Obit of the Day: Football, Film, and TV Star Alex Karras
For most Americans Alex Karras earned his greatest fame as the large, dumb strongman Mongo from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles or the athlete-turned-adoptive father, George Papadopoulos on the 1980s TV series Webster. Karras, whose acting career lasted nearly 30 years (full filmography here) would appear as a character on the series The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H, Faerie Tale Theatre and Arli$$ as well as appear in the films Porky and Victor, Victoria.
But before finding himself on the big and small screen, Karras dominated the gridiron. Karras played football for the University of Iowa, leading the Hawkeyes to their first Rose Bowl appearance, and victory, in 1956. The next year Karras won the Outland trophy as the nation’s best defensive lineman and finished 3rd in the Heisman Trophy vote. While playing at Iowa Karras was named to 10 different All-American teams by various voting bodies. In 1991 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
In 1958, the Detroit Lions selected Karras 10th overall in the NFL draft. He would play defensive tackle for the Lions for 12 seasons. He was named an All-Pro in three seasons (1960, 1961, and 1965) and was named to an All-NFL team eight of the 12 years. (He was suspended for the 1963 season for gambling on games.)
After retiring from the NFL 1969 Karras headed to Hollywood. He not only earned himself a second career, he found his wife, Susan Clark when they co-starred as Babe Didrikson Zaharias and George Zaharias in the television movie, Babe. The y would co-star as husband and wife again in Webster.
Alex Karras passed away at the age of 77. He was suffering from dementia, which his wife attributes to his years of playing football.
Top left - Alex Karras while attending the University of Iowa, circa 1955-1958, courtesy of espn991.com
Top right - Alex Karras while with the Lions, copyright David Boss/US Presswire and courtesy of espn.com
Bottom left - Karras as “Mongo” in Blazing Saddles courtesy of thisgoesto11.blogspot.com
Bottom right - Karras, on left; Emmanuel Lewis, center; Susan Clark, right in a promo photo from Webster is copyright Paramount Television and courtesy of the Everett Collection and the NYDaily News.
Other OOTD posts that may be off interest:
Bubba Smith - another college football star who turned to acting
And several former football players who suffered from various brain ailments: