When you look back on the career of Carl Weathers, who died on Thursday at the age of 76, certain images immediately come to mind. There is Weathers, abs glistening, in American flag shorts in the “Rocky” movies. Or Weathers wearing dirty fatigues in “Predator.” Comedy junkies might immediately picture him waving alongside an alligator in “Happy Gilmore.” Throughout Weathers’s acting career, which followed a stint in professional football, he was associated with franchises that became pop culture sensations. But he was also a performer who was as comfortable goofing on his own persona as he was battling Rocky Balboa or a Predator. Here are some of his most memorable roles and where to watch them.
‘Rocky I-IV’ (1976, 1979, 1982, 1985)
If you know Weathers for one part, it is Apollo Creed, the villain turned pal turned tragic figure in the “Rocky” franchise. Creed is introduced in the first film, the best picture winner directed by John G. Avildsen, as the man who both gives Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky his shot and stands in his way.
A heavyweight champion who needs an opponent for a fight, Apollo has the great idea to give a “local underdog” the chance to go up against him. The first two movies find Rocky battling Creed. By the third, Rocky and Apollo have formed an alliance, and, by the fourth, well, I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but suffice it to say Apollo’s legacy looms large. When “Rocky II” came out, Weathers was already thinking about a future after Apollo. He told The Washington Post: “I’m looking for a Picassoesque role, something that will throw me into new period. I feel Apollo Creed has taken me so far, but now it’s necessary to go beyond that.” But it’s also understandable why Apollo is such a touchstone of Weathers’s career. In addition to showing off his incredible physicality, he made a character that could have been a one-off bad guy into a person you couldn’t help but root for every time he was in the ring. Now, the “Rocky” films have morphed into the “Creed” films. That would not have been the case without Weathers.
One of the most indelible images in all of action cinema comes early in John McTiernan’s “Predator.” It is a close-up on the incredibly ripped arms of Weathers and Arnold Schwarzenegger after they clasp hands. That image of camaraderie quickly dissolves into competition. The two are not merely greeting each other. They are starting an arm-wrestling match. Weathers plays Dillon, the C.I.A. man who dupes Schwarzenegger’s Dutch into going on a doomed mission where they are pursued by a member of an alien species that has camouflage abilities and thrives on hunting for sport. In Weathers’s eyes, you can see Dillon trying to keep up his machismo as the rest of his crew realizes they are in way over their heads.
‘Happy Gilmore’ (1996)
Weathers was as deft a comedian as he was an action star. Case in point: His work as Chubbs in the Adam Sandler comedy “Happy Gilmore.” Chubbs is a golf pro who takes it upon himself to coach Sandler’s eponymous doofus, a hockey player wannabe with talent for the more demure sport. Weathers gives the role gravitas despite the utter ridiculousness of what he is tasked with doing and saying. A fine example of this is the early monologue in which Chubbs explains to Happy why he wasn’t allowed to play on the pro tour: It was because an alligator bit his hand off, he says, brandishing a bizarre wooden replacement. Later, he appears to Happy in a vision playing a piano and crooning the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
Weathers only appeared on four episodes of the beloved sitcom “Arrested Development,” but his willingness to parody himself in the show’s absurdist tone made him one of the most delightful recurring guests. Weathers first appeared in “Public Relations,” Episode 11 of the first season, playing, naturally, Carl Weathers. This version of the star is a man who likes nothing more than to save and make money, a fact handily illustrated in his first scene where he is taking a shuttle to the Los Angeles airport with the express purpose of getting bumped from a flight to make some extra cash. There he meets the aspiring actor Tobias Fünke (David Cross), who enlists Weathers as an acting coach. Weathers’s tips are best summed up in his appearance in the episode titled “Marta Complex,” in which he stops Tobias from throwing out scraps from a plate. “There’s still plenty of meat on that bone,” he says. “Now you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you’ve got a stew going.”
‘Toy Story 4’ (2019)
In what is an amusing nod to his work as a commando in “Predator,” Weathers’s voice shows up briefly in “Toy Story 4” as multiple Combat Carl action figures, who refer to themselves in the third person and are really eager to be played with by children. It’s a reprise of his role in the 2013 short “Toy Story of Terror!” That version of Carl has a more haunted bent and a mini-me version. All the Carls are proof that Weathers was never afraid to riff on his own most famous work.
What would ultimately be Weathers’s final screen role took him into the “Star Wars” universe. On the television show “The Mandalorian,” Weathers was Greef Karga, a sort of bounty hunter liaison who sends the title character on the mission that sets the series plot in motion. Weathers seemed particularly at home in the galaxy far, far away, imbuing his dialogue with a level of regality fitting this space opera. Weathers, who often directed television, also helmed two episodes of “The Mandalorian.” In “Chapter 12: The Siege,” he pulled double duty, also showing up as Greef, while in “Chapter 20: The Foundling” he wrangled the alien beasties behind the scenes.