Carl Weathers, who starred as Apollo Creed in the first four Rocky films and appeared in Predator, The Mandalorian, Happy Gilmore, Action Jackson, Arrested Development and dozens of other films and TV shows, died Thursday, his family announced. He was 76.
“We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Carl Weathers,” his family said in a statement. “He died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday, February 1st, 2024. … Carl was an exceptional human being who lived an extraordinary life. 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.”
More from Deadline
Born on January 14, 1948, in New Orleans, Weathers appeared in more than 75 films and TV shows during his 50-year screen career. He Greef Karga, the head of the Bounty Hunters Guild, in nine episodes of the Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian over its three seasons. The character became close to Pedro Pascal’s Mando as the series progressed. Weathers was a 2021 Emmy nominee for the role and also directed a pair of episodes in Season 2 and 3.
Last month, Lucasfilm confirmed a Mandalorian feature film, The Mandalorian & Grogu, was in the works, with series creator Jon Favreau to direct. It’s unclear whether Pascal or any other of the series’ cast will be involved in the film, which is slated to begin production this year.
Weathers showed off his comedy chops in a memorable arc on Arrested Development, playing a version of himself as an ad-hoc acting coach who proudly offered tips on saving money at everything from food buffets to airport rides. He appeared in four episodes across the Emmy-winning series’ first four seasons.
He also appeared as Police Chief Hampton Forbes in more than two dozen episodes of the 1989-95 TV series In the Heat of the Night starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard Rollins. Weathers was a series regular in the 1993-94 seventh and final season and appeared in the post-series telefilms.
Weathers also voiced Combat Carl in the Oscar-winning Toy Story 4 (2019) after originating the character for the 2013 TV special Toy Story of Terror.
Other credits include his 1988 star turn in Action Jackson, which earned in an NAACP Image Award nom and came after he starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987’s Predator. In the latter film, Weathers played Al Dillon, a CIA operative and old Vietnam War buddy of Schwarzenegger’s Maj. Alan “Dutch” Schaefer. They are stalked by a mysterious life form that deploys thermo-imaging and cloaking abilities, and it doesn’t end well for Dillon.
But Weathers is best known for playing Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world who gave journeyman Philly boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) a shot at the title in 1976’s Rocky. Weathers reprised the role in Rocky II (1979), which featured a title rematch with Balboa, and 1982’s Rocky III, where he trained Balboa to fight the brutish Clubber Lang (Mr. T). Creed’s final film in the franchise was Rocky IV (1985), where he was killed in the ring by chiseled Russian heavyweight Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).
Weathers also had a memorable turn as Derick “Chubbs” Peterson opposite Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, playing the title character’s golf coach. Peterson was a pro golfer who was forced to leave the tour after losing his hand to an alligator; his wooden replacement paw was the source of many gags.
He was badly injured while filming a fall stunt during the Happy Gilmore shoot, leading to years of terrible pain. “I didn’t know it until years later, but I fractured two vertebrae and osteophytes grew out and connected, and it did a kind of self-fuse in a really bad place,” he told GQ in a 2020 interview. “There were three or four years there where I was just in excruciating pain.”
After playing linebacker at San Diego State University — he gave the 1987 commencement address there — Weathers went undrafted but signed with the Oakland Raiders. He played eight NFL games for Coach John Madden in 1970-71 before joining the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League, where he played from 1971-73.
He began his screen career during that era with guest shots in such hit TV series as Good Times, Kung Fu, S.W.A.T., The Six Million Dollar Man and Cannon. As the decade went on, he appeared in episodes of Starsky and Hutch, Barnaby Jones, Switch, The Streets of San Francisco and other popular shows. He returned to his action roots with the late-’90s TV movies Assault on Devil’s Island and Assault on Death Mountain, starring in both opposite Hulk Hogan and Shannon Tweed.
Weathers began amassing film credits in 1975 with a pair of blaxploitaton pics, Bucktown and Friday Foster. His other movie roles included Semi-Tough (1977), Force 10 from Navarone (1978), Death Hunt (1981) and Hurricane Smith (1992).
But his career took off in America’s bicentennial year.
Stallone was a nascent actor and screenwriter when United Artists released Rocky, the underdog-boxer drama that would enter the cultural zeitgeist. Weathers was cast as Creed, the beloved, star-spangled and understandably cocky heavyweight champion who sees dollar signs and good publicity by giving a local lug a title shot. Enter Rocky Balboa, who gets the gig in part due to his catchy nickname, “The Italian Stallion.” He’s a southpaw journeyman and part-time enforcer for a loan shark who beats the marrow out of sides of beef as part of his training — which Balboa takes seriously.
Creed? Not so much. He’s more interested in promoting the fight than training for it. When the two finally meet amid a jingoistic sea of red, white and blue — Creed enters the ring dressed as Uncle Sam — it turns into a bout for the ages, with both men beating the snot out of each other. Some bloody faces and broken ribs later, the final bell sounds. The fighters embrace each other, with Creed memorably saying, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” to which Balboa replies, “Don’t want one.”
The film won Best Picture and two other Oscars on 10 nominations, which included Best Actor and Original Screenplay for Stallone. And Bill Conti’s rousing, brass-meets-disco tune “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” topped the Billboard Hot 100.
That all set up Creed-Balboa II.
Rocky II was a smash and featured the championship rematch — this time with a different result. And it led to Rocky III, which introduced the world to champion bouncer-turned-actor Mr. T and his catchphrase “I pity the fool.” Asked for his prediction on the fight with Balboa, Lang replies, peering with menace straight into the camera: “Pain.”
Weathers would play Creed once more, in the Cold War-themed Rocky IV. His aging character agrees to an exhibition match with the driven Soviet behemoth Drago, which spells doom for the ex-champ.
The Apollo Creed role famously almost went to Ken Norton, the real-life heavyweight champ who’d split two Southern California bouts against Muhammad Ali in 1973. He broke Ali’s jaw in their first fight, which Norton won in a TKO. Ali would beat Norton in their controversial 1976 third match, two months before Rocky was released.
Michael B. Jordan plays Creed’s son, Adonis Johnson, in the Creed films.
Weathers also had an emerging career as a TV director. Along with The Mandalorian, in the past few years he helmed episodes of Chicago Med, FBI, Law & Order, The Last O.G., Hawaii Five-O, For the People, 18 Wheels of Justice, Strong Medicine and Pensacola: Wings of Gold.
Mike Fleming Jr. and Patrick Hipes contributed to this report.
Best of Deadline