The Flint, Michigan, native died Thursday in California, his sister Loretta Kelley told Michigan news site MLive. He was 78. The cause of death is not known, but Kelly told MLive he had been in and out of the hospital the past year with no official diagnosis.
Because of his ill health, Kelley told the news site Burton was unable to see the film Creed, centered on the son of Rocky’s rival Apollo Creed, that has earned Sylester Stallone a best supporting actor Oscar nomination, along with Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe wins, among other honors.
“There’s a scene in the restaurant of that movie (Creed) where his picture is on the wall,” Kelley told MLive. “We didn’t talk about (Rocky) a lot. I mean we were excited, but other people were more excited. Whenever he would come home (to Flint) other people would just come over.”
Burton won Flint Golden Gloves light heavyweight titles in 1955 and again in 1957, going on to a brief career as a professional boxer before segueing to acting. While Burton was best known for his role as Duke, a trainer to Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and Rocky Balbao (Sylvester Stallone) in the Rocky films, he also had a co-starring role in the 1987-88 TV series Frank’s Place. He also was known for his role as Wells, one of the prisoners trapped in the besieged police station, Precinct 9, Division 13, in John Carpenter’s 1976 Howard Hawks-inspired action film Assault on Precinct 13. A lifetime member of the Actors’ Studio, he also appeared in 1980 pics The Shining and Stir Crazy.