Alex Karras, a former star NFL lineman whose affable nature and comedic flair propelled him to even greater fame in movies and TV, including the sitcom "Webster," died in Los Angeles Wednesday of kidney failure. He was 77.
He died “after a heroic fight with kidney disease, heart disease, dementia and for the last two years, stomach cancer,” a family spokesman said.
Karras was among the first pro sports stars to transition to movies and TV. He punched out a horse in the 1974 Mel Brooks film comedy “Blazing Saddles,” then went on to star in the ABC sitcom “Webster” from 1983-87 alongside his wife Susan Clark. He played the title character’s adoptive father.
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The same year “Blazing Saddles” debuted, Karras began a three-year stint as a commentator on ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”
next played a closeted homosexual bodyguard in the movie “Victor Victoria” and a tough guy in 1984’s “Against All Odds.”
Karras also guest-starred on “M*A*S*H*” and did short stint on “Match Game ’75." He and Clark were also in the 1975 CBS movie “Babe,” in which he played George Zaharias to her Babe Didrickson. He also starred in the 1980 TV film “Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story.”
His “Blazing Saddles” role was minor but memorable. As a very strong but very dim sidekick, he famously responded to a difficult question with the response, "Don't know … Mongo only pawn in game of life."
The six-foot-two, 250-pound Karras started his film career while still playing for the Detroit Lions. He portrayed himself in the film adaptation of George Plimpton’s book “Paper Lion.”
After graduating from Iowa University and before his NFL career began in 1957, he wrestled professionally for six months. He was a standout defensive lineman with Detroit Lions until his retirement in 1971.
The league forced him to give up his interest in a Detroit bar, citing reports of gambling and organized crime influence. It also suspended him for a year after he admitted placing bets on NFL games.
Karras suffered from symptoms of dementia for years. He and Clark were part of lawsuit against the NFL filed in Philadelphia earlier this year. The suit alleged that the league had failed to make clear the dangers of head injuries and and to protect players.
Here's a clip from "Webster":
And here is that scene from "Blazing Saddles," where Mongo parks where he wants …