Alex Karras, a former NFL all-pro known as much for his acting as his career with the Detroit Lions, died today in his California home.
He was 77.
Karras suffered from dementia and died after his kidneys shut down, The Associated Press reported.
His wife, Susan Clark, said it was football that shortened his life.
“This physical beating that he took as a football player has impacted his life, and therefore it has impacted his family life,” Clark told the AP.
Karras was among a group of 3,500 ex-NFL players suing the league over its handling of head injuries.
“He is interested in making the game of football safer and hoping that other families of retired players will have a healthier and happier retirement,” Clark said.
Karras led University of Iowa to the 1956 Rose Bowl and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting the next year, WXYZ Detroit reported.
The Lions drafted him first overall in 1958, and he led the team’s famed Fearsome Foursome defensive line until retiring in 1970 at age 35.
He was an all-pro four times, although he did sit out the 1963 season as punishment related to a gambling scandal.
“The entire Detroit Lions family is deeply saddened to learn of the news regarding the condition of one of our all-time greats,” Lions president Tom Lewand said Monday night.
“Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as did Alex.”
After his 12-year football career, Karras moved into TV and movies.
He appeared as Mongo in the 1974 comedy movie “Blazing Saddles,” a sheriff in "Porky's" and the father in the TV family sit-com “Webster” with Emmanuel Lewis. Karras and Clark played husband and wife on TV.
It was author George Plimpton’s book, Paper Lion, that launched Karras’s acting career. Plimpton wrote about an "Everyman" playing quarterback in Lions’ training camp, and Karras played himself in the movie adaptation.
From there he provided commentary in the broadcast booth with Monday Night Football.
Longtime friend Tom McInerney Sr. first told The Detroit News earlier this week that Karras was ill and had “days to live.”