Lions great, Hollywood star Karras in hospice
Longtime Detroit Lions fans remember Alex Karras as one of the most dominating defensive linemen of his generation.
Movie buffs will never forget the scene from “Blazing Saddles” in which he knocked out a horse with one punch.
Karras has lived his life on the edge, but is now suffering from kidney failure and under hospice care at his home in California. The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News reported the former All-Pro defensive lineman and actor has been given only a few days to live because of recent kidney failure.
“The entire Detroit Lions family is deeply saddened to learn of the news regarding the condition of one of our all-time greats, Alex Karras,” Lions president Tom Lewand said Monday night. “Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as did Alex.
“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.
“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’.
“We join his legions of fans from both sports and entertainment in prayer and support for Alex, his wife Susan, and his entire family during this most difficult time.”
The 77-year-old Karras has been suffering from dementia. He is among the many former NFL players suing the league regarding the treatment of head injuries.
Karras played for the Lions from 1958 to ’62 and 1964 to ’70. He was suspended for the 1963 season by then-league commissioner Pete Rozelle after admitting that he had bet on NFL games.
During his suspension, Karras spent time as a professional wrestler, taking on the likes of Dick the Bruiser.
Nicknamed “The Mad Duck,” Karras was selected to the Pro Bowl four times, but he played in only one playoff game — it was his final NFL game. The Lions lost, 5-0, to Dallas to end their 1970 season. Karras retired before the next season because of a knee injury.
In many ways, Karras’ life was only beginning when his football career was ending.
Two years earlier, he had played himself in the film adaptation of George Plimpton’s nonfiction book “Paper Lion.” That set up Karras for his acting career.
He appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, including a starring role in the ABC sitcom “Webster,” in which he played the husband of his real-life wife, actress Susan Clark. Karras also made appearances on “M*A*S*H” and “The Odd Couple.”
His three-year stint as an analyst on “Monday Night Football” featured his memorable line about Otis Sistrunk of the Oakland Raiders. Karras said that Sistrunk, who was bald, fierce-looking and never went to college, was from “the University of Mars.”
Karras was a well-known, volatile figure before he ever got to the NFL. He had constant run-ins with his college coach, Forest Evashevski, at Iowa. Karras once threw a shoe at Evashevski and quit the team at least twice.
But he also was an outstanding talent who led the Hawkeyes to a Rose Bowl victory as a junior and then finished third for the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1957. Only three linemen have ever finished that high in the Heisman voting.
The Lions selected him in the first round of the ’58 draft. His troubles with his coaches continued. Two of them, George Wilson and Harry Gilmer, lost their jobs after disputes with their star player.
That’s just Alexander George Karras — always controversial, never a dull moment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.