Carl Weathers, co-star in ‘Rocky’ as Apollo Creed, dies at 76

Carl Weathers, a former NFL linebacker who became a Hollywood action movie and comedy star, playing nemesis-turned-ally Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” movies, facing off against Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator” and teaching golf in “Happy Gilmore,” has died. He was 76.

Matt Luber, his manager, said Weathers died Thursday. His family issued a statement saying he died “peacefully in his sleep.” No cause was given.

“Carl was an exceptional human being who lived an extraordinary life,” his family said. “Through his contributions to film, television, the arts and sports, he has left an indelible mark and is recognized worldwide and across generations. He was a beloved brother, father, grandfather, partner, and friend.”

As comfortable flexing his muscles on the big screen in “Action Jackson” as he was joking around on the small screen in such shows as “Arrested Development,” Weathers was perhaps most closely associated with Creed, who made his first appearance as the cocky, undisputed heavyweight world champion in 1976’s “Rocky,” starring Sylvester Stallone.

“It puts you on the map and makes your career, so to speak. But that’s a one-off, so you’ve got to follow it up with something. Fortunately those movies kept coming, and Apollo Creed became more and more in people’s consciousness and welcome in their lives, and it was just the right guy at the right time,” Weathers told The Daily Beast in 2017.

“Today is an incredibly sad day for me. I’m so torn up I can’t even tell you, I’m just trying to hold it in, because Carl Weathers was such an integral part of my life, my success, everything about it,” an emotional Stallone said in a video posted to Instagram. “I give him incredible credit and kudos because when he walked into that room and I saw him for the first time — I saw greatness, but I didn’t realize how great. I never could have accomplished what we did with ‘Rocky’ without him.

“He was absolutely brilliant — his voice, his size, his power, his athletic ability, but more importantly his heart, his soul.”

Stallone, who stood before a painting of him and Weathers boxing, ended his video tribute by saying: “Apollo, keep punching.”

Most recently, Weathers has starred in the Disney+ hit “The Mandalorian,” appearing in all three seasons and earning an Emmy nomination in 2021.

Prior to his acting career, Weathers played in eight games over the 1970 and 1971 seasons for the Raiders. He played college football at San Diego State, where he was part of the Aztecs’ undefeated seasons in 1968 and 1969 while majoring in theater.

“When I found football, it was a completely different outlet,” Weathers told the Detroit News in 2023. “It was more about the physicality, although one does feed the other. You needed some smarts because there were playbooks to study and film to study, to learn about the opposition on any given week.”

After the Raiders, Weathers joined the Canadian Football League, playing for two seasons while finishing his studies during the offseason at San Francisco State University. He graduated with a B.A. in drama in 1974.

Creed, who appeared in the first four “Rocky” movies, memorably died in the ring of 1984’s “Rocky IV,” going toe-to-toe with the hulking, steroid-using Soviet Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren. Before Creed entered the ring, James Brown sang “Living in America” with showgirls and Creed popped up on a balcony in a Star-Spangled Banner shorts and waistcoat combo and an Uncle Sam hat, dancing and taunting Drago.

A bloodied Creed collapses in the ring after taking a vicious beating, twitches and is cradled by Rocky as he dies, inevitably setting up a fight between Drago and Rocky. But while Creed is gone, his character’s son, Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed, would lead his own boxing trilogy starting in 2015.

Weathers went on to 1987’s “Predator,” where he flexed his pecs alongside Ventura, Schwarzenegger and a host of others, and 1988’s nouveau blaxploitation flick “Action Jackson,” where he trains his flamethrower on a bad guy and asks, “How do you like your ribs?” before broiling him.

“Carl Weathers will always be a legend,” Schwarzenegger wrote on Instagram. “An extraordinary athlete, a fantastic actor and a great person. We couldn’t have made ‘Predator’ without him. And we certainly wouldn’t have had such a wonderful time making it.”

Weathers later added a false wooden hand to play a golf pro for the 1996 comedy “Happy Gilmore” opposite Adam Sandler, who called Weathers “a true legend” in a social media post.

Weathers grew up admiring actors such as Woody Strode, whose combination of physique and acting prowess in “Spartacus” made an early impression. Others he idolized included actors Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte and athletes Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali, stars who broke the mold and the color barrier.

“There are so many people that came before me who I admired and whose success I wanted to emulate and just kind of hit the benchmarks they hit in terms of success, who created a pathway that I’ve been able to walk and find success as a result. And hopefully I can inspire someone else to do good work as well,” Weathers told the Detroit News in 2023. “I guess I’m just a lucky guy.”

Weathers is survived by two sons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

First appeared on www.espn.com

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