NFL Great, “Blazing Saddles” Star Alex Karras Has Died

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The late George Papadopoulos and family

A day after reports surfaced that football great turned actor Alex Karras was near death, the  Webster  star passed away Wednesday at age 77.

According to CNN,  Karras was battling kidney disease, heart disease, dementia, and stomach cancer. He actually filed suit with the NFL, claiming the league hadn’t properly protected him against concussions during his storied career.

Karras’ wife and “Webster” co-star, Susan Clark, said earlier this year that he could no longer drive. A cooking enthusiast, Karras couldn’t remember some of his favorite Greek and Italian recipes.

The man’s professional career can be divided into two parts. Part One: From 1959 to 1971, Karras was a star defensive lineman with the Detroit Lions, though his career was blemished by his season-long suspension as part of a gambling investigation.

Part Two: Solid work in movies and TV. He memorably portrayed Mongo, the monosyllabic, horse-punching heavy in “Blazing Saddles.” Karras worked steadily throughout the ’70s and ’80s, including a winning turn as James Garner’s closeted bodyguard in the underrated, music-flavored comedy “Victor/Victoria.”

Karras was perhaps best known for playing George Papadapolis, a white retired football player who adopts a teammate’s adorable black son on Webster. The sitcom’s 150 episode run lasted from 1983 to 1989.

The best part about Karras’ acting career is that he never seemed out of depth. He had a gentle, soothing presence–one that made him an ideal TV dad for a legion of Generation Xers. You hear so many tales of former athletes derailing after their playing days. Karras was an exception and his post-retirement work delighted millions–myself included.

That’s a hell of a legacy. Rest in peace.

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