Carl Weathers: Actor best known for playing Apollo Creed in Rocky films dies aged 76

Carl Weathers, the US actor famous for playing Apollo Creed in the Rocky films, has died aged 76.

In a statement, his family said he died "peacefully in his sleep" on Thursday.

They called him "an exceptional human being who lived an extraordinary life" and said he was a "beloved brother, father, grandfather, partner, and friend".

"Through his contributions to film, television, the arts and sports, he has left an indelible mark and is recognised worldwide and across generations," the family also said.

Weathers, a former NFL linebacker who went on to become an action and comedy star, featured in such classics as 1987's Predator opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and Happy Gilmore with Adam Sandler in 1996.

Arnold Schwarzenegger praised Weathers, saying: Carl Weathers will always be a legend. An extraordinary athlete, a fantastic actor, and a great person.

"We couldn't have made Predator without him. And we certainly wouldn't have had such a wonderful time making it.

"Every minute with him - on set and off - was pure joy.

"He was the type of friend who pushes you to be your best just to keep up with him. I'll miss him, and my thoughts are with his family."

Sandler also paid tribute to his co-star on X, saying: "A true great man. Great dad. Great actor. Great athlete.

"So much fun to be around always. Smart as hell. Loyal as hell. Funny as hell.

"Loved his sons more than anything. What a guy!! Everyone loved him. My wife and I had the best times with him every time we saw him.

"Love to his entire family and Carl will always be known as a true legend."

In the movie, he played Happy Gilmore's golf coach Chubbs Peterson, a former pro-golfer who was forced to retire after an alligator bit off his hand.

His most famous film role was that of boxer Apollo Creed in the Rocky franchise.

"It puts you on the map and makes your career, so to speak. But that's a one-off, so you've got to follow it up with something.

"Fortunately those movies kept coming, and Apollo Creed became more and more in people's consciousness and welcome in their lives, and it was just the right guy at the right time," he told The Daily Beast in 2017.

Among his other early roles were appearances in TV shows The Six Million Dollar Man and Starsky and Hutch, and the film Force 10 From Navarone, starring Harrison Ford.

More recently, Weathers starred in the sitcom Arrested Development and the Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian.

Growing up in New Orleans, Weathers began performing in plays in primary school.

In high school, athletics took him down another path but he would reunite with his first love later in life.

He played American football at San Diego State University - where he studied theatre - and went on to play one season in the NFL, for the Oakland Raiders, in 1970.

"When I found football, it was a completely different outlet," Weathers told the Detroit News.

"It was more about the physicality, although one does feed the other. You needed some smarts because there were playbooks to study and film to study, to learn about the opposition on any given week."

After the Raiders, he joined the Canadian Football League, playing for two years while finishing his studies during the off-season at San Francisco State University.

He graduated with a drama degree in 1974. Two years later, he landed the role as Creed and went on to star in four films in the Rocky franchise, until his dramatic onscreen death in 1984's Rocky IV.

Married and divorced three times, Weathers is survived by two children, Jason and Matthew.