Alex Karras, who gained fame as an NFL defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions and later as an actor on the sitcom "Webster," has died. He was 77 years old.
Karras recently suffered kidney failure. He died on Wednesday, October 10, at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family, according to his lawyer. The actor is survived by his wife Susan Clark, who also played his spouse on "Webster," their daughter, and his five children with ex-wife Joan Jurgenson.
As an actor, Karras is also known for punching a horse in the 1974 comedy "Blazing Saddles." In the 1980s, he portrayed Emmanuel Lewis' character's adoptive father, George Papadapolis, in "Webster."
Karras had been suffering from dementia and recently joined thousands of other former NFL players to sue the league for not protecting them better from head injuries.
Karras was born in Gary, Indiana - the hometown of Michael Jackson. The actor played football in high school and later in college, at the University of Iowa, before he was drafted by the Lions in 1953. He made his on-screen debut in a 1969 episode of "Daniel Boone" before landing his breakout role of Mongo in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles."
"I got a phone call and this voice said, 'Hi, this is Lucy Ball,' and I said, 'Right,'" Karras told People magazine in 1979. "She asked me to audition for a Daniel Boone show. I was terrible, but survived."
Karras later told the Associated Press in 1974: I like acting. I think I have a future in show business. There aren't that many good actors who weight 240 pounds. So I don't have to compete with the other guys who weigh 170 pounds."
Karras also appeared on ABC's "NFL Monday Night Football" for two seasons before leaving the show in 1977 to concentrate on his acting career. However, he told the Associated Press in 1983, the year "Webster" debuted, that he "could never submerge" himself in show business.
"I can't take this business seriously," he said. "Talent doesn't mean anything - it's the deal. How can you get serious about that? What I watch for is, will I lose my respect for myself for doing a role? That's the bottom line."
"If I do it, that's my choice - I don't mind knocking out a horse if it fits the character," he added. "Not too many times do you ever see one man kissing another on film, but I did that. Even my most macho buddies didn't say much about that."
Karras played gay character "Squash" Bernstein in the 1982 film "Victor/Victoria."
The actor also recalled how ABC approached him and Clark about starring in "Webster."
"They flicked on the TV and showed us a commercial of this little black kid. I said we don't like to work with kids or animals, but they convinced us the show would not be slanted toward the kid."
He praised Lewis as"very bright. Very honest," adding: "He interprets his role as a 6-year-old child would. There's nothing behind it, no scheming, no wanting to get to the center of the stage."
After "Webster" ended its run in 1989, Karras went on to star on shows such as "Fudge," a short-lived series based on Judy Blume's popular book series, and "Arli$$." His last on-screen role was as Tom Arnold's father in the comedian's program "The Tom Show" in 1998.