Appearing in: Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV
A former pro-football player with the Los Angeles Raiders and the British Columbia Lions, Carl Weathers transitioned from sports to pursue an acting dream.
Early Life and Pro Football Career
Born on January 14, 1948, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Weathers emerged from the ghetto, relying on athletic prowess to overcome adversity.
Weathers’ gridiron journey began in 1966 at Long Beach City College, though a sidelined 1966 due to an ankle twist didn’t deter him.
Transferring to San Diego State, he became a key player, earning a letterman status and contributing to the Aztecs’ impressive 11–0 record and the 1969 Pasadena Bowl victory. Under the coaching prowess of Don Coryell, Weathers excelled on the field before transitioning to master the art of theatre at San Diego State.
Weathers signed on with the Oakland Raiders in 1970, making a mark as a linebacker. Playing seven games, he contributed to the Raiders clinching the AFC West Division title and reaching their first-ever AFC Championship Game.
Though a brief stint in 1971 preceded his release, Weathers didn’t hang up his cleats. A move to the BC Lions in the Canadian Football League (1971–1973) saw him in action for 18 games.
Juggling off-seasons, he pursued a drama degree at San Francisco State University, officially retiring from football in 1974 to embark on an acting career.
Transition from the Gridiron to Hollywood
Several years in the sporting world had taken their toll on the 6’2″ linebacker and Weathers believed he was destined for greatness on the silver screen.
He started slowly with a variety of work on television commercials and then moved on to bit parts in motion pictures like Robert Redford’s The Candidate.
Weathers also landed key roles in blaxploitation gems like Bucktown (1975) and Friday Foster (1975). His TV resume boasts appearances in iconic shows like Good Times, Kung Fu, Cannon, Starsky and Hutch, and Barnaby Jones.
But it was Weathers’ audacious move to critique Sylvester Stallone’s acting during his Rocky audition that really paid off, securing Weathers the coveted role of Apollo Creed.
Carl Weathers Becomes “Apollo Creed”
Carl Weathers’ big break came in 1975 when he learned that casting directors were on the lookout for a bold and brash actor to play the World Heavyweight Champ in an upcoming film called Rocky.
“Fortunately,” Carl says, “having had an extensive background in professional sports, I had known men in all fields with just those same self-centered personalities that Creed was required to have.”
“In certain sports, that very flair for showmanship can better make one a star rather that one’s actual give for playing the sport in question.”
Auditioning for the Role in “Rocky”
Sylvester Stallone’s original plan for the character Apollo Creed in Rocky was to cast Ken Norton, a former professional boxer. However, due to concerns about the significant size difference between Norton and Stallone, the filmmakers reconsidered.
Shorter and lighter than Norton, Stallone felt that the visual dynamic between the two men wouldn’t be convincing on screen.
After a week of desperation in their search for the perfect actor to play Apollo Creed, the producers got a call from an agency suggesting one of their clients – Carl Weathers.
Stallone, exhausted from his work on the film, hung around late one evening to meet the excited little-known actor.
“[Carl] told us how he was right for the part, and one thing was certain – he wasn’t lacking confidence,” Stallone remembered.
Weathers was handed a script and was asked to read a scene with Stallone. “[Carl] had no idea who I was. He thought I was just some semi-literate office boy because I had submerged myself so far into the character of Rocky that I didn’t exactly sound like your typical writer. I appeared to be the janitor’s nephew who was just there to do the windows or take out the trash,” Sly remembered.
The team thought Weathers’ read of the script was good, but when he turned and said, “I would have done much, much better if you had given me a real actor to read with,” Sly went along good naturedly, and then suggested that the two box together.
Weathers then pulled off his shirt, revealing a stunning physique – a natural, perfectly sculpted body fitting for the champion.
Despite his career as an actor, not a fighter, Weathers’ athletic background shone as he gracefully danced around the office, skillfully throwing jabs.
The audition took an unexpected twist as he tagged Stallone, inflicting playful hits to the forehead, leaving Stallone in a humorous but brain-damaged audition scenario for his own movie.
“I started chopping back but then I decided to call it a day before we ended up playing the major portion of the movie from the intensive care ward at Mount Sinai Hospital,” Sly recalled. “Carl was a winner. Carl got the part.”
A champion bluffer, Carl used his natural acting bravado to win the role of a lifetime.
Building the Creed Character
“I wanted Creed to be as believable a champion as Ali, so I immersed myself in a strenuous two-month training program,” Weathers explained.
“I’d work out every day. Then, at night, I’d screen films of all the great boxers – Tunney, Louis, Frazier, Norton, Sugar Ray, Marciano and, of course, Ali. By the time the cameras rolled, they had to temper me down for the fight scenes.”
But it wasn’t until Rocky III and Rocky IV that Weathers, as Apollo Creed, showed audiences what makes a true champion tick once he gets past the showmanship and even the talent.
Maybe it’s the scene in Rocky IV when Creed tells Balboa why he wants to fight the Russian boxer Ivan Drago, that says it best.
“I can’t make a new life,” Apollo tells Rocky. “I tried, but I burn inside. It’s wrecked my life. I don’t hardly see my family anymore. I don’t do anything but think about being somebody again. Maybe we look like we’re changing to other people, but we’re not changing inside. You and me, we don’t have a choice. We are what we are. We have to live on the edge. We’re never going to fit in a normal life, because we’re the warriors. We’re the last ones left standing, and without a war to fight, a warrior may as well be dead!”
By the film’s end, we learn that Creed is not the kind of warrior to fight for himself alone, that he feels he represents others who can’t fight the way he can, and that those feelings run deep and wide.
But the depth of Apollo’s feelings is no surprise to Carl Weathers. Even through the first two films, when Creed is a loser whether he actually retains his title or not, “Stallone had written a story that allowed us a relationship of considerable depth and nuance on screen . . . Something far beyond antagonistic threats and punches.”
All the same, Weathers was surprised to be back in demand for Rocky III. In fact, like all of the other principal actors, the continuing success of this film sagas that has lasted ten years, somewhat overwhelms him.
“Who would have thought it would turn out like this?” he once marveled. “No one was more surprised than I was when they wanted Apollo for Rocky III, since Rocky had beaten Apollo for the title in Rocky II. I have to admit that I, too, had thought we’d seen the last of the defeated former champ, Creed. But I was thrilled, delighted to again be such an integral part of the Rocky story.”
Acting Career Beyond “Rocky”
Beyond Rocky, Carl Weathers made brief appearances in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and portrayed Vince Sullivan in the TV movie Not This Time (1978). The late ’70s and ’80s showcased Weathers in action-packed roles in Force 10 from Navarone (1978), Predator (1987), Action Jackson (1988), and Hurricane Smith (1992).
Teaming up with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura in Predator, Weathers later humorously announced a political run on Saturday Night Live, emphasizing his iconic role as “the black guy in Predator.”
Weathers extended his versatility, appearing in Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” music video and showcasing comedic talent in Happy Gilmore (1996) and Little Nicky. Despite enduring a fall stunt mishap during Happy Gilmore, resulting in fractured vertebrae, Weathers persevered through excruciating pain for several years.
Adding to his TV credits, Weathers played Sgt. Adam Beaudreaux in Street Justice, took on the role of Hampton Forbes in the final seasons of In the Heat of the Night, and portrayed MACV-SOG Colonel Brewster in Tour of Duty. In 2004, a comedic resurgence unfolded with Weathers’ appearances on Arrested Development, portraying a cheapskate version of himself as Tobias Fünke’s acting coach. He continued to grace the screen in The Sasquatch Gang and The Comebacks.
Weathers also contributed his voice to Colonel Samuel Garrett in the video game Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction. His narrative skills were showcased in Conquest! The Price Of Victory – Witness The Journey of the Trojans! (2005), an 18-part TV series on USC athletics. Weathers, a principal at Red Tight Media, specializes in producing tactical training films for the U.S. armed forces. His diverse career includes a guest role on ER’s 2008 finale season as the father of an injured boxer.
Life After Apollo Creed
Although Weather’s connection with the Rocky saga was effectively severed in Rocky IV, the actor had no qualms about his role.
“Who wants to portray the losing champ? But Rocky is all about how there are no losers in life, unless you allow yourself to see yourself that way. The Rocky saga stresses the importance of self-worth and that’s a lesson for everyone to learn. It’s something that I can really get behind and believe in personally, too.”
In the course of four films, Weathers came to have a rewarding relationship with co-star and director Stallone.
“Off-screen, Sylvester Stallone and I already had, and continue to have, both a professional working relationship and a personal friendship,” he commented.
“So it was really a pleasure to have the chance to ‘act’ those real feelings out for the movie script. An actor could hardly ask for more. I want to do pictures that involve the nobler emotions, like tenderness, love and caring. One-dimensional characters don’t’ interest me. That’s why I’m so thankful that Sly expanded the character of Apollo, along with insight into what really drives him.”