Weathers, Carl 1948—
Carl Weathers 1948—
Carl Weathers is best known for creating the character of Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa’s first nemesis and later his friend, in the immensely popular Rocky movie series. A former professional football player, weathers was able to parlay the huge amount of exposure he received from Rocky into a successful career in both television and film, primarily as an action hero. His performance as Creed was so convincing that he has struggled for his entire career since then to find roles that revolve around his acting rather than athletic prowess. In landing a sizable part in television’s In the Heat of the Night, based on an earlier film of the same name, Weathers finally managed to snare a highly visible job that did not feature his muscles above his other skills.
Weathers grew up in New Orleans, in an area where sports were a primary avenue available to young men who wished to leave the city. Although his athletic ability was obvious from an early age, Weathers was as much interested in acting as he was in sports. He was particularly inspired as a child by The Defiant Ones, a movie that starred his acting hero, Sidney Poitier. In the film, two prisoners escape while chained together. The Defiant Ones affected the young Weathers so profoundly that years later, when his presence in Hollywood was well established, he produced a remake for television, casting himself in the role created by Poitier.
Throughout high school, Weathers’s yen for drama remained intact. He was able to balance academics, sports, and theater. On graduating, Weathers was awarded a football scholarship to San Diego State University, where he majored in theater, an unusual choice for a top-level athlete. His teammates called him “Actor,” while the sportswriters dubbed him “Stormy,” not an uncommon nickname for someone with his surname.
Weathers performed well enough at San Diego State to attract the attention of NFL scouts, and he wound up as a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders, playing mostly on special teams. From there he moved to Canada, where he played for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. Throughout his athletic career, Weathers kept a hand in acting, performing
At a Glance…
Born January 14, 1948, in New Orleans, LA; married Maryann Castle, 1973 (divorced); children: Matthew, Jason. Education: San Diego State University, B.A. in theater.
Professional football player for Oakland Raiders and British Columbia Lions. Began acting, 1974; created role of Apollo Creed in Rocky, 1976; founded Stormy Weathers Productions, 1987, and produced film Action Jackson, in which he played the title role; starred in syndicated television series Street Justice, 1991-92; joined cast of In the Heat of the Night, 1993; has appeared in numerous television and film productions.
Addresses: Agent— Triad Artists, Inc., 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., 16th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
frequently in small theater productions and in industrial films during the off-season. Weathers’s professional football career lasted a total of five years. When it was over, he decided to plunge headlong into his first love, acting.
With a bachelor’s degree in drama and years of training behind him, Weathers had a decided edge over many of his fellow jocks-turned-actors. Although he would be typecast in action roles because of his beefy build, Weathers was able to more or less avoid the mire of black exploitation films into which some other former pro athletes, such as Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, saw their careers sink.
In 1974 Weathers moved to Los Angeles to begin his acting career in earnest. He started out modestly, landing parts in commercials, as well as small roles in television series. Within a year, minor film roles also began coming his way. He appeared in two movies, Bucktown and Friday Foster, in 1975. Then Weathers got his big break in 1976, when he landed the role of Apollo Creed in Rocky. Up to that time, he was still largely unknown in Hollywood. He was able to secure the part by convincing producer Irwin Winkler and star Sylvester Stallone that he had been a successful boxer. In reality, Weathers had never set foot in a boxing ring, but his superior athletic ability enabled him to pull off the bluff.
The exposure he received in Rocky enabled Weathers to move into a considerably higher-profile class of movies. Over the next few years, he was cast in such bigtime films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), and Force 10 From Navarone (1978). Again, it was often his physique more than his acting skill that caught the eyes of casting directors, particularly when it came to films like Semi-Tough, a movie about football players, and Nauarone, in which stunts and violence were prominent. In his next several films, aside from the Rocky series, he was rarely seen without a gun, and movies in which he appeared tended to feature explosions. During this period, Weathers’s television appearances also became more frequent and the parts became larger. He had roles in The Hostage Heart in 1977 and The Bermuda Depths the following year.
Apollo Creed answered the bell again for Rocky II in 1979. Weathers received high praise and much exposure from his performance as Rocky’s archrival. By this time, however, he was no longer a Hollywood newcomer, and the movie’s huge success did not lead to another quantum leap in Weathers’s career curve. Although he continued to land parts in action movies, he was not exactly overwhelmed with offers. In 1981 Weathers appeared in the film Death Hunt, also heavy on violence. The following year, Apollo Creed rose again, this time in Rocky’s corner, in Rocky III. It was around this time that Weathers tried his hand at music. He launched a short-lived recording career in 1981 with the release of a single, “You Ought to Be With Me,” which he described to a Jet interviewer as “gravitating towards an R&B fusion. A kind of Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan and Stanley Clarke” thing.
Weathers did not make another major film appearance until 1985, when Rocky IV hit the big screen. In this fourth round of the saga, Apollo Creed goes down for the count, dying of injuries sustained in the ring, effectively ending Weathers’s most important source of audience exposure. With Apollo out of orbit for good, Weathers turned his attention to television. He undertook two major projects for the small screen in 1986. First came his TV remake of The Defiant Ones, a film classic from 1958. In the new version, Weathers and Robert Urich took on the roles played by Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in the original.
The other project was Fortune Dane, a series on ABC for which Weathers served not only as star, but also as coproducer. The show’s other coproducer was Barney Rosenzweig, who had produced the hit cop show Cagney & Lacey. In Fortune Dane, Weathers played an excop drawn back into crime-fighting by the mayor in spite of his disgust with the current state of police activities. The show was shot and set in Oakland, California, home of Weathers’s ex-wife and two sons and site of his earlier football glory. The show failed to attract a wide audience and was booted off the air after a very short run.
For the rest of the 1980s, Weathers returned his focus to films. In 1987, he played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sidekick in Predator, a reasonably successful action movie featuring large weapons and an extremely violent, laser-shooting enemy from another world. Weathers unveiled his most ambitious project to date the following year. In 1988 his own Stormy Weathers Productions put out Action Jackson, starring Weathers and Vanity, the former lover and costar of pop star Prince.
In Action Jackson, Weathers played a Harvard-educated police sergeant in Detroit who balances Ivy League sophistication with big city street smarts. His enemy, played by Craig T. Nelson, is a crazed auto magnate out to take over the unions by thuggery. Weathers initially envisioned Action Jackson as a franchise that would produce big sales of spinoff products in addition to ticket sales. Although the movie performed decently at the box office, it was not generally well received by critics, and the franchise idea never got off the ground.
Weathers nonetheless kept busy, albeit with less grandiose projects, in the first half of the 1990s. In 1990 he appeared in a recurring role on CBS’s Tour of Dut,, a war drama. He also starred with Billy Dee Williams in Dangerous Passions, a made-for-TV movie in which he played a security systems expert facing ethical challenges.
The following year, Weathers made his syndicated television debut on Street Justice. In that show, Weathers plays Adam Beaudreaux, a veteran of a Special Forces unit in Vietnam now working as an undercover cop. His partner is Grady Jamieson, the man who had saved his life in the jungle, and with whom he has been reunited years later. They rule the streets together, Beaudreaux with guns and Jamieson with martial arts.
Dissatisfied with the direction the show was taking, however, Weathers left Street Justice after only two seasons. From there he moved back to film. In 1992 he starred in Hurricane Smith, a movie about a Texan who travels to Australia in search of his missing sister. Hurricane Smith failed to make much of a mark. The following year, though, Weathers finally landed a part that did not require loads of stunt work. In 1993 he joined the cast of In the Heat of the Night, the police drama starring Carroll O’Connor. The show is based on the 1967 thriller starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, about the relationship between a white sheriff and a black detective in a small southern town. Weathers came on board as newly arrived police chief Hampton Forbes.
Although the action film genre has been good to Weathers, he would not mind seeing macho heros make up a smaller share of his future roles. As he matures, the transition to roles that require less crashing around may become a physical as well as artistic necessity, though he is still in great shape. His part in In the Heat of the Night seems to be an indication that perhaps the entertainment industry is at last ready to accept him in a variety of roles.
Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1991, sec. 5, p. 3; September 23, 1993, sec. 5, p. 15.
Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, January 23, 1994, p. 10.
Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1992, p. 65.
Jet, September 10, 1981, p. 64; February 15, 1988, p. 56.
Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1988, sec. VI, p. 1.
People, July 23, 1979, p. 84.
USA Today, January 3, 1986, p. 2D; February 19, 1988, p. 5D; October 18, 1991, p. D3.
Variety, June 17, 1987, p. 16; February 17, 1988, p. 23.
—Robert R. Jacobson
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