The Charisma and Excellence of Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed in 'Rocky IV' (1985) / MGM

NFL linebacker-turned-actor Carl Weathers, who became famous for playing Apollo Creed in the first four ‘Rocky’ movies alongside Sylvester Stallone, died Feb. 1. He was 76 years old and left an impressive legacy as a legend in the entertainment business with a 5 decades-long career.

Besides the flamboyant and outspoken Creed, Weathers is remembered for hunting the Predator (1987) as Dillon with Arnold Schwarzenegger and golf mentoring Adam Sandler as Chubbs in Happy Gilmore (1996). Although with a loaded resumé with films and TV appearances, Weathers found a dignified third act in the Star Wars universe, acknowledged by a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in The Mandalorian’ (2019 – 2023), of which he directed two episodes.

Born Jan. 14, 1948, in New Orleans, from a young age, Weathers was a natural for sports, engaging in many disciplines among them soccer, wrestling, gymnastics, boxing, and football; the latter two would have vital roles in his adult life.

As a college student, Weathers played football at San Diego State University and aided the Aztecs win the 1969 Pasadena Bowl. Still in the University, Weathers enrolled in theatre arts before graduation the following year; he signed with the Oakland Raiders as a free agent, playing eight games in the NFL as a linebacker during two seasons, in the pinnacle of American football.

After leaving the pitch, Weathers focused on acting and, like his contemporary Black American talents, found minor roles in blaxploitation movies such as Arthur Marks Bucktown and Friday Foster while juggling guest appearances in TV series such as ‘Good Times and Starsky and Hutch. However, in the following decade, Weathers would shine like a few, even while playing supporting roles, and his sports background and muscular build brought realism, furthering the physicality involved in his acting process, which was also regarded by athletes.

Carl Weathers in The Mandalorian
Carl Weathers in The Mandalorian // Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon /Lucasfilm Ltd.

Weathers is mainly remembered for playing Apollo Creed, a Muhammad Ali adjacent boxer with many nicknames and natural showmanship who starts as the arrogant antagonist to Stallone’s Rocky Balboa and later becomes a friendly rival and mentor who trains Balboa to face Clubber Lang (Mr. T), after the demise of his first coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith), but perishes in Rocky IV (1985) after heavy blows by the cold Russian Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).

Among Creed’s memorable scenes is running on the beach with Balboa during their training in Rocky III (1982), after which they share a manly and candid embrace, and coming down dressed as Uncle Sam and dancing to James Brown’s ‘Living in America’ for his entrance to the Drago exhibition match coming out of retirement. Weathers exuded charisma that he would carry to other roles and Apollo’s memory would come back in the saga through the exploits of his orphan son Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan).

In Predator, Weathers portrayed Colonel Al Dillon, a CIA agent operating in South America and friend of US Army special forces operator Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Schwarzenegger). Dillon had more information on their assignment that he would share with Dutch, and he still met his end in the hands of the outer space beast, but later was avenged by his comrade. In 1988, at the height of his fame, Weathers hosted ‘Saturday Night Live,’ a landmark for an entertainer career, and would come back years later to a live sketch claiming that he was running for a political office considering that he was “the Black guy in Predator” after Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, both from his mercenary squad in the picture, entered the political arena.

The fame from Rocky and Predator also led to Weathers’ leading role in Action Jackson (1988), playing the detective that names the picture that, although not well-received by critics, grossed US$ 20 million on a US$ 8 million budget, and made more US$ 45 million in VHS sales. The picture gained a cult following as current critics say that it could have been a franchise with an ongoing character like ‘Shaft.’ The cast also has Vanity, Sharon Stone, Craig T. Nelson, and ‘Predator’ alum Bill Duke. Action Jackson was ahead of its time considering the current conversation on diversity and showed that if studios backed Weathers, he would have rivaled his co-stars Stallone and Schwarzenegger, and different from the mentioned movies, Weathers’s character survived to tell the tale.

As Greef Karga, Weathers was the handler of Pedro Pascal’s Mandalorian, one of the most successful entries in the massive Star Wars franchise, acclaimed by critics and fans.
Weather showed that athletes could have a successful and respectable transition into acting and later work behind the screens as well; his prowess also displayed new sides to Black male representation and with an acclaimed third act in ‘The Mandalorian’ he earned a new generation of fans that alongside the others that already knew his oeuvre mourn him and remember his outstanding legacy.

Also Read: Beyond The Mandalorian: Expanding The Star Wars Universe

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Gabriel Leão

Gabriel Leão (He/Him) works as a journalist and is based in São Paulo, Brazil. He has written for outlets in Brazil, the UK, Canada and the USA such as Vice, Ozy Media, Remezcla, Al Jazeera, Women’s Media Center, Clash Music, Dicebreaker, Yahoo! Brasil, Scarleteen, Anime Herald, Anime Feminist and Brazil’s ESPN Magazine. He also holds a Master’s degree in Communications and a post-grad degree in Foreign Relations.