Fri, 12 Oct 2012 12:45:00 GMT | By IANS

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

Alex Karras, the Detroit Lions football star 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.

Former actor and football star, Alex Karras, dies at 77 (© Reuters)

Karras, who also starred in the television sitcom ‘Webster,’ was suffering from kidney failure, dementia, heart disease and cancer from past few years.

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

"He suffered from dementia for the last decade of his life," his lawyer Craig Mitnick said.

Karras was surrounded by family when died at his home in Los Angeles.

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

Karras made hundreds of tackles on the football field, but his most memorable take-down occurred in the Mel Brooks' 1974 comic Western film ‘Blazing Saddles’, when he played the role of a thuggish Mongo, a dull-witted brute who knocked down a horse.

He 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.

Karras was an All-Pro selection four times but his irreverent nature often led to conflicts with his coaches and he missed the 1963 season as he was suspended for gambling.

After returning to football, Karras represented the Lions at the pre-game coin flip to determine which team would kick off. When the referee asked him to call heads or tails, Karras responded, "I'm sorry, sir, I'm not permitted to gamble."

Despite being one of the best players of his time, Karras was never inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Karras was known to teammates as "The Godfather" - a glib, wise-cracking figure who enjoyed big cigars, even in the shower.

He was a key figure in ‘Paper Lion,’ a look at the 1963 Detroit team by writer George Plimpton, who tried out for the team to see what it would be like for an average person. Karras became friends with the writer and named one of his sons after him.

"While his legacy reached far beyond the gridiron, we always will fondly remember Alex as one of our own and also as one of the best to ever wear the Honolulu blue and silver," the Lions President Tom Lewand, said.

After 12 seasons the Lions cut Karras in 1971 and he became a commentator on ABC's ‘Monday Night Football’ broadcast for three long years.

He was always interested in acting and played himself in a movie version of ‘Paper Lion.’

His biggest acting success came as a star of the 1980s sitcom ‘Webster,’ joining his real-life wife, Susan Clark, in playing a white couple who adopts a black child (played by Emmanuel Lewis).

In addition to the scene in which he cold-cocked the horse in the ‘Blazing Saddles’, his famous lines- “Mongo only pawn in game of life"- are often quoted by the fans.

He is also known for his roles in films like ‘Porky's’, ‘Victor/Victoria’ and ‘Babe’ among others.

His wit made him a popular guest on Johnny Carson's ‘Tonight’ show.

Before his NFL career and during his suspension, Karras was also a professional wrestler.

Karras, who had six children, wrote about his life in ‘Even Big Guys Cry’ and ‘Alex Karras: My Life in Football, Television & Movies’.

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