Actor Carl Weathers, a former professional American football player who shot to stardom by playing the brash and charismatic boxer Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” movies, died on Thursday of undisclosed causes, his manager announced on Friday. He was 76.
Though he had other prominent roles, acting in the recent Star Wars spinoff series The Mandalorian and the 1987 science fiction horror movie Predator, Weathers was best known for playing Apollo Creed opposite Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa in the hit movies of the 1970s and 1980s.
Weathers’ character was at first a rival and later an ally to the Rocky character in the first four movies of the series.
He also helped launch the career of Stallone, at that time a Hollywood unknown who wrote and starred in the 1976 film that went on to sweep the 1977 Oscars, snagging best picture and best actor for Stallone.
Stallone said in a video tribute he was “torn up” and “just trying to hold it in.”
“When he walked into that room, and I saw him for the first time, I saw greatness,” Stallone said, standing before a LeRoy Neiman painting of the two of them boxing. “But I didn’t realize how great. I never could have accomplished what we did with Rocky without him.”
Modeled after Muhammad Ali, the Creed character demonstrated smarts and flare, offering audiences a strong and positive Black character at a time when mainstream movie roles were just starting to break out of stereotypes.
While he could show off his physique in movies like “Action Jackson,” in which he played the lead character in the 1988 film, Weathers also played comedy, taking a turn opposite Adam Sandler as the one-handed golf coach in “Happy Gilmore” in 1996, and parodying himself in the television series “Arrested Development” in four episodes from 2004 to 2013.
Weathers had a brief career playing for the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League and retired from the sport to pursue acting.
He landed steady work in minor roles until he was cast as Creed, a role that according to Hollywood lore originally went to boxer Ken Norton, who dropped out just before production.
In a 2016 interview with the Daily Beast, Weathers said he “stole a lot” from Ali in creating the character.
“With any role that’s so iconic, defining, grand – it was so many things, you know? But yeah, 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,” Weathers said.
After the Creed character ran its course, Weathers teamed up with the other major action star of the period, Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a role in the 1987 hit “Predator.”
“The Mandalorian” put Weathers back into the limelight over 10 episodes from 2019 to 2023.
Married and divorced three times, Weathers is survived by two children, Jason and Matthew. The statement from his manager described Weathers as a “beloved brother, father, grandfather, partner, and friend.”