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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Carl Weathers and arteriosclerotic heart disease

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Carl Weathers was an actor who was most famous for playing boxer Apollo Creed in the first four “Rocky” films, from 1976 to 1985. He was also a football player who played linebacker for San Diego State in college and the Oakland Raiders in the National Football League. He also had many film and TV roles such as Colonel Al Dillon in Predator (1987), Chubbs Peterson in Happy Gilmore (1996), and Combat Carl in the Toy Story franchise. He was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series as Greef Karga in the Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, from 2019 to –2023).

On February 1, 2024, he died of arteriosclerotic heart disease while sleeping in his home in Los Angeles. There are lots of habits that increase risk for heart disease, but he avoided many of them: he never smoked and never was overweight, he was fit, had very little body fat, was incredibly muscular, and exercised all his life. How could such a fit and athletic person die of heart disease?

'Creed' Los Angeles Premiere
Carl Weathers, Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan, from left, at the Los Angeles premiere of “Creed” in 2015.

Careers in Sports and Acting
Weather was born in 1948 in New Orleans, and his father worked as a day laborer. In the eighth grade, Weather won an athletic scholarship to a private school where he competed in boxing, football, gymnastics, judo, soccer, and wrestling. His football prowess earned a football scholarship at Long Beach City College where he planned to play defensive end, but an ankle injury prevented him from playing his first year in college. So he transferred to play football at San Diego State University and was a very good player on a winning team. After college, he signed as a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, but was released in 1971 after his coach, John Madden, told him, “You’re just too sensitive.”

He always wanted to be an actor so at age 26, he went back to school and received a master-in-theater-arts degree from San Francisco State University. He had his first major movie role at in 1975 at age 27, when he appeared in the role of boxer Apollo Creed in the first four Rocky films in 1976, and he went on to an illustrious career in movies and television. He returned to football only to narrate NFL Films’ recap at ages 51 to 53. His brilliant movie career was made possible by his very large muscles that made him look convincingly like a world-champion boxer. He was 6’2″ tall and weighed 220 pounds, with no visible fat and very visible muscles. He moved to Los Angeles where he joined a gym and followed the “Peripheral Heart Action” resistance exercise system popularized by Mr. Universe, Bob Gajda, and taught by the gym owner, Vince Gironde.

Personal Life and Lifestyle
Weathers had three marriages that all ended in divorce. He was married to Mary-Ann Castle from 1973 to 1983 and they had two sons. He was married to Rhona Unsell from 1984 to 2006, and to Jennifer Peterson from 2007 to 2009.

I have never seen Carl Weathers’ medical records and never met him or examined him, but he appeared to have a very heart-healthy lifestyle. He was not overweight which would suggest healthful eating habits, and he did not smoke. During the filming of the movie Predator, he complained about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cigar smoking between sets, and Arnold told Weathers that it helped him stay calm and focused.

I know that many athletes in sports requiring strength take anabolic steroids that are known to increase risk for heart disease and heart attacks. However, I know of no evidence that he took anabolic steroids or anything else. I have written articles about several body-building athletes to explain the consequences of the various popular body-building supplements; see: Why Did Ultimate Warrior Die at 54?
Scott Hall, Wrestler Known as Razor Ramon, Dies at 63
Rich Piana: Why Do So Many Bodybuilders Die Young?

Risk Factors for Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease
I have no evidence that any of these risk factors applied to Carl Weathers’ lifestyle, but The following factors are associated with increased risk for plaques that can break off to cause a heart attack:

  • working or living in air pollution, breathing toxins, or being exposed to radiation
  • working more than 55 hours a week, or working night shifts that affect sleep
  • having sleep apnea
  • prolonged sitting or lying in bed, not moving around
  • not exercising
  • having high blood cholesterol, high triglyceride, high Lp(a), high blood pressure
  • having diabetes or high blood sugar after meals
  • being overweight
  • having a big belly (fatty liver)
  • smoking or frequent second-hand smoke
  • stress (whatever that means — anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • eating large amounts of saturated fat
  • eating large amounts of sugar-added foods or refined carbohydrates
  • not eating lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts.
  • family history of early heart disease
  • various autoimmune and inflammatory diseases

What We Can Learn from Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease Deaths
Heart attacks and heart diseases can be predicted for a person by evaluating risk factors and family history. Everyone should try to avoid or restrict heart-attack risk factors. I think that everyone should follow an anti-inflammatory lifestyle to help reduce risk for heart disease:

  • trying to exercise safely every day
  • being physically active
  • avoiding pro-inflammatory foods (red meat, processed meat, sugar-added foods, sugared drinks including fruit juices, fried foods)
  • eating a wide variety of anti-inflammatory foods (vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and other seeds)
  • losing excess body fat, particularly in the belly
  • keeping blood levels of hydroxy vitamin D above 30 ng/mL
  • restricting or avoiding alcohol
  • avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke
  • avoiding chronic exposure to excess sunlight
  • avoiding exposure to X rays and other sources of radiation, and various toxic substances such as insecticides, herbicides and industrial chemicals
  • treating chronic infections anywhere in the body

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com

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