By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) -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. He was 76.
“We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Carl Weathers. He died peacefully in his sleep,” his manager, Matt Luber, said in a statement on Friday.
Though he had other prominent roles, starring 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.
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.
“So much fun to be around always. Smart as hell. Loyal as hell. Funny as hell,” Sandler said of Weathers on Instagram.
Weathers had a brief career playing for the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League and retired from the sport in 1974 to pursue an acting career.
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.”