Tony Burton was never the star of any of the Rocky films. He didn't get nominated for awards, didn't appear on the posters, and his character, Apollo Creed corner man Tony “Duke” Evers, wasn't even the most famous trainer of the series. (That would be either Burgess Meredith's Mickey, or, if we're counting Creed, Rocky himself.)
But what Burton, who has died at the age of 78, gave the franchise was simple:
Great, chill-inducing speeches, time after time after time.
Sometimes, they could be quiet yet forceful, like his failed attempt to talk Apollo out of a Balboa rematch in Rocky II:
or his pep talk to Rocky as the two men prepared to avenge Apollo's death at the hands of Ivan Drago:
But when Burton had to crank up the volume, like Duke's adrenalized response to Rocky finally cutting the big Russian, holy cow:
And then, of course, there was Duke's “hurtin' bombs” speech from Rocky Balboa, which would be Burton's last major screen role. It's simultaneously so over-the-top as to seem like a parody of these kinds of monologues, but delivered so forcefully – including the random neck crack at the climax – that it works anyway:
Burton was reportedly too ill to see Creed, where Wood Harris plays Duke's son. That film certainly seemed to be setting up a bigger role for Little Duke and his fighter in the sequel, and hopefully that will give Ryan Coogler and company a chance to pay homage to a small but indelible part of the franchise.