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Alex Karras, Football Great, Webster Dad, Dead at 77

Alex Karras, Emmanual Lewis, Susan Clark, Webster Cast ABC

Alex Karras has died.

The football great-turned-TV and movie star of Webster and Blazing Saddles was 77, and had battled dementia.

On Monday, it was reported Karras was near death after suffering kidney failure. The news moved his former team, the Detroit Lions, to pay prompt tribute. 

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Alex Karras AP Photo

"Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as did Alex," Lions president Tom Lewand said in the Monday statement.

Along with real-life wife Susan Clark, Karras parented child-star Emmanuel Lewis in the 1983-89 family sitcom Webster.

Before that, Mel Brooks fans knew Karras as the horse-punching, man-beast Mongo in the 1974 Western send-up, Blazing Saddles.

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Karras was probably never more of the zeitgeist then when he was part of the Howard Cosell-era Monday Night Football broadcast team for three seasons, from 1974-1976.

Other credits included the teen comedy Porky's, which also costarred Clark, the Oscar-winning Julie Andrews musical Victor Victoria and the thriller hit, Against All Odds

"I guess I've always been a performer," Karras once said. "But if I'd have told anybody back in high school in Gary [his Indiana hometown] that I wanted to be an actor, they'd have had me quarantined."

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Born July 15, 1935, Karras was a football stand-out for the University of Iowa, and a mountain of a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Lions from 1958-1970.

The jock became a talking point in 1963 when he was suspended from the National Football League for gambling—a "bull---- rap," the no-nonsense Karras called it.

Though benched, Karras became a much-noted figure in the football memoir, Paper Lion, the best-selling account of writer/everyman George Plimpton's training-camp stint with the 1963 Lions. Plimpton called Karras the team's "unofficial hazing master." When the book became a 1968 movie starring Alan Alda, Karras made the leap, playing himself. 

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Karras met Clark when they were cast as husband and wife in the made-for-TV sports biopic, Babe, about the golfer Babe Didrikson. The couple married in 1980, and had one child, a daughter, together. Karras had five children from a previous marriage.

Though he said he didn't take Hollywood seriously, Karras took his work in Hollywood seriously.

"Not too many times do you ever see one man kissing another on film, but I did that in Victor Victoria," Karras said of his somewhat-shocking, for 1982, lips-to-cheek plant on James Garner

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As far back as the 1970s, Karras was reported to be suffering dizzy spells as a result of his football-playing days.

In April, Karras joined a lawsuit brought by former players against the NFL over concussion-related health problems.Clark revealed her husband, whose last screen credits date back to the late 1990s, had been diagnosed with dementia seven years ago. 

At the time, Clark said Karras, despite his illness, still enjoyed many things, including "watching football."

Celebrity deaths in 2012

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