Sylvester Stallone | Billy Preston | Stevie Wonder

Philly Cheese: Stallone Statue to Return

Look out Philadelphia. Your least favorite work of art is returning to your landscape.

A 9-foot statue of Sylvester Stallone as his character “Rocky,” donated to the city after the 1982 movie “Rocky III,” is being readied for a return to the front of the Philadelphia art museum after years of living in the cold.

Philadelphians have been speculating about this for some weeks, but I can tell you that the deal is already done.

“Rocky Balboa,” Stallone’s comeback film, will open in December with a big premiere in the city of cream cheese and cheese steaks.

The opening will be like a relative who comes to visit and checks your house for the ugly gift they sent. In this case, it will be Stallone making sure the statue — he’s in his gym trunks, gloved fists punching the air — is front and center again.

This time, the statue will be not at the top of the stairs but at the foot, nestled next to a couple of other pieces. Art critics were appalled when Stallone originally gave the statue to the city, calling it a “movie prop” and not appropriate to be near their Picassos and Van Goghs.

But in the end, of course, it’s incredibly appropriate. Other than the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia is — for better or worse — known for “Rocky.”

It is not known for, say, Katharine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story” or for being near the fictitious Pine Valley in the soap opera “All My Children.” If either were the case, there’d be statues of Hepburn or Susan Lucci. Alas, there are not.

MGM is pulling out all the stops on the “Rocky Balboa” release, but Stallone is not the reason. The company, newly re-assembled by former Miramax production chief Rick Sands and media mogul Harry Sloan, is trying to establish its independence once again and prove that they can make it on their own.

Last year, there was much ballyhoo about Sony buying MGM, but in fact the corporate giant only owns 20 percent of MGM. The other investors are Texas Pacific Group, Providence Equity Partners and Comcast.

At Cannes this year, Texas Pacific’s David Bonderman emerged as an MGM cheerleader, appearing at the company’s swanky black-tie affair for the 20th anniversary of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” and later on Revlon chairman Ronald Perelman’s yacht where he mixed it up with Hollywood types.

Bonderman is said to be eager to dispel the idea that Sony actually owns MGM, a concept that somehow gained acceptance last year during the transition period of ownership.

So make way for a big splash on “Rocky Balboa.” After all, it’s 30 years since the original “Rocky,” and MGM will pull out all the stops to make the connection and remind audiences of their love for the original.

The dusting off of the statue should help, but to put a twist on the old W.C. Fields quote, on the whole they’d rather it wasn’t in Philadelphia.

Billy Preston's Family Affair

Why is that when a celebrity with an estate passes away, estranged family members suddenly become his advocates?

I’m told that a ghoulish scene went on yesterday late in the day at Scottsdale Shea Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Without any kind of court order, two of Billy Preston’s half sisters and one of their sons turned up and demanded an autopsy of the 59-year-old star. And believe it or not, they got their way. It sounds like an eerie re-creation of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

A Scottsdale Shea security manager who identified herself as Michelle declined to comment when I called there this morning, but hospital sources say that security reluctantly allowed Preston’s body to be removed from the morgue and brought back to the ICU, where he’d died several hours earlier.

It’s unclear where Preston is now, and what his family hopes to achieve by doing this.

What a shame, too, considering that Preston’s death at Scottsdale Shea was said to be quite peaceful. Sensing that there was little time left, one of the orderlies plugged his iPod into a speaker system and is said to have played songs by the Beatles and Preston as well. The last song Billy is said to have heard was his own, “That’s the Way God Planned It.”

What’s next? Perhaps a funeral as contentious, tacky and weird as Lou Rawls’ was last January, with rival factions in the church and everyone warring over who was the right person to do what.

In the meantime, it would be nice if Jann Wenner’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which so far has far ignored Billy, made an effort to induct him under some kind of special order.

And not as a sideman, either, but as a full-fledged rock star. No matter what his family does to him, Preston will always be that.

Stevie's Mom; Songwriters Soar

More bad news: Yesterday in Los Angeles, Stevie Wonder’s beloved mother, Lula Hardaway, passed away. She was 74, but had lived a long and amazing life. Hardaway had three children including Stevie before she was even 20 years old, and was forced to work as a prostitute by an abusive husband. Life improved once Stevie, who was blind almost from birth, picked up a harmonica and had his first hit at age 13. Services are tomorrow in Los Angeles.…

Hardaway’s passing may put a crimp in Stevie’s plans to be at the star-studded Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner next Thursday in New York, but planners are hoping he will still turn up to honor Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby. The pair wrote many of his early hits including “My Cherie Amour.”

Other songwriters set to be inducted are Thom Bell, the genius who wrote most of the hits by the Spinners, the Stylistics and Blue Magic; Mac Davis, of “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” fame; and Will Jennings, the country writer-performer who collaborated on Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” among others.

Kris Kristofferson is set to receive the Johnny Mercer Award, and John Mayer will get the Hal David Starlight Award.

The Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Peter, Paul and Mary, and Allen Klein, the man sometimes accused of breaking up the Beatles, will get the Publishers Award for the good work he’s done maintaining the catalogs of Sam Cooke and the Rolling Stones.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Yoko Ono, who owes Klein big time, shows up to present his award. It should be a great night anyway: Alicia Keys and Gavin DeGraw are going to perform some of the winners’ songs, and Whoopi Goldberg is coming, too.

Look for everyone to join in on “When the Saints Come Marching In,” which was named winner of the Towering Song award…