Many people will remember Alex Karras as the father from the 1980s sitcom “Webster” or the Cowboy who knocked out the horse in “Blazing Saddles.”
Before that, he was the centerpiece of the Detroit Lions’ defense during the 1960s that thrashed offensive lineman and harassed quarterbacks.
The fear that Karras put into opponents was even documented in retired Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer’s 1967 diary, after they played in 1962.
“I’m thinking about him every minute,” Kramer wrote.
In the 1962 Thanksgiving day game against the Green Bay Packers, Karras butchered Packers quarterback Bart Starr. Starr was sacked 11 times by Karras, and Detroit defeated the Packers 26-14 – Green Bay’s only loss of the season.
The passing of Karras has been felt around the league. His success on the field and notoriety off was unprecedented.
“Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as did Alex,” Lions president Tom Lewand said.
Karras had become ill over the last couple of years. Recently, he was suffering from kidney failure and dementia. According to the Lions, he had been suffering from heart disease for the past two years, along with stomach cancer.
His death will be linked to the NFL’s clash with former players over concussions. He was one of the most recognized names that joined the more than 3,500 football veterans suing the NFL over concussions. Craig Mitnick, the family attorney for Karras, said that the family is uncertain if they will donate his brain to be studied on by scientist, such as other families.
Susan Clark, Karras’ wife, said that the deterioration of his life was due to head injuries that occurred during his playing career.
He was unable to drive and could not remember some of the recipes to his Greek and Italian dishes he would cook.
“This physical beating that he took as a football player has impacted his life, and therefore it has impacted his family life,” Clark told The Associated Press earlier this year. “He is interested in making the game of football safer and hoping that other families of retired players will have a healthier and happier retirement.”
Karras retired from the NFL in 1970 at the age of 35 and played his entire career with the Lions. He was a first-team All-Pro in 1960, 1961 and 1965 and he made the Pro Bowl four times.
“We know Alex first and foremost as one of the cornerstones to our ‘Fearsome Foursome’ defensive line of the 1960s and also as one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play in the NFL,” Lewand said. “Many others across the country came to know Alex as an accomplished actor and as an announcer during the early years of ‘Monday Night Football.’ “