Former NFL and TV star Alex Karras dies

NFL and TV star Alex Karras died Wednesday at age 77.

Alex Karras, the rugged lineman who anchored the Detroit Lions’ defense in the 1960s, then went on to an acting career in which he starred in the sitcom Webster and famously punched a horse in the 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles, died Wednesday.  He was 77.  Karras, who had recently suffered kidney failure, died at home in Los Angeles surrounded by family members, according to Craig Mitnick, Karras’ attorney.  Diagnosed with dementia, Karras in April joined the more than 3,500 former NFL players suing the league for not protecting them better from head injuries, immediately becoming one of the best-known names in the legal fight.  Detroit drafted Karras with the 10th overall pick in 1958 out of Iowa and he was a four-time All-Pro defensive tackle over 12 seasons with the franchise.  He was a terror on the field, using a variety of moves to push around opposing linemen and get into the backfield.  His Lions handed the powerful 1962 Green Bay Packers their only defeat that season, a 26-14 upset on Thanksgiving during which they harassed quarterback Bart Starr constantly.  For all his prowess on the field, Karras may have gained more fame when he turned to acting in the movies and on television.  Playing a not-so-bright bruiser in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, he not only slugged a horse but also delivered the classic line: “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”  Several years before that, Karras had already become a bit of a celebrity through George Plimpton’s behind-the-scenes book about what it was like to be an NFL player in the Motor City, Paper Lion: Confessions of a Second-string Quarterback.  That led to Karras playing himself in the successful movie adaption, and it opened doors for Karras to be an analyst alongside Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford on Monday Night Football.  In the 1980s, he played a sheriff in the comedy Porky’s and became a hit on the small screen as Emmanuel Lewis’ adoptive father, George Papadapolis, in the sitcom Webster.