Obituaries

Carl Weathers, linebacker-turned-actor who starred in ‘Rocky’ movies, dies at 76

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Carl Weathers arrives at a screening for the season three premiere of The Mandalorian on Feb. 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. Weathers, a former NFL linebacker who became a Hollywood action movie and comedy star, died Tuesday at age 76.

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

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Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Carl Weathers arrives at a screening for the season three premiere of The Mandalorian on Feb. 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. Weathers, a former NFL linebacker who became a Hollywood action movie and comedy star, died Tuesday at age 76.

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

NEW YORK — 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.”

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,” he told The Daily Beast in 2017.

Most recently, Weathers has starred in the Disney+ hit “The Mandalorian,” appearing in all three seasons.

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, steroided-using Soviet Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren. Before he 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 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 golf pro for the 1996 comedy classic “Happy Gilmore” opposite Adam Sandler and starred in Dick Wolf’s short-lived spin-off series “Chicago Justice” in 2017 and in Disney’s “The Mandalorian,” earning an Emmy Award nomination in 2021. He also voiced Combat Carl in the “Toy Story” franchise.

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,” he told the Detroit News 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 — he majored in theater — and went on to play for one season in the NFL, for the Oakland Raiders, in 1970.

“When I found football, it was a completely different outlet,” says 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.”

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

After appearing in several films and TV shows, including “Good Times,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Starsky & Hutch,” as well as fighting Nazis alongside Harrison Ford in “Force 10 From Navarone,” Weathers landed his knockout role — Creed. He told The Hollywood Reporter that his start in the iconic franchise was not auspicious.

He was asked to read with the writer, Stallone, then unknown. Weathers read the scene but felt it didn’t land and so he blurted out: “I could do a lot better if you got me a real actor to work with,” he recalled. “So I just insulted the star of the movie without really knowing it and not intending to.” He also lied that he had any boxing experience.

Later in life, Weathers developed a passion for directing, helming episodes of “Silk Stalking” and and the Lorenzo Lamas vehicle “Renegade.” He directed a season three episode of “The Mandalorian.”

Weathers introduced himself to another generation when he portrayed himself as an opportunistic and extremely thrifty actor who becomes involved with the dysfunctional clan at the heart of “Arrested Development.”

The Weathers character likes to save money by making broth from discarded food — ‘There’s still plenty of meat on that bone” and “Baby, you got a stew going!” — and, for the right price, agrees to become an acting coach for delusional and talent-free thespian Tobias Funke, played by David Cross.

Weathers is survived by two sons.