Carl Weathers, a former NFL and CFL 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.”
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.
Most recently, Weathers has starred in the Disney+ hit The Mandalorian, appearing in all three seasons.
Creed vs. Rocky
Creed, who appeared in the first four Rocky movies, memorably died in the ring of 1984’s Rocky IV, after 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 Star-Spangled Banner shorts, a waistcoat and an Uncle Sam hat, dancing and taunting Drago.
A bloodied Creed collapses in the ring after taking a vicious beating and is cradled by Rocky as he dies, inevitably setting up a fight between Drago and Rocky. (While Creed is gone, the character’s son, Adonis, played by Michael B. Jordan, would lead his own boxing trilogy starting in 2015.)
Weathers went on to 1987’s Predator, where he flexed his pecs alongside Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura 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.
He later added a false wooden hand to play a gold pro in the 1996 comedy classic Happy Gilmore opposite Adam Sandler and starred in Dick Wolf’s short-lived series Chicago Justice in 2017, as well as in Disney’s The Mandalorian, which earned him an Emmy Award nomination in 2021.
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 mould and the colour 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,” he told the Detroit News in 2023. “I guess I’m just a lucky guy.”
Growing up in New Orleans, Weathers started performing in plays as early as grade school. In high school, athletics took him down another path, but he would reunite with his first love later in life.
Weathers played college football at San Diego State University — where he majored in theatre — and went on to play for one season in the NFL, with the Oakland Raiders in 1970-71.
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Soon after, he went north — to Canada. Weathers signed with the B.C. Lions in 1971.
“When I found football, it was a completely different outlet,” Weathers told the Detroit News. “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.”
He played in the CFL for two years while finishing up his studies during the off-season at San Francisco State University. He graduated with a B.A. in drama in 1974.