What happened to Apollo Creed?

Hey, he looked fit to ME…

You may start seeing more of this kind of post, now that I’m over 70.

But my concern here grows out of something that’s bothered me for decades.

When Carl Weathers died several days ago, The New York Times reported:

His family said in a statement that he “died peacefully in his sleep.” The statement did not give a cause or say where he died.

Come on, people! How did he die?

This kind of thing has bothered me since my earliest days in the newspaper racket. When somebody dies, the cause of death should be right there in the lede. Especially in news stories, but also in obits. This is particularly the case in people who die young.

I see a person who looks about 20 in a photo with an obit, and the first thing I think is, “Maybe it’s an old picture.” Then, when I see it isn’t, I think, “What happened?”

I mean, don’t you? But too often, you’re told nothing. Or maybe, just maybe, the family will request donations to a fund that fights a deadly disease, and at least you have a hint.

And yeah, sometimes I can understand people not wanting to say, if there’s something about the cause — say, suicide or a drug overdose — that makes an excruciating tragedy even worse, and loved ones don’t want to see it in print. But I gather that lots of people simply don’t want to say, whatever the cause is. It has to do with a notion of privacy which I don’t understand.

In fact, I’ve long wished newspapers would refuse to run obits unless the cause of death is stated. That’s never going to happen, since obits are now ads, and organizations as desperate for revenue as our beleaguered newspapers aren’t going to give up a stream of revenue. And back when newsrooms handled them, it still didn’t happen because editors saw obits as a basic public service — you had to reported who had died in the community. But if you ask me, telling readers what’s killing the people around them is a pretty fundamental kind of public service.

But it didn’t bother me so much when people were old. And back when I first cared about obits, I would have seen 76 as old. Of course, I’m wiser than that now (that’s only six years older than I am!), but it still wouldn’t have occurred to me to wonder in this case, until I saw this story this morning in The Boston Globe.

It was about the fact that a Super Bowl ad featuring Weathers is still going to run during the game. Which makes me think, hey: He was healthy enough to shoot a commercial recently, so… he wasn’t wasting away with a fatal disease — that anyone knew, anyway.

Maybe it was a stroke. I know from personal experience how those can sneak up on you (although I was very lucky with mine).

But I’d still like to know. I mean, the guy was only 76…

4 thoughts on “What happened to Apollo Creed?

  1. Barry

    Typically, the cause is told by the family at a later date.

    I would imagine when their loved one dies, their first thought isn’t informing the public of a cause of death given that’s probably not their concern- since they are fully aware of what happened.

    Weathers seemed to be a bit of a private person. Sometimes they are simply honoring the person’s desire to keep things private- in keeping with their personality, which of course is all the family probably cares about.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Get back to me after you’ve had to edit a few thousand obits. After awhile, the failure to include such a basic fact will get to you.

      And yes, I have a newspaperman’s approach to this. If you’re going to devote space to an obit, answer the natural questions a reader will have. Otherwise, what’s the point — from a newspaper perspective.

      Of course, nowadays the point is money — a lot of it, paid by the grieving.

      But as I said, back in the days when I was required to critically read all those obits (we’re talking 40 years and more ago), I looked at it entirely from the news perspective.

      I actually have a different perspective now, thanks to my genealogy obsession. Now, I’m worried more about all of the people who don’t even HAVE obits — probably because they can’t or won’t pay that high ad price. It drives me nuts.

      And obits — whether they contain cause of death or not — are invaluable to people building a family tree. I pity genealogists of the future, who may not have these sources of critical information — birth and death dates, names of various family members, both surviving and (that awful word) “predeceased”… and so forth. Nothing else will provide that information, a century from now, about people living today…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Mr. T pities the genealogists of the future, too:

        The thing is, while all sorts of other documents are valuable — birth certificates, death certificates, wedding licenses (to a limited extent) — there’s nothing better than a good, complete obit. Unless, of course, you find a famous relative who has his or her own Wikipedia page…


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