Thursday, October 11, 2012

R.I.P. Alex Karras 1935 - 2012


AP DETROIT -- Alex Karras was one of the NFL's most feared defensive tackles throughout the 1960s, a player who hounded quarterbacks and bulled past opposing linemen.

And yet, to many people he will always be the lovable dad from the 1980s sitcom "Webster" or the big cowboy who famously punched out a horse in "Blazing Saddles." 

The rugged player, who anchored the Detroit Lions' defense and then made a successful transition to an acting career with a stint along the way as a commentator on "Monday Night Football," died Wednesday. He was 77.

Karras had recently suffered kidney failure and been diagnosed with dementia. The Lions also said he had suffered from heart disease and, for the past two years, stomach cancer. He died at home in Los Angeles surrounded by family members, said Craig Mitnick, Karras' attorney.

Karras played his entire NFL career with the Lions before retiring in 1970 at age 35. He was a first-team All-Pro in 1960, 1961 and 1965, and he made the Pro Bowl four times. He missed the 1963 season when he was suspended by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in a gambling probe. Karras was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a defensive tackle on the All-Decade Team of the 1960s.

Karras later wrote an autobiography, "Even Big Guys Cry," and two other books, "Alex Karras" and "Tuesday Night Football." Lewand said Karras also loved to garden and cook.

Playing a not-so-bright bruiser in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," he not only slugged a horse but also delivered the classic line: "Mongo only pawn in game of life."

Several years before that, Karras had already become a bit of a celebrity through George Plimpton's behind-the-scenes book about what it was like to be an NFL player in the Motor City, "Paper Lion: Confessions of a Second-string Quarterback."

That led to Karras playing himself alongside Alan Alda in the successful movie adaption -- Karras and Plimpton remained friends for life, and one of Karras' sons is named after Plimpton. It opened doors for Karras to be an analyst alongside Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford on "Monday Night Football."

In the 1980s, Karras played a sheriff in the comedy "Porky's" and became a hit on the small screen as Emmanuel Lewis' adoptive father, George Papadopoulos, in the sitcom "Webster."

He also had roles in "Against All Odds" and "Victor Victoria." He portrayed the husband of famed female athlete "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias in the TV movie that starred Susan Clark, who later became his wife. The two formed their own production company and it was Clark who played the role of his wife on "Webster."

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