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.”
Weathers was comfortable flexing his muscles on the big screen in “Action Jackson” as well as joking around on the small screen in such shows as “Arrested Development.” He 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 appeared in all three seasons of the Disney+ hit “The Mandalorian,” for which he earned an Emmy nomination in 2021.
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, steroid-using Soviet Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren.
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.”
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.
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 in 2023.
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.
After the Raiders, he joined the Canadian Football League, playing for two years while finishing 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.”
Weathers is survived by two sons.