed star.

She soon became his regular companion on the LA red carpet circuit, while he would watch her on the catwalk at fashion shows in Paris.

‘I’m loving life again,’ said Stallone, three years into their relationship in 1991, after weathering a bad patch in his career. ‘Jennifer has made all the difference.’

However, he made clear that — at least for him — it wasn’t an exclusive relationship, saying: ‘When we come together, it is wonderful. When we are separate, there are no strings attached. That’s the way it is. No strings.’

Jennifer is no longer following her husband on Instagram. The family is pictured

Jennifer is no longer following her husband on Instagram. The family is pictured 

The following year, in remarks friends and family considered worryingly innocent, Flavin told an interviewer: ‘I’m not naive about what may go on when I’m not around — he’s a 45-year-old man — I can’t change the way he is.

‘Still, he’s not a cheating dog every day of the week. We spend five out of seven nights together, so I don’t know where he’d find the time.’

But he did. Stallone dumped her abruptly in March 1994 when he sent her that handwritten letter by courier. ‘It was pretty sloppy,’ she said. ‘You can’t just write somebody off in a letter after six years.’

Only a few days later, she learned from her modelling agency that the actor was having an affair with model-photographer Janice Dickinson, who had just given birth to a daughter, whose father was rumoured to be Stallone.

‘It hit me like a ton of bricks,’ Flavin told People magazine. ‘We talked about having children, about when I was going to get pregnant. We were already picking names, marking down names that he liked and I liked.’

She conceded she’d been too trusting, accepting Stallone’s assurances that he was faithful to her whenever she became suspicious. Although a blood test later proved he wasn’t the father of Dickinson’s child and they split up, Stallone returned to form with another string of affairs. (Flavin in turn dated Australian businessman Jamie Packer.)

In 1995, Stallone even, briefly, got engaged to one of his flings, swimsuit model Angie Everhart. She later claimed Stallone had walked in as she was having a breast enhancement operation — after she had been anaesthetised — and persuaded Hollywood plastic surgeon Steven Hoefflin to give her bigger implants than she wanted. She called Stallone a ‘control freak’ who made her wear ‘trashy’ tight dresses.

This year on their anniversary in May she posted: 'Thank you for always keeping me laughing, loving and protecting our beautiful family!'

This year on their anniversary in May she posted: ‘Thank you for always keeping me laughing, loving and protecting our beautiful family!’

As soon as he had ended his relationship with Everhart, Stallone turned his attentions back to Flavin, sending flowers and reportedly once telling her on the phone that he was literally down on bended knee at the other end of the line in desperation, hoping she would take him back.

She said she was wary, but agreed. In the summer of 1996, they had their first child, Sophia. After the birth they discovered she had a hole in her heart and needed surgery, which was successful.

The following May, the couple married in a civil ceremony attended by only a dozen guests at London’s Dorchester Hotel and followed it with a chapel ceremony at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

They had asked for the Vatican’s permission to marry in the Sistine Chapel but had to make do with calling their second daughter —born in 1998 — Sistine. Stallone was 50 when they wed. Flavin’s brother, Mitch, was convinced the marriage would work, saying: ‘She knows that Sly is pretty much settled down. He’s getting older too, you know.’

The couple married on May 17, 1997 at the posh Dorchester Hotel in London, and with Stallone's reputation as a playboy, few predicted they would last long

The couple married on May 17, 1997 at the posh Dorchester Hotel in London, and with Stallone’s reputation as a playboy, few predicted they would last long

Stallone, in turn, paid tribute to his third wife. ‘Jen proved that she really loved me,’ he said in 1997.

They lived initially in Miami, in a mansion so garishly decorated in neo-classical style that visitors said it would have made neighbour Gianni Versace blush.

In recent decades, there have been no further reports of issues involving Stallone and other women. His mother, however, was a different matter.

Flavin had to put up with occasional barbed remarks from the late Jackie Stallone, an astrologer. She once publicly accused Flavin of having a ‘mean streak’, but also conceded: ‘In my eyes, no woman’s good enough for Sylvester — I’d lie down and die for him.’

As for Stallone, he wasted few opportunities to shower praise on his wife: ‘It took me 19 years to realise she’s always right,’ he said in 2010. ‘She’s incredibly safe. So now finally, I say: ‘Honey, you make all the decisions. Done, done, done. I trust you.’ I never had that before. Ever.’

Now, as she signals her intention to leave him for good and challenge him over that $400 million Stallone fortune, one wonders whether he still trusts her instincts so completely.

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk