With Carl Weathers’ passing, at age 76, a legend is no longer with us.
Weathers was a professional football player — he signed with the Oakland Raiders in 1970 — who then made the transition to performing in the 1970s. He took on smaller roles in film and television until his breakout as Apollo Creed in “Rocky” in 1976. From there, he would work steadily, alternating between film, television and voiceover roles such as on “Regular Show” and “Star vs. the Forces of Evil.” Even disembodied from his physicality, he left an impression.
As we mourn his passing, we also celebrate the life that he led and the work that he left behind. Here are five essential Carl Weathers performances – and where you can watch them right now.
Weathers had appeared in television shows doing guest spots throughout the 1970s — including, of course, “The Six Million Dollar Man.” But when he was approached to play Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion who faces off against Sylvester Stallone’s plucky underdog, Weathers found his first truly iconic role.
What’s fascinating is that Weathers wasn’t even the team’s first choice, as they’d first gone to real-life boxer Ken Norton (who Creed was based on), but Norton had to back out at the last minute. Can you imagine anyone else playing Apollo Creed? Weathers is gruff and pompous, but he also brings real heart and dimension to the character, as is witnessed by him popping up in several sequels.
(Spoiler alert: in a later movie, Apollo’s death in the ring sends Rocky on a bloodthirsty quest for revenge. The above photo is from that film, “Rocky IV.”)
With “Rocky,” Weathers confirmed what we had already suspected: that the once-great athlete was a now-great performer. Watch now on Max.
Director John McTiernan and producer Joel Silver cast Weathers, a chiseled mountain of a man, as a CIA operative in this high-concept action movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger even comments on his size and position when they first meet, asking if the CIA has “got you pushing too many pencils.”
They then embrace in what is arguably the manliest handshake ever captured on film. Everything about Weathers’ performance in “Predator” is memorable – from the way he chomps on a cigar to his graphic death sequence, where his arm gets ripped off his body.
The fact that, just like in that introductory scene, he’s able to hold his own — not only against Schwarzenegger, but also the camouflaging critter — is a testament to what a huge screen presence he had become. Watch now on Max.
“Action Jackson” (1988)
Inspired by Weathers’ work on “Predator,” producer Joel Silver quickly arranged for his follow-up – a Blaxploitation-indebted action movie directed by the great Craig R. Baxley, a second-unit director and stunt coordinator who had also worked on “Predator.” Weathers plays Sergeant Jericho “Action” Jackson, described by another character as “so vicious we don’t even let him have a gun.”
Weathers displays both the humor and the toughness that made his “Predator” character so fun to watch, as he’s surrounded by a charmingly oddball cast that includes Prince protégé Vanity, a pre-fame Sharon Stone and Craig T. Nelson, who kicks Weathers in the face at the end of the movie (if you can believe that).
A rollicking good time and underappreciated both then and now, it’s a shame it wasn’t more of a success – it would have been fun to get a new “Action Jackson” installment every few years. Available to buy on Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon, Google Play.
“Happy Gilmore” (1996)
Who would have guessed that Weathers’ second wind would come in the form of a goofball Adam Sandler comedy? As a retired, one-handed golf pro named Derick “Chubbs” Peterson who Sandler’s anger-prone title character hires to get him back in the game, Weathers was oddly affecting and deeply hilarious.
Not only is the character amazing and endlessly quoted, but it allowed Weathers to become a part of the Sandler troupe, at least for a little while (he would also play Chubbs again in an uncredited cameo in “Little Nicky”), and eventually get truly incredible comedic roles in projects like “Arrested Development” and Angus MacLane’s “Toy Story of Terror!” (He would reprise his “Toy Story” role as Combat Carl for “Toy Story 4.”)
Weathers was always good for a pivot – from professional sports to Hollywood and from more serious performer to comedic great. It speaks to his versatility and the elemental power of his work. Watch now on Peacock.
“The Mandalorian” (2019)
Weathers’ latest career rejuvenation came in the form of Disney+’s live-action “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian.” Weathers’ Greef Karga is there from the beginning, doling out assignments to the titular bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal). In the subsequent seasons, Karga has taken on a greater role; by Season 3, he was the high magistrate of Navarro, the town where much of the action takes place.
A disgraced former military official, Karga was happy to operate in the gray zone — until a higher calling reached out to him. He accepted it and his reformation was one of the big arcs on the show. He also directed a pair of episodes, “The Siege” and “The Foundling,” proving that he was just as essential behind-the-scenes.
There’s a kind of grace and style that Weathers brought to the role; under another performer’s watch, Karga probably wouldn’t have made it past the first season. But it speaks to what kind of actor Weathers was that he not only stuck around but became one of the most beloved “Star Wars” characters in the franchise’s canon. Watch now on Disney+.
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