Former actor and football star, Alex Karras, dies at 77

Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:19pm EDT
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By Bill Trott

(Reuters) - Alex Karras, the Detroit Lions football star with the puckish personality who turned to acting and won legions of fans for punching out a horse in the movie "Blazing Saddles," died on Wednesday at the age of 77, his attorney said.

Karras, who also starred in the television sitcom "Webster," had been suffering from kidney failure, dementia, heart disease and cancer in recent years, his family said.

Earlier this year, Karras joined a class-action lawsuit by former National Football League players who said the league did not do enough to protect them from head injuries. The suit said Karras had sustained repeated head trauma.

His lawyer, Craig Mitnick, said Karras was surrounded by family when died at his home in Los Angeles.

"He suffered from dementia for the last decade of his life," Mitnick said. "He had lost his zest for life. He had suffered though dementia, he had suffered through cancer, his body just eventually gave way.

"He was such a strong, charismatic man. The dementia took that energy away."

While he made hundreds of tackles on the football field, Karras' most memorable take-down occurred on a movie screen when he played Mongo, a dull-witted brute who knocked down a horse in Mel Brooks' 1974 comic Western film, "Blazing Saddles."

Karras grew up in Gary, Indiana, and was an All-American at the University of Iowa. He joined the Lions in 1958 and became one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He was an All-Pro selection four times but his irreverent nature often led to conflicts with his coaches and he missed the 1963 season when he was suspended for gambling.   Continued...

Former Detroit Lion Alex Karras attends a Detroit Lions NFL game at Ford Field in Detroit in this file photo taken September 21, 2003. Karras - who earlier this year joined a class-action suit by former National Football League players who said the NFL did not do enough to protect them from head injuries - died October 10, 2012 in Los Angeles at age 77. He had been suffering from kidney failure and dementia. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/Files