(DETROIT, MI) – “On behalf of the William Clay Ford family and the entire Detroit Lions organization, we extend our deepest sympathies to Susan, the Karras Family and to all of Alex’s friends and fans across the country,” Detroit Lions President Tom Lewand said. “While his legacy reached far beyond the gridiron, we always will fondly remember Alex as one of our own and also as one of the best to ever wear the Honolulu Blue and Silver.”
After a heroic fight with kidney disease, heart disease, dementia and for the last two years, stomach cancer, Alex Karras, iconic football player, beloved sports commentator and popular film and TV actor, died at his home in Los Angeles early this morning, surrounded by family.
Born in Gary, Indiana, the fourth of six children, Karras began his football career at Emerson High school where he was an All-State football player for four years. In 1953, he was named to the high school All-American team. He continued on to the University of Iowa where he was All-American for four years and in 1958, was a first round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. He became known as the fiercest of the Lions famed “Fearsome Foursome.” With Detroit, Karras was All-Pro in 1960, ’61, ’63, ’64 and 1967, and named by the Hall of Fame committee to the All-Decade Team of the 1960s. Karras is a member of the Lions 75th Season All-Time Team. In 1970 he was named to the All-Time Big Ten Team as well. In 1991 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in front of 70,000 cheering Hawkeyes.
Karras had always dreamed of being an actor and began his acting career while he was with the Detroit Lions. He gave an indelible performance in PAPER LION, which starred Alan Alda and was based on the book of the same name by George Plimpton. Karras and Plimpton remained friends for life and one of Karras’ sons is named after Plimpton. This performance led to two dozen appearances on the TONIGHT SHOW with Johnny Carson. His spontaneous wit led to working with the very verbal Howard Cosell as co-host of ABC’s popular MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL for three years – who can forget “the University of Mars”?
Lucille Ball took him under her wing and allowed him to train in small parts in many Desilu productions. Then he played an impressive range of roles, including Mongo, the horse-decking cowboy in BLAZING SADDLES, the intimidating football coach in AGAINST ALL ODDS, the “good’ol boy” sheriff in PORKY’S and the bodyguard with a secret in VICTOR/VICTORIA.
Karras earned national acclaim for his vulnerable portrayal of George Zaharias in the moving CBS telefilm, BABE, in which he starred with Susan Clark, who later became his wife. Together, Karras and Clark formed their own production company, Georgian Bay Productions, in 1979. They produced three telefilms for CBS: JIMMY B. AND ANDRE, WORD OF HONOR, and MAID IN AMERICA in which they starred together. This led to the long running television show, WEBSTER, in which they played George and Katherine Papadapolis. They co-produced 150 episodes with Paramount Studio – still seen in syndication worldwide.
He co-wrote a critically acclaimed autobiography, EVEN BIG GUYS CRY, followed by ALEX KARRAS BY ALEX KARRAS, and TUESDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL.
Alex was known to family and friends as a gentle, loving, generous man who loved gardening and preparing Greek and Italian feasts. He began a lifelong commitment to philanthropy starting with his work with the Better Boys Foundation. His love of nature and most especially of the ocean, where he spent many happy days on his fishing boat, led him to support numerous organizations committed to protecting our environment for future generations. He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Susan Clark and their daughter, Katherine; by his children, Alex, Jr., Peter, Carolyn, George and Renald from his first marriage to Joan Powell (now deceased). He is also survived by his siblings, Louis, Nan, Paul and Ted as well as five grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to one of the organizations Alex Karras ardently supported: Natural Resources Defense Council, Bioneers, Greenpeace Foundation or the Pesticide Action Network.