The Rocky franchise won its way into the hearts of millions upon its first release in 1976. Almost forty years and seven films later, the Rocky series is still going strong with its latest culmination, Creed (2015), garnering critical acclaim and box office success. While there have been a couple of hiccups in the franchise along the way, the Rocky series is still regarded as the greatest boxing saga in cinematic history. It is also the highest-grossing sports franchise in movie history, earning well over $1 billion worldwide. One major reason for its overwhelming success are the riveting characters the films have bestowed upon us over the years. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more popular characters, the actors who played them and their whereabouts today.
Sylvester Stallone – Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa (Rocky I-Creed)
Stallone, now 69, was a relatively unknown actor before landing the title role of Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa in 1976. Stallone would go on to star as the franchise’s central character in six of the seven Rocky films, while playing a supporting role in Creed; the latest reinvention of the Rocky series released in 2015. He is widely regarded as one of the most iconic action stars of all-time, while also achieving great success as a writer and as an entrepreneur. In addition to the Rocky franchise, Stallone has appeared in such box office hits as the Rambo franchise, Tango and Cash, Cliffhanger, and The Expendables franchise.
Stallone currently resides in Beverly Hills, Calif., and is still going strong. He recently won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rocky Balboa in Creed. It also was recently announced that Stallone would reprise his role as Barney Ross in a fourth installment of the very popular action-hero-franchise, The Expendables, which should be released sometime in 2017.
Talia Shire – Adrian Pennino, Adrian Balboa (Rocky I-V)
Shire had already enjoyed cinematic success playing the role of Connie Corleone in the first two Godfather films prior to taking on the role as Adrian Pennino, Rocky’s shy and mousy love interest, who would eventually become his wife. Shire’s portrayal of Adrian helped to significantly broaden the mass appeal of the Rocky franchise. A role that would garner her an Oscar nomination in 1976. Shire would continue the role of Adrian as a central character in each of the first five Rocky films.
Shire is now 69 years old and resides in Los Angeles. In 1990, she reprised her role as Connie Corleone in The Godfather III and has starred in numerous movies since that time. She continues to work as an actor with at least two films currently in post-production. Shire comes from a very prestigious Hollywood family as well. She is the sister of famed Hollywood producer and director Francis Ford Coppola. She is the aunt of actor Nicolas Cage, and the mother of actor and musician Jason Schwartzman.
Burt Young – Paulie Pennino (Rocky I-Rocky Balboa)
Young played the role of Rocky’s rough-around-the-edges brother-in-law, best friend and corner man in the Rocky series. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the role in 1976. Prior to his role as Paulie, Young had moderate success as an actor playing various minor characters in hit TV shows such as MASH, Baretta and The Rockford Files. He also served in the Marine Corps and appeared in 14 professional boxing matches, claiming to have won all of them. He would go on to play supporting roles in several films such as Convoy, Back to School and Mickey Blue Eyes. Young would also continue to work in various avenues of TV and Broadway. He appeared in 6 of the 7 Rocky films in total.
Young played his last role as an actor in 2014. Now 75 years old, he resides in Port Washington, N.Y., where he concentrates on his lifelong passion for art as a painter. Young’s art studio is also located in Port Washington and his paintings can be found in galleries around the world. A few examples of Young’s art can be found here: burtyoungartandfilm.com/gallery/
Carl Weathers – Apollo Creed (Rocky I-IV)
Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Ken Norton, was originally selected to play the role of Apollo, but he ultimately turned it down, opening the door for Carl Weathers. Weathers would go on to co-star as Apollo Creed in each of the first four Rocky films, playing Rocky’s flamboyant arch-enemy based loosely on Muhammad Ali. Apollo would later become one of Rocky’s closest allies and advisors in Rocky III and Rocky IV.
Before taking the leap into acting, Weathers had a brief career in professional football, playing linebacker for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL and BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Prior to accepting the role of Apollo Creed, Weathers played several minor roles in hit TV programs such as Good Times, Kung Fu and The Six Million Dollar Man, to name a few.
Following the success of the Rocky movies, Weathers would continue to play roles in several hit television series, such as Starsky and Hutch, Barnaby Jones, In the Heat of the Night and Arrested Development. He has continued to find success on the big screen as well, with roles in Action Jackson, Predator and Happy Gilmore. He is now 68 years old and resides in Los Angeles. Weathers currently plays the role of Beau on the USA Network television series Colony.
Burgess Meredith – Mickey Goldmill (Rocky I, II, III)
Meredith played the role of Mickey Goldmill in the first three Rocky films. A hard-edged, yet wise and lovable, character who served as Rocky’s manager, trainer and motivator. Prior to and following his appearances in the Rocky films, Meredith had a celebrated career as an actor, producer, writer and director. He won several Emmy’s and various other awards during his acclaimed 66-year career.
Other than his role in the Rocky films, Meredith starred in countless movies and television shows. He is probably best remembered for his role as the Penguin in the hit 1960’s television show Batman. He is also revered for one of his final roles, co-starring as the mischievous Grandpa Gustafson in the Grumpy Old Men Series. Meredith sadly passed away in 1997 at the age of 89 due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease and melanoma.
Tony Burton – Tony “Duke” Evers (Rocky I-Rocky Balboa)
Burton is best known for his role as “Duke” Evers in the Rocky series. “Duke” served as the trainer and corner man for Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa in the hit franchise. Burton is one of just four actors to appear in each of the first six Rocky films. The likeable character would evolve to take on a more substantial role as the series progressed.
Prior to appearing in the Rocky series, Burton had a brief boxing career and spent three and a half years in a California prison for robbery. In prison, he received his high school degree, as well as a degree from the University of California. Upon his release, Burton would go on to find success on the small screen, playing various minor roles in several hit television programs before ultimately landing his most prized role in the first Rocky movie.
Both during and after his appearances in the Rocky franchise, Burton continued a moderately successful TV and film career for many years. Burton’s last acting credit came in 2007. Sadly, Burton passed away on February 25, 2016, at age 78, due to complications from pneumonia.
Mr. T – Clubber Lang (Rocky III)
Mr. T first made a name for himself as an eccentric street tough, bouncer and security guard to the stars in his early days in Chicago. He was known for his signature Mohawk and wide array of heavy gold jewelry. A persona that would help him land his first big role as Clubber Lang, Rocky Balboa’s arch-nemesis in 1982’s Rocky III. Mr. T would use the movie to coin his signature catch-phrase, “I Pity the Fool”.
While Rocky III would be Mr. T’s only appearance in the Rocky franchise, the role would help catapult a successful career as an actor and pop-culture figure throughout the 1980’s and ‘90’s. He would go on to play the wildly successful role of B.A. Baracus in the hit TV series The A-Team. Mr. T would also take his talents into the world of wrestling with highly publicized stints in the WWF and WCW.
After beating cancer and helping with the cleanup efforts following Hurricane Katrina, Mr. T became a born-again Christian. He subsequently toned down his extravagant ways, even doing away with his signature gold jewelry. At age 63, Mr. T now splits time between his residences in Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M. In 2015, he landed a home improvement show on the DIY Network titled I Pity the Tool. For reasons unknown, only one episode of the show ever made it to air.
Hulk Hogan (aka Terry Bollea) – Thunderlips (Rocky III)
At 6’7”, Hogan’s imposing presence, to go along with his blossoming career as a professional wrestler, made him the perfect choice to play the role of Thunderlips in Rocky III. A role that helped launch his career as the most prolific figure in the history of professional wrestling, and one of the biggest icons in pop-culture history.
Hogan has worn many hats during his storied career, dabbling in everything from music to the food industry and everything in between. While he has continued to moonlight as an actor over the years, making numerous cameo appearances and taking on several less successful starring roles, his star always shined brightest in the world of wrestling.
The 62 year old currently splits time between residences in Tampa, Fla., and Beverly Hills. His wrestling career came to an abrupt end in 2015, following one of several highly publicized scandals that has plagued the Hall of Fame wrestler in recent years. Hogan is rumored to appear in the fourth installment of The Expendables franchise that could be released sometime in 2017.
Dolph Lundgren – Ivan Drago (Rocky IV)
The Swedish-born actor was a success as an accomplished scholar, chemical engineer and martial artist before he ever made a name for himself playing the role of Ivan Drago in 1985’s Rocky IV. Drago is arguably the most hated antagonist in all of the Rocky movies. Lundgren’s portrayal of the machine-like Soviet boxer, genetically altered to destroy top American fighters, served as a metaphor for the fierce competition between the United States and the USSR during the resurgence of the Cold War in the mid 1980’s.
Lundgren would go on to a lucrative career as an action star following his appearance in Rocky IV, taking on roles in other hit movies such as The Punisher, Universal Soldier and The Expendables franchise. The 58 year old currently lives in Los Angeles, where he continues to find success on the big screen. He can most recently be seen making a cameo appearance in the Coen brother’s film, Hail Caesar. Lundgren also appears in commercials and has several films currently in post-production, scheduled for release later this year and/or 2017.
Brigitte Nielsen – Ludmilla Drago (Rocky IV)
Nielsen made the transition from model to actor in the early 1980s, first starring as the title character in the fantasy film, Red Sonja, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. She would go on to secure the role of Ludmilla Drago, the wife of antagonist Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV. A role that would put her on the map and culminate in a brief marriage to Rocky leading-man, Sylvester Stallone. She would eventually be married five times and her relationships with football star Mark Gastineau and rap star Flavor Flav were highly publicized.
Nielsen, would go on to play roles in the box office hits Cobra and Beverly Hills Cop II. She starred or co-starred in several minor roles thereafter taking a hiatus in 2000. Upon Nielsen’s return to the limelight, she would go on to star in several reality shows including The Flavor of Love, The Mole, The Surreal Life, Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Now 52 years old, Nielsen resides in Palm Springs, Calif., with her current husband, Mattia Dessi. She continues to act in film and television. Nielsen also serves as an activist against alcoholism, an issue which has admittedly plagued the Danish actress throughout her life.
Tommy “The Duke” Morrison – Tommy “Machine” Gunn (Rocky V)
Morrison caught the eye of Sylvester Stallone in his early years as a budding professional boxer. He would go on to land the role of Tommy “Machine” Gunn in Rocky V (1990). The role was fictional, but it closely mirrored Morrison’s real-life rise to prominence as a prize fighter in many ways. Rocky V, as well as Morrison’s portrayal of Tommy Gunn was not well received by critics or fans of the storied franchise. It would be Morrison’s only credited role in his brief film career.
It turns out that Morrison was much better as an actual boxer than he was pretending to be one. Morrison celebrated a lucrative career in boxing compiling a record of 48-3-1, with 43 wins by KO. The biggest highlight of Morrison’s career came in 1993 when he defeated the legendary George Foreman in 12 rounds for the WBO heavyweight championship. In 1996, Morrison was suspended from boxing after testing positive for the HIV virus. While he often refuted his positive tests publicly, Morrison sadly passed away in 2013 at the age of 44 as a result of AIDS.
Sage Stallone – Robert “Rocky” Balboa Jr. (Rocky V)
The real life son of Sylvester Stallone, Sage Stallone played the role of Rocky Jr. in Rocky V. Stallone would be the third actor to portray the role of Rocky Jr., but it was the first time in the history of the Rocky franchise that the character would play a prominent role in the storyline. At age 13, it was also young Stallone’s first ever film role as an actor.
Sage Stallone would go on to be in other successful films such as Daylight and Chaos. The budding actor appeared destined to follow in his famous father’s footsteps adding producer, writer and director to his resume. Sadly, Sage Stallone would never get the opportunity to see his film career reach its full potential. He passed away as the result of a heart attack in 2012 at the age of 36 at his home in Studio City, Calif. Stallone was found to have suffered from coronary artery disease.