Alex Karras was a man of many roles.
Fearsome NFL defensive lineman. Lovable TV dad. Hilarious big-screen cowboy.
And in the end, a dementia victim who blamed the NFL for his illness along with thousands of former players in lawsuits accusing the league of not doing enough to protect them from the long-term effects of head injuries.
Karras, 77, died Wednesday at his Los Angeles home surrounded by family members, including his wife of 37 years, actress Susan Clark. He was suffering from cancer and kidney failure as well as dementia.
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Karras was one of the NFL’s most ferocious – and best – defensive tackles for the Detroit Lions from 1958-70, bulling past offensive lineman and hounding quarterbacks.
He went into acting after he retired in 1970 at age 35, and in his signature scene dropped a horse with a punch as the soft-hearted outlaw Mongo in the 1974 comedy “Blazing Saddles.” He also portrayed the father in the 1980s sitcom “Webster,” along with Clark, and was on “Monday Night Football” telecasts (1974-76).
Born in Gary, Ind., Karras starred for four years at Iowa and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Detroit drafted him with the 10th overall pick in 1958, and he was All-Pro in 1960, 1961 and 1965, and he made the Pro Bowl four times during his 12-year career in Detroit. He was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a defensive tackle on the 1960s All-Decade Team.