It is Cult Faction’s sad duty to report that Tony Burton, aka Tony “Duke” Evers from the Rocky movies has passed away at the age of 78 years old.
In the Rocky films, Burton’s character Tony “Duke” Evers was initially the trainer to Rocky’s rival Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers) in the original 1976 movie and its 1979 sequel. After Rocky loses to Clubber Lang (Mr T) in Rocky 3, Creed and Evers help retrain Rocky for his comeback. Then, following Creed’s death in 1985’s Rocky IV, Evers became a permanent member of Team Rocky concluding with 2006’s Rocky Balboa.
Rocky was not Burton’s first brush with boxing. He won the Flint Golden Gloves light heavyweight championship in 1955 and 1957. Also, Burton won the State Golden Gloves Light Heavyweight Championship in 1957 and lost in the Chicago Tournament of Champions semi-finals. He fought as a professional boxer in 1958 and 1959. During that time he was knocked out by knockout artist Lamar Clark who holds the record for most consecutive knockouts at 44.
Life after boxing minus any marketable skills or a high school diploma proved a poor formula for success, and before long, Burton wound up in prison, doing three and a half years for robbery at the California Institution for Men in Chino, California. In the end, it proved a valuable experience as Burton recounted to NEA’s Frank Sanello in March 1988:
Prison for me was productive because I got my high school diploma and a degree from the University of California. But most important, I got myself together and found out who I was and how I could proceed without destroying myself.
More specifically, one of the skills acquired at Chino landed Burton his current wife, Rae, whom he met on a TV repair house call. Moreover, a workshop in the prison that used psychodrama as a form of therapy pointed Burton towards his acting career, when an emotional breakthrough achieved by one of his partners in an acting exercise demonstrated dramatically theater’s potential power, on both sides of the footlights.
After prison, Burton started getting work with small theater companies in and around Los Angeles, garnering favorable notices early on.
A life member of the Actors Studio, Burton appeared in The Black Godfather (1974), Trackdown (1976), The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Beyond Reason (1977), Heroes (1977), Blackjack (1978), The Shining (1980), The Hunter (1980), Stir Crazy (1980), Inside Moves (1980), Armed and Dangerous (1986), Side Out (1990), Hook (1991), House Party 2 (1991), Shade (2003), Exorcism (2003) and Hack! (2007).
Burton appeared as Colonel Riley in Twin Peaks and made other small screen appearances in Renegade, The Lot, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Life Goes On, A Different World, The Fall Guy, The A-Team, T.J. Hooker and The Greatest American Hero amongst others.
He retired from acting in 2007, the year after his final Rocky movie.
Sadly, Burton’s sister, Loretta “Peaches” Kelley, informed the BBC that he never got to see the Rocky spin-off Creed, due to frequent illnesses over the last year. Burton never received an official diagnosis, but he had been in and out of the hospital.