In Memoriam: Carl Weathers

The late Carl Weathers was known as a professional football player, an award-winning actor and an SDSU alumnus who remained close to the university.

Monday, February 5, 2024
SDSU alumnus Carl Weathers clasps his hands and smiles during SDSU President’s Lecture Series.
SDSU alumnus Carl Weathers clasps his hands and smiles at the maximum capacity audience during the SDSU President’s Lecture Series at Montezuma Hall, Feb. 2, 2023. (Mario Sevilla/SDSU)

San Diego State University alumnus Carl Weathers, a former NFL linebacker turned Emmy-nominated actor who endeared himself to fans across multiple generations playing iconic roles in the “Rocky” movie franchise, "Happy Gilmore" and most recently “The Mandalorian,” has died. 

Weathers was 76. According to a statement attributed to his family, Weathers died peacefully in his sleep Feb. 1. 

“We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Carl Weathers,” according to the statement. “Carl was an exceptional human being who lived an extraordinary life. Through his contributions to film, television and sports, he has left an indelible mark and is recognized worldwide and across generations. He was a beloved brother, father, grandfather, partner and friend.”

Weathers was best known as Apollo Creed in the Rocky films, as well as Chubbs Peterson in the Adam Sandler cult classic “Happy Gilmore.” Most recently, he played the role of Greef Karga, the mysterious leader of the Hunters’ Guild, in the critically acclaimed TV show “The Mandalorian,” which earned Weathers his first and only Primetime Emmy nomination in 2021. 

Born Jan. 14, 1948, in New Orleans, LA, Weathers moved to California for high school, attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School and Long Beach City College before transferring to SDSU on an athletic scholarship. 

He attended SDSU from 1968 to 1970 and played linebacker on the Aztec Football team, helping the team to an undefeated 11-0 season and a win in the Pasadena Bowl, and a No. 18 ranking in the final UPI Poll in 1969. At the same time, Weathers, who majored in theater arts at SDSU, starred in several campus theater productions, including in 1970 when he played Pylades in “Orestes,” a Greek tragedy written by Euripides. 

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of Carl Weathers,” said JD Wicker, SDSU athletic director. “It was a privilege to meet Carl on his last visit to campus in February 2023. It’s great to see a former Aztec student-athlete have such a successful career outside of the athletics realm. Our hearts go out to the entire Weathers family in this difficult time.” 

From SDSU to the NFL and Acting

Weathers went undrafted in 1970 but signed with the Oakland Raiders as a free agent that year. He played in eight games over a span of two seasons before signing with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, playing two more seasons before retiring in 1974. 

From there, Weathers turned to acting. 

“One thing that I and so many others appreciated about Carl was his message about being courageous, and the many ways that he showed his own courage – through boxing, pro football, acting,” said SDSU President Adela de la Torre

“He always encouraged people to be open to new ideas and new possibilities, and to have an inquisitive nature about oneself and the world,” de la Torre said. “In so many ways he embodied the spirit of a champion and an artist, and I am grateful that I and so many of our SDSU students had a chance to know him and learn from him. He was full of imagination, energy, and talent. For these reasons, he will always be an inspiration and an icon.” 

In 2021, Weathers said in an interview for NewsCenter that acting was his first love. 

“I was an actor before I was an athlete. I started acting when I was in grade school, and I majored in theater while I was on a football scholarship,” Weathers said. “There was always a Jekyll and Hyde, well, actually I’ll just say a ‘split personality’ between the artistic and the athletic, which I learned to love.”

Weathers got his first major break in 1975 when he was cast alongside Sylvester Stallone for the first “Rocky,” which was released in 1976 and became a critical and commercial success. Weathers’ character, Apollo Creed, was a world heavyweight champion boxer who granted a life-changing exhibition to a Philadelphia boxer named Rocky Balboa (Stallone). Weathers would reprise the role in three subsequent sequels. 

In addition to “Rocky”, Weathers would co-star alongside Arnold Schwarzenneger in the 1987 sci-fi/action film “Predator,” and later in 1996 would play the role of golf pro Chubbs Peterson in “Happy Gilmore.”

He also had several roles in television, including playing himself in “Arrested Development.”

But he would find critical success as an actor later in life in 2019 when Disney cast him as Greef Karga in a guest role on the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian.” The character was initially only supposed to be in a few episodes, but director Jon Favreau liked the character so much that Weathers was given a recurring role on the show, appearing in nine episodes and directing an episode.

“Once I signed on and got involved, the show really grew, my role grew and my participation grew, not only in front of the camera as an actor, but I also had the pleasure of directing an episode,” Weathers said to Newscenter in 2021. “The development of my character was fantastic and, needless to say, the response has been phenomenal. No matter where I've gone, that audience is huge for “The Mandalorian.” 

“I’ve loved my time on the show; it has given me an opportunity to be creative in a much more complete way than I had been prior to in other projects. It has been a great experience, and it couldn't have come at a better time,” Weathers added. 

Weathers, who formerly served on the Directors Guild of America’s board, also directed episodes on hit TV shows “Chicago Med,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “The Last O.G.”, “FBI” and “Law and Order” over the past four years. 

Connection to SDSU 

Over the years, Weathers maintained his strong connection to SDSU. In 1979, the university honored him with the Distinguished Alumni Award. 

Weathers fondly recalled his time on campus, including in the theater program and on the gridiron, where he forged lifelong friendships. 

“There were people that I gravitated toward and instructors I gravitated toward,” Weathers said. “The theater department was really important because theater people are a family, and those instructors and professors and teachers were people that when they were contributing something that really sparked with who I am or who I was becoming, of course I gravitated toward them. Professor (E. Kingsley) Povenmire – he was so important to so many of us, in particular those of us who were athletes. He taught us how to think beyond what we knew or what we learned, and he supported us in where we were. 

“Coaches were really important for young me, particularly in college, because I was learning how to walk through the world,” Weathers said.

“We all come from various societal, economic, educational positions, and when you have someone in a leadership position who shows you respect and has enough of an in-charge personality and at the same time, in line with that, has a kind of generosity with that personality, those people mean so much.”

In 2023, Weathers returned to SDSU for the SDSU President’s Lecture Series. His 90-minute appearance at Montezuma Hall in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union drew an enthusiastic audience of nearly 900, including theater students, current members of the Aztecs’ football team, and then-head coach Brady Hoke.

After the appearance, the university presented Weathers with a personalized theater seat as part of the “Take a Seat” campaign for the new Performing Arts District. The plaque on the back of the seat included Weathers’ name and the words “Aztec For Life.” 

Weathers offered this advice to students in his 2021 interview and echoed it during the lecture series: “More than anything, I would say this: Be courageous. Open yourself up to possibilities, open yourself up to an awakening that says, ‘I don't know what I don’t know, so let me expand awareness of that. Let me increase my inquisitive nature. Let me open a corner of me that craves discovery. Let me trust that there is so much, much more than I can imagine, that is just waiting for me to walk through the door. Trusting it will be helpful to me, maybe not today or even tomorrow but at some point, wow, it will be as valuable as anything I can imagine.’” 

Categorized As