As boxing fans, and movie fans, no doubt know, actor Carl Weathers passed away this week, on Thursday, the 76 year old dying “peacefully in his sleep.” Weathers was not a boxer, but he sure gave the world four superb and, above all, believable portrayals as one; Weathers of course playing the fictitious ‘Apollo Creed’ in four of the six ‘Rocky’ movies.
And make no mistake about it, had Weather’s turn as Creed not worked, had the actor been guilty of hamming it up or of otherwise blowing it, the films we all love and cherish so much would not have been half as great, half as enjoyable, and half as believable as they are. Weathers is brilliant as ‘Creed,’ his own magnetism and the magnetism of the fictitious fighter he plays really shining through the screen.
Famously, Weathers was not the first choice creator, director and star Sylvester Stallone had in mind for the role of his character’s most celebrated ring rival. Sly wanted a real fighter, but Ken Norton surprisingly pulled out when the 1976 classic was close to production. In came former college and pro football player Weathers. Equally as famously as Norton’s decision to take a pass, is the way Weathers – who had had small roles in four films prior to landing the role he would become globally famous for – said to a casting member how he “could do a better job if I had a real actor to work with.”
Stallone loved Carl’s combination of nerve and arrogance, and he supposedly decided on the spot that he wanted Weathers to play ‘Apollo.’ And to repeat, Weathers did a brilliant job, in ‘Rocky,’ in ‘Rocky II,’ in ‘Rocky III,’ and in ‘Rocky IV,’ the film in which ‘Creed’ was killed by Russian robot “Ivan Drago.’
So, why is Weathers so great as Creed? The actor’s impressive physique didn’t hurt, while Weathers, doing a toned-down Muhammad Ali impersonation; his fast tongue and his trash-talking proving both funny as well as accurate, really does look like and act like a big as life world heavyweight champion. Also, thanks to the painstaking amount of toil and effort Stallone and Weathers put in in the gym, the two going over their ring moves to the point of exhaustion (“when you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s exhausting,” Weathers would say in one of the many ‘Rocky’ documentaries), the fight scenes work.
Not bad going for a couple of at the time struggling actors who had never, ever boxed. Weathers played the part of ‘Apollo’ so well, his character became almost as hugely popular, as loved as Sly’s Philly slugger. And that’s some big thing. Fans really took to ‘Rocky’ and they also took to ‘Apollo.’ And we still do.
After leaving the on-screen ring, Weathers enjoyed success in action flicks like ‘Predator,’ and ‘Action Jackson,’ while Weathers was also a hit in smash TV show ‘The Mandalorian.’
It is though, as ‘Apollo Creed’ that Weathers will always be best known. Indeed, in the title of many of the written tributes to Weathers that appeared as news of his death appeared, were the words, “’Apollo Creed’ actor dies.”
With the recent passing of Burt Young, who played ‘Paulie’ in the ‘Rocky’ films, and now, with the death of Weathers, it will no longer be quite the same when one slides a ‘Rocky’ film into the VCR or when one of the movies comes on TV late at night.