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Rocky Actors Who've Sadly Passed Away

Conceptualized from then-struggling actor Sylvester Stallone, the "Rocky" franchise – featuring the iconic underdog boxer Rocky Balboa – grew to become one of the biggest and most well-known franchises of all time. "Rocky IV" ended up being the most successful of the series when it opened back in 1985, following Rocky as he takes on the daunting challenge of fighting Russia's Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) after watching him kill his best friend, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), in the ring. After that, "Rocky V" was relatively poorly received in comparison, leaving a gap in the series until 2006. Then, in "Rocky Balboa," an aged Rocky gets back in the ring to fight a rising young boxer after talk that he would have beat the former heavyweight champion of the world in his prime.

The "Creed" films followed later in 2015 and 2018 with "Creed" and "Creed II," featuring Apollo's son Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) as he navigates the pursuit of becoming a professional boxer, with Rocky in his corner to show him the ropes. Some of the same actors from the original "Rocky" films make appearances in the "Creed" movies, most notably Lundgren's Drago. However, other famous characters in Rocky's life don't show up in the new films for various reasons, whether it be due to their fictional deaths, their real-life decision to not return, or their real-life passings. Here are the actors you may not know have passed since "Rocky" was first released in 1976.

Tony Burton was Apollo Creed's trainer

Actor Anthony Mabron Burton, more commonly known as Tony Burton, is famous for playing trainer and cornerman Tony "Duke" Evers for Apollo and Rocky. Burton's Duke first appears in "Rocky" as Apollo's rough-and-tough trainer who helps him battle Rocky in the famous heavyweight match at the end of the first film, as well as the rematch in "Rocky II." Burton also reprises his role in "Rocky Balboa." Before becoming an actor, Burton was also a boxer himself, winning the Flint Golden Gloves title in both 1955 and 1957.

In the first "Creed" film, which Burton was reportedly unable to see due to health issues, actor Wood Harris plays Duke's son and trainer at Apollo's Los Angeles-based boxing gym — Tony "Little Duke" Evers. Harris' Evers plays a large role in "Creed II" as well, serving as Adonis' full-time trainer alongside Rocky through both fights against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).

When Burton passed in 2016, both Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers took to social media to note their appreciation of the actor. Stallone posted a photo on Instagram of them together on set, and Weathers wrote on his Twitter that it was "sad news," as Burton's "intensity and talent helped make the Rocky movies successful."

Sage Stallone fittingly played Rocky Jr.

Appearing in "Rocky V" as Rocky Jr., Sage Stallone got his first acting credit and broke into the entertainment business like his father before him in 1990. He was the eldest child of Sylvester Stallone from his first marriage to photographer Sasha Czack. 

Sage would act in multiple movies after "Rocky V," including "Daylight" and "Moscow Zero," typically performing in the horror genre but also doing some shorts as well. It was reported that Sage turned down the opportunity to play Rocky Jr. again in "Rocky Balboa" due to wanting to focus on other aspects of his career in entertainment with acting, directing, and producing endeavors. 

Instead, "This Is Us" actor Milo Ventimiglia went on to play Rocky Jr. in both "Rocky Balboa" and "Creed II," in which father and son are united again for what is seemingly the official send-off for the character of Rocky Balboa. In 2012, Sage Stallone passed away suddenly at 36 due to atherosclerosis, which caused a heart attack, according to the Los Angeles County coroners.

Burgess Meredith was the iconic Mickey Mick Goldmill

Veteran actor Burgess Meredith, famously known for his role as Rocky's first trainer Mickey "Mick" Goldmill in "Rocky," "Rocky II," and "Rocky III," passed away in 1997 at the age of 89. His character died years before the actor's passing, as Mickey is lost during the events of "Rocky III" in 1982. Meredith was done with the franchise after the third installment but appeared again in flashbacks during "Rocky V" in 1990.

Meredith was in his 60s during the filming of "Rocky" in 1976 and had already been a working actor during Hollywood's Golden Age long before that. With 182 acting credits to his name, Meredith also played the famous role of The Penguin in the 1966 "Batman" TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward's dynamic duo. He also starred as Harry in 1941's "Tom, Dick, and Harry" and has been nominated for two Academy Awards, including one for best actor in a supporting role in "Rocky."

Needless to say, Meredith was a legend in the industry, and as he did with previous colleagues, Sylvester Stallone wrote about his love for his costar on social media even long after his death. In 2017, Stallone shared a photo of himself with Meredith on Facebook, stating, "I love this guy and miss him very much."

Thayer David was the fight promoter who put Apollo and Rocky together

Another notable loss from the original "Rocky" film is actor Thayer David, who plays the fight promoter Miles Jergens, aka the man responsible for organizing the first fight between Rocky and Apollo. It takes convincing from Miles for both Rocky and Apollo to agree on the exhibition match, but considerably more for Apollo. Either way, David's role as Jergens is crucial to the evolution of the "Rocky" films that follow. Actor Russell Hornsby played a character who is essentially the new Miles in "Creed II" as fight promoter Buddy Marcelle, who puts together the initial brawl between Adonis and Viktor.

David, like Burgess Meredith, was a veteran actor already when he appeared in "Rocky." He played the part of Count Saknussemm in the original "Journey to the Center of the Earth" in 1959, as well as Professor T. Eliot Stokes in 1970's "House of Dark Shadows." With 62 acting credits to his name, beginning all the way back in 1950, "Rocky" serves as one of David's final supporting roles in a feature film before his death in 1978. He is remembered in the theater and film community for his work.

Joe Spinell was Rocky's former boss

Before Rocky becomes a full-time fighter, he is a struggling young man in Philadelphia working sketchy jobs in order to make ends meet. One particular job is roughing up people who owe Joe Spinell's Tony Gazzo money. We meet Gazzo in "Rocky" after Rocky lets a guy off easy for not paying up, to which Gazzo has a conversation with the young ruffian about how he can't do that. 

Gazzo appears in "Rocky II" as well, attempting to get Rocky to invest in real estate, although Rocky refuses and puts Paulie (Burt Young) onto it instead. Gazzo is a complicated character, as he comes off as a low-life criminal but also seems to care for Rocky, even loaning him money to take Adrian (Talia Shire) out to dinner. Although it is never officially stated in the "Rocky" franchise what happens to Gazzo after "Rocky II," the novelization of "Rocky IV" notes that he's killed at some point before the film.

Spinell was an actor who had roles in a few iconic films over the 1970s and 1980s, including "The Godfather," "The Godfather: Part II," "Taxi Driver," and the '80s horror film, "Maniac." He passed in 1989 at age 52 due to undetermined causes.

Sylvia Meals was Mary Anne Creed

Known for her role as Mary Anne Creed, the wife of Apollo Creed, in both "Rocky II" and "Rocky IV," actress Sylvia Meals passed away in 2011 at 67 years old. Mary Anne bears witness to everything that Apollo does to fight Rocky, train, and then go up against Ivan Drago, but unfortunately, her husband dies in the ring. 

We are given more insight into Mary Anne's internal struggles during the events of "Creed," in which the character is portrayed by actress Phylicia Rashad. It is also revealed that she knows Apollo cheated on her, resulting in the birth of Adonis, whom she takes in as her own. Mary Anne continues to be an important character in the "Creed" films.

Other than her roles in "Rocky II" and "Rocky IV," Meals only had two other acting credits: one as Mrs. Collins in 2007's "Tournament of Champions," and another as Leslie in "The Cosby Mysteries" television series. 

Tommy Morrison was a boxer who played a boxer

Professional boxer Thomas David Morrison stars alongside Sylvester Stallone in 1990's "Rocky V" as Tommy Gunn, the aspiring young boxer whom Rocky trains. That is, until Tommy turns on him for the fame and fortune that comes with being a champion. This eventually leads to a street fistfight between the two, which Rocky wins. Morrison's role in "Rocky V" was one of his only credits as an actor, as he was more known for his actual boxing career. 

Morrison held the World Boxing Organization title in 1993 after fighting George Foreman, who noted after Morrison's death that "he was just a good guy" (via Los Angeles Times). He had a minor comeback in the mid-2000s, eventually retiring in 2008. The boxer spent most of his retirement with family before falling ill and passing away in 2013 at the age of 44.

Burt Young played Rocky's troubled brother-in-law

While roles in films including "Chinatown" and "Once Upon a Time in America," in addition to numerous television parts, solidify him as one of the more recognizable character actors of the 1970s, Burt Young will be most remembered for playing Rocky's flawed but well-meaning brother-in-law, Paulie Pennino. Young appeared in all five of the original run of "Rocky" films, as well as 2006's legacy sequel, "Rocky Balboa."

According to an anecdote reprinted by The Hollywood Reporter, Sylvester Stallone personally sought out Young, a one-time real-life boxer, to play Paulie, and the authenticity of Stallone's writing instantly captured Young's attention and interest.       

"I thought the script had the cleanest street prose I'd ever read," he said in an interview with The Sweet Science. "Stallone is not only a workaholic, he's a genius who is always looking three years ahead. He has a real eyeball for what's going on in the world."

Young's work on "Rocky" earned him a best actor in a supporting role nomination at the 1977 Oscars. He passed away on October 8, 2023, at the age of 83.

Carl Weathers was the legendary Apollo Creed

Sylvester Stallone famously based "Rocky" on the 1975 fight between little-known New Jersey fighter Chuck Wepner and heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali. But while the character of Rocky bore little resemblance to his off-screen inspiration, there was no mistaking Apollo Creed, played by actor and former pro football player Carl Weathers, for anyone but The Greatest himself. Possessing the real-life Ali's handsomeness, powerful physique, and gift of gab ("Be a thinker, not a stinker," he says early in the first film), Weathers was a perfect fit for the role and reprised it in three sequels. Even when not on screen, the legacy of Apollo and Weathers' performance hangs heavy on the series; the "Creed" sequel trilogy follows Apollo's grown son (Michael B. Jordan) and his attempts to live up to his iconic father.

Through Apollo Creed was arguably his most famous role, Weathers was a fixture of film and television for decades, starring in 1980s classics like "Predator" and "Action Jackson," and gleefully parodying his macho persona in comedies like "Happy Gilmore," "Arrested Development," and "Toy Story 4." In the 1990s he stepped behind the camera, building up a solid resume as a television director — including two episodes of the Disney+ hit "The Mandalorian," in which he also had an Emmy-nominated supporting role. Sadly, Weathers died in his sleep in February 2024.