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A Man of Many Talents: Carl Weathers (1948-2024)

Carl Weathers, the rugged actor best known for his portrayal(s) of heavyweight fighter Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” franchise, has died at the age of 76. A former pro football player, Weathers played numerous action movie and law enforcement roles, but his flamboyant presence as Creed, helped catapult the Rocky brand, and inspire varied cultural references and spoofs. 

Weathers was born in New Orleans in 1948. As a youth, he became involved in football and the martial arts. His first brush with entertainment was a singing role in a school play written by a teacher named Mr. Slush. Weathers also sang in some groups and bands in New Orleans.

When his family moved to California, he enrolled at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where his gridiron prowess took him to Long Beach City College. Injured there during practice, he transferred to San Diego State, where he played on nationally recognized teams for Coach Don Coryell. He also majored in Theatre.

After contacting his former college linebacking coach Sid Hall, expressing an interest in playing professionally, Weathers signed as a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders (who had hired Hall as their linebackers coach) as a free agent in 1970. He played that season, and was released by the team early in the 1971 campaign. Raider head coach John Madden briefed Weathers when he cut him, "You're too sensitive." 

Undaunted, as when he moved to California, then changed colleges, then signed undrafted by a pro team, Weathers continued his career with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. In the off seasons, until his 1974 retirement from athletics, he studied acting. 

In 1975, he earned speaking roles in the blaxploitation films “Bucktown,” and “Friday Foster,” the latter starring Pam Grier. The same year, he guested on an episode of the sitcom “Good Times,” as well as on the dramas “Cannon,” and “Kung Fu”. The next TV season, Weathers earned parts on both “Barnaby Jones” and “Starsky and Hutch,” both detective series. He also auditioned for the role of Creed, and was cast as Rocky's braggadocious foe. 

Weathers called on the antics of heavyweight king Muhammad Ali (who was born Cassius Clay, thus the Greco-Roman appellation Apollo) in his performances as Creed, flavoring the caricature with his own blend of menace and comedic timing. The stark contrast with the unlikely heroics of journeyman boxer Rocky Balboa, lent the rivalry its David vs. Goliath tone. Weathers also co-starred in “Rocky II,” “Rocky III,” and “Rocky IV”. As much as they cheered for everyman Rocky, film fans grew to love his colorful adversary. In the 1970s and 1980s, Weathers also appeared in “Force 10 from Navarone,” briefly in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and memorably in the action hit “Predator”. He was the lead in “Action Jackson” in 1988. It is a tribute to his versatility that he was not type cast or limited to the larger-than-life Creed. 

In 1996's “Happy Gilmore,” Weathers again displayed his comedic gifts. That sense of humor which clashed with his exterior bravado, distinguished him as an actor. It helped separate him from former pro football players such as Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. In 1990s television, he had roles on “In the Heat of the Night,” “Street Justice,” and “Tour of Duty,” primarily as law enforcement or military characters. In 2004, he played an acting coach in a recurring part on the sitcom “Arrested Development”. Weathers also worked as a voice actor, documentary film narrator, and video game voice performer. He often cited Coach Madden's critique of his sensitivity, though he resented it in real time, as not only an impetus to excel in another field, but a trait vital to dramatic success.

When the 2006 film “Rocky Balboa” was made, Weathers was the only former Rocky rival actor to refuse to allow footage from his previous roles to be used in flashbacks–Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren had consented. Weathers, though Creed died in “Rocky IV,” had asked for a part. Nine years later, Weathers agreed to Sylvester Stallone's request for footage to be used in the 2015 film “Creed”. 

In 2021, his turn as Greef Karga in “The Mandalorian,” earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor. Thus, three generations of fans are familiar with Carl Weathers. He leveraged his recognition to also do humorous ads for Bud Light. In addition, Weathers directed two episodes of “The Mandalorian”. The former drama student and Stallone co-star was a man of many talents.

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