Carl Weathers Was Forever a Champion—and Forever Your Friend

The linebacker turned actor who died this week at age 76 was famous for playing Apollo Creed in ‘Rocky,’ Chubbs Peterson in ‘Happy Gilmore,’ and Greef Karga on ‘The Mandalorian.’ But he was the embodiment of charisma and charm—in victory or defeat.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I heard the news, and my face fell, but then my face brightened again at the mere thought of him yelling MANDO!! repeatedly, warmly, boisterously. A dear old friend of Mando’s greeting his old friend Mando, and a dear old friend of ours greeting all of us.

Maybe you miss his voice already, in which case I encourage you to just sit with this and luxuriate in his warm, boisterous, too-loud-but-that’s-why-we-love-him voice for a while. Ahhhh! Mando! They all hate you, Mando! Only you, Mando! Welcome back, Mando! Sorry for the remote rendezvous, Mando! His name, in the quite popular Star Wars Disney+ series The Mandalorian, is Greef Karga, but of course that’s not his name. His name, in any context and on any planet, is Carl Weathers, and we are forever delighted to hear his voice, to see our warm and boisterous old friend who greets us too loudly and claps us on the back so hard it hurts. Carl Weathers died on Thursday. He was 76. He is immortal for any one of roughly a dozen roles across a dozen beloved pop-cultural universes, and maybe Greef Karga makes your personal list of Most Beloved Carl Weathers Roles and maybe Greef Karga doesn’t, because that’s the towering stature of the beloved actor and old friend we’re dealing with here.

Carl Weathers was born in New Orleans, played defensive end for San Diego State (where he helped win the 1969 Pasadena Bowl and also got his master’s in theater arts), played eight games at linebacker for the Raiders (no stats but presumably fantastic vibes), and moved on to the Canadian Football League (where he once recovered a fumble as a member of the BC Lions). Then he became heavyweight champion of the world.

With apologies to that time in 1975 when he almost beat J.J. into oblivion on Good Times, the wider world first met Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed, ultra-charismatic semi-villain of the original 1976 Rocky, an astoundingly dapper champ (he had a 46-0 record with 46 KOs!) angrily boasting about how “none of ’em got a prayer of whippin’ me,” which nobody did, in that one anyway. What follows, over the first four Rocky movies—including Rocky II in 1979 (Creed loses, Rocky wins); Rocky III in 1982 (Creed trains, Rocky wins); and Rocky IV in 1985 (Creed dies, Rocky avenges)—is one of the great franchise-spanning character arcs in American cinema, from the mountain the hero has to climb to the wise mentor that spurs the hero to climb the next mountain. And it all peaks with the super-macho and absurdly joyous Rocky + Creed training montage in the third movie, which remains the purest Dudes Rock moment in global cultural history.

Apollo Creed is an all-timer, noble beyond measure in both victory and defeat, and the sheer embodiment of tender-badass American greatness, his hallowed last name alone fueling the greatest boxing franchise of our time. “See, we’re born with a killer instinct that you can’t just turn off and on like some radio,” Creed tells Rocky in Rocky IV, inspiring several generations of rapt moviegoers to run through walls. “’Cause we the warriors. And without some challenge—without some damn war to fight—then the warrior may as well be dead, Stallion.”

And then, with absurdly genial aplomb, Weathers found so many other damn wars to fight. In 1987, for example, he bursts onto (and off of) the screen in the original Predator, hooking up with Arnold Schwarzenegger for literally the single most macho handshake in recorded human history.

Who else could’ve possibly embodied the titular supercop role in the delightfully cheeseball 1988 action movie called Action Jackson? (“Mr. Jackson is so vicious we don’t even let him have a gun.”) Who else do you get to lead your two-season early-’90s TV cop drama literally called Street Justice? (All TV intros should feature all the characters smiling, or at least they should when Carl Weathers is one of the smilers.) Who else do you get to lend gravitas and credibility to the later mid-’90s seasons of the TV cop drama they actually had the balls to call In the Heat of the Night? And then. And then! Who else do you get to sell this?

Who else could’ve seen hapless ol’ Happy Gilmore as golf-pro material? Who else do you get to sell that pastel sweater-hat combo, that ludicrously too-long prosthetic hand, that alligator eye in the jar he still carries with him everywhere because Carl Weathers doesn’t even lose the fights he loses? Who else fits the character name “Chubbs Peterson”? Carl’s turn to pure screwball bliss in the 1996 Adam Sandler no-bullshit classic Happy Gilmore was long overdue and warmly received, giving our dear friend yet another iconic death scene and a second life in comedy. He’d go on to play a fictionialized version of himself and a less effective mentor in Arrested Development (where he always managed to get a stew going) and voice the battle-hardened Combat Carl in the Toy Story universe, where he occasionally gets to say things like, “Combat Carl’s seen things. Horrible things.” Because who else do you get to voice a character called Combat Carl?

And so, when Carl Weathers yells, Ahhhh! Mando!, the response from literally everyone watching is grateful, boisterous, warm: Ahhhh! Carl! Only you, Carl! They all love you, Carl! He got to host Saturday Night Live, too, in 1988, where he touted his role as Apollo Creed (“Only in a movie could a white man beat a Black man who was bigger, stronger, faster, and a better fighter”) and then sang a goofy little song called “What About a Rainbow” in a perfectly imperfect falsetto. Just a cheerful and beloved warrior who’d found another challenge to meet, another damn war to fight and win. He was the People’s Champion. He died undefeated.

Pop Culture

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

The ‘Dune’ Dictionary
Beyoncé’s ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ Stampedes to No. 1 In U.K.
‘Clerks’ and the ’90s Indie Film Big Bang, Through the Eyes of The Village Voice
ABCs of Book Banning, an Oscar-Nominated Short Documentary, Free on YouTube
‘Shogun’ Series Premiere Recap

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *