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Photos, video: Actor, ex-NFL star Alex Karras dies at age 77

Alex Karras Football

Anonymous/AP

This 1971 file photo shows Alex Karras in a Detroit Lion uniform. Two Detroit newspapers reported he was diagnosed with kidney failure shortly before his death.

1958 Hawkeye (Univ. Iowa yearbook)

Karras in the 1958 edition of the University of Iowa's yearbook. Shortly after graduating high school, he was recruited to Univ. Iowa to play for the Hawkeyes.

The University of Iowa Libraries/Flickr/Creative Commons

Individual action shots of then University of Iowa football tackle Alex Karras, 1956-1957.

The University of Iowa Libraries/Flickr/Creative Commons

University of Iowa football players preparing for Rose Bowl against Oregon State, Dec. 21, 1956. Karras is second from the right.

The University of Iowa Libraries/Flickr/Creative Commons

University of Iowa football players visit backstage with chorus girls at night club, Hollywood, Calif., Dec.26, 1956. Karra, center, peers over the shoulder of one of the chorus girls.

ABC Television/Wikimedia Commons

Publicity photo of Alex Karras from ABC, circa 1971-1976. Karras worked on football telecasts during that time frame for the network.

Jim Ellwanger/Flickr/Creative Commons

A crop of the TV Guide cover from Dec. 22, 1984. Alex Karras (R) with ABC sitcom "Webster" cast members Susan Clark (L) and Emmanuel Lewis (C).


Alex Karras, former NFL defensive lineman who later had a successful career as an actor, died Wednesday. He was 77.

Karras was born in Gary, Indiana and rose to national prominence as a star defensive lineman with the Detroit Lions.

Upon retirement, he successfully transitioned to a career in Hollywood, with roles in 38 productions. His most famous role was as the dad in "Webster", which ran for six seasons, according to the website IMDB.

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

Recently, his family said Karras' quality of life has deteriorated because of head injuries sustained during his playing career.

 He was among more than 3,500 NFL players suing the league regarding the treatment of head injuries. Mitnick said the family had not yet decided whether to donate Karras' brain for study, as other families have done.

Detroit drafted Karras 10th overall in 1958 out of Iowa and he was a four-time All-Pro defensive tackle over 12 seasons with the franchise. He was the heart of the Lions' famed "Fearsome Foursome," terrorizing quarterbacks for years. The Lions handed the powerful 1962 Green Bay Packers their only defeat that season, a 26-14 upset on Thanksgiving during which they harassed quarterback Bart Starr constantly.

Karras may be even better known for his work as an actor. In the 1980s, he played a sheriff in the comedy "Porky's". He also had roles in "Against All Odds" and "Victor/Victoria." He portrayed George Zaharias in CBS's "Babe," in which he starred with Susan Clark, who later became his wife.

Besides playing Emmanuel Lewis' adoptive father – George Papadapolis – in the 1980s sitcom "Webster," he's also well known for punching a horse in the 1974 comedy classic "Blazing Saddles," in which he played the slow-thinking henchman Mongo:

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