Carl Weathers death stunned me last week.
He seemed indestructible.
I don’t remember Weathers, the football player, but I’ll never forget Weathers, the actor.
He stamped his name on immortality when he portrayed Apollo Creed in a little movie that almost everyone (including some of the crew) thought would tank.
That movie was Rocky, of course.
The year was 1975. Little-known star and writer Sylvester Stallone needed someone to play Creed, the reigning heavyweight champion in the movie.
Heavyweight contender Ken Norton appeared to have the role in the bag. For unknown reasons, Norton backed out before filming.
Enter Weathers. He read for the part and afterward figured he had blown it.
“There was nobody to read with, and they said you’re going to read with the writer (Stallone).” Weathers told People magazine in 2015.
“We read through the scene and at the end of it, I didn’t feel like it had really sailed, that the scene had sailed, and they were quiet and there was this moment of awkwardness, I felt, anyway,” said Weathers. So, I just blurted out, ‘I could do a lot better if you got me a real actor to work with.’
Someone told Weathers that the actor he had just auditioned with, Stallone, was the film’s star. Stallone wasn’t bothered. He recognized the attitude was pure Apollo Creed.
The role was his.
In Rocky, easily the best of the series of films, Weathers as Creed is charismatic, dynamic, and loaded with pride. He embodies what a champion is.
In the movie, Rocky recognizes it.
“This man is champion of the world,” says Rocky. “He took his best shot and become champ. Huh? What shot did you ever take?”
For an actor with a handful of credits, Weathers is a natural. He understands Creed and channels him completely, lighting up the screen. His presence is undeniable. He fires off his lines with fire and grace – even the funny ones.
“Apollo Creed meets the Italian Stallion. It sounds like a damn monster movie,” he says with a grin in Rocky.
Apollo is one angry fighter in Rocky II.
“I won, but I didn’t beat him,” he says of his fight with Rocky.
Apollo rankles with resentment. He beats up his sparring partners. A rematch has to happen, even though his trainer is against it.
Thinking about that time, I remember discussing the film with a few friends of color at work.
“Hell, I was cheering for Rocky!” said one. We all laughed.
Apollo was back in Rocky 3, helping the “Italian Stallion” find the Eye of the Tiger. Though the series had lost the gritty feel of the first film, Weathers still delivered a fiery performance.
His last appearance as Apollo was in Rocky IV.
Sylvester Stallone reflected on the importance of Weathers in an emotional statement posted on Instagram.
“I never could have accomplished what we did with Rocky without him,” said Stallone. “He was magic, and I was so fortunate to be part of his life,” added Stallone. “So, Apollo, keep punching.”
It’s impossible to imagine Rocky without Apollo.
“There is no tomorrow”
Rest easy champ.
If you enjoy hearing from the legends of pro sports, then be sure to tune into “The Grueling Truth” sports shows, “Where the legends speak”
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