Sylvester Stallone (search) kicked off a star-studded Olympic torch relay through the streets of Los Angeles on Wednesday, raising the flame as the theme from his signature movie "Rocky" blared in the background.

After a quick trot across Venice Beach to the ocean, the actor set off toward Santa Monica, where he handed the flame over to Los Angeles Dodgers (search) owner Frank McCourt. That began a relay through Los Angeles communities rich and poor, including Westwood, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Koreatown and Boyle Heights, culminating at downtown's Dodger Stadium.

"This is the proudest moment of my life," a beaming Stallone said with the Pacific Ocean in the background. "I just hope I can live up to what this flame represents, which is honor, dignity and a never-say-die spirit."

Decked out in shorts and a blue-and-white T-shirt with a laurel wreath on the front, Stallone was the first of nearly 150 runners taking the flame to Dodger Stadium. Each runner carried an individual torch, and passed the flame torch-to-torch. The flame is a mixture of butane and propylene.

Carriers included everyday folks as well as celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres (search) and Tom Cruise and Olympic stars Janet Evans and Rafer Johnson.

As DeGeneres ran up a steep hill toward Hollywood Boulevard, some of her friends lined the sidewalk, holding signs reading, "Run, Ellen, Run" and "Run Faster Ellen."

"I've been practicing at home with a beer bottle," DeGeneres said as she waited at a strip mall for the flame. "I'm honored that I'm part of this."

The flame arrived overnight from Mexico. It will visit the previous U.S. Summer Olympic cities of St. Louis on Thursday and Atlanta on Friday, then travel through New York on Saturday and on to Montreal on Sunday. After that it will head overseas again, on its way to Athens for the Summer Games Aug. 13-29.

Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics in 1932 and 1984.

Among the non-celebrities bearing the torch Wednesday was John Jackson, who passed the flame to DeGeneres, and who said he expected to be cut out of the handoff picture. But he didn't seem to mind.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said the 44-year-old principal of a middle school in Torrance.

More than 1,000 people were on hand to watch Stallone leave Venice Beach with the torch, but turnout along much of the rest of the route was light. The torch was carried under gray skies and cool temperatures.

The flame's 46,800-mile journey began June 4. It passed through Africa and South America for the first time. The relay will make a final trip around Greece before arriving in Athens for the opening ceremony Aug. 13.