(Reuters) - Tony Burton, a former boxer who portrayed Apollo Creed's trainer in six of the "Rocky" movies, has died at age 78 after a long illness, according to media reports on Friday.
Burton's sister said he died on Thursday in California after being hospitalized repeatedly in the past year but never receiving an official diagnosis, according to MLive.com, a local news website in Burton's home state of Michigan.
Burton was among only a handful of actors to appear regularly in the decades-long "Rocky" series, featuring Sylvester Stallone as Philadelphia's favorite son, boxer Rocky Balboa.
Burton played Duke, who was the trainer of Rocky's nemesis-turned-comrade, Apollo Creed, in the first five "Rocky" films starting in 1976, as well as in a sixth film, "Rocky Balboa," in 2006.
He did not appear in the latest "Rocky" installment, "Creed," for which Stallone is nominated for best supporting actor.
Burton drew from his own experience as a professional boxer to portray Duke. In 1988 he told an interviewer he served 3 1/2 years in prison in California for robbery but that he developed his interest in acting while serving his sentence.
Actor Carl Weathers, who played Apollo Creed in the "Rocky" films, posted on Twitter, "Sad news. RIP Tony Burton. His intensity and talent helped make the Rocky movies successful. #BePeace."
Burton, a Flint, Michigan, native who lived in California, also appeared in 1970s films "The Shining" and "Stir Crazy" and had a variety of television roles.
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Bill Trott