Alex Karras
American football player and announcer, actor
Alex Karras
Alexander George "Alex" Karras, nicknamed "The Mad Duck", was an American football player, professional wrestler, and actor. He played football with the Detroit Lions in the National Football League from 1958–1962 and 1964–1970. As an actor, Karras is noted for his role as the thuggish Mongo in the 1974 comedy film Blazing Saddles, and for starring in the ABC sitcom Webster (1983–89) alongside his wife Susan Clark, as the title character's adoptive father.
Biography
Alex Karras's personal information overview.
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N.F.L. Notables Who Died in 2012
NYTimes - about 4 years
Junior Seau, Art Modell, Steve Sabol and Alex Karras were among those who left their mark on the National Football League.
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NYTimes article
Kelly Kleiman: Alex Karras, John Mackey, Head Injuries and When Enough Is Enough
Huffington Post Sports - over 4 years
Most reports of Alex Karras's death noted that he had dementia, but not that he attributed his dementia to his years playing in the NFL. Nor did they mention that he was one of the players suing the League for concealing what it knew about the long-term effects of concussion. These omissions do a disservice to Karras, to his family, and to all of us who love football. I grew up watching the Colts, by which I mean the Baltimore Colts of the 1960s, of Johnny Unitas-Ray Berry-Lenny Moore fame. (If you don't recognize the names, just trust me: we shall not see their like again.) That team included the tight end John Mackey. So when I saw a bit of news tape showing Mackey sitting in a nursing home while his wife tried to help him recognize himself -- himself! -- in his football jersey, I was sickened by the damaging effects of the sport I love to watch. Later that year Mackey died of frontotemporal dementia; but still I kept watching. Six months before, a member of my ...
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Huffington Post Sports article
Alex Karras: Actor, NFL Star Dead at 77
ABC News - over 4 years
Former Detroit Lions defensive tackle was suffering from kidney failure.
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ABC News article
Actor, former NFL star Alex Karras dies
CNN Bussiness Blogs - over 4 years
The Detroit Lions lineman was a four-time Pro Bowl pick. He also starred in the sitcom "Webster" and played the horse-punching Mongo in "Blazing Saddles."
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CNN Bussiness Blogs article
Video: NFL linebacker, "Webster" star Alex Karras dies at 77
CBS News - over 4 years
Alex Karras, a famous NFL linebacker in the 1960s for the Detroit Lions and an actor known for roles in "Blazzing Saddles" and TV's "Webster," died from kidney failure at his home in Los Angeles. CBSNews.com's Ken Lombardi reports.
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CBS News article
Ex-NFL star, actor Alex Karras dies
CNN- Cafferty File - over 4 years
Alex Karras, the former Detroit Lion defensive tackle turned actor in the ABC sitcom "Webster," died Wednesday in his Los Angeles home following a hard-fought battle with kidney disease, heart disease, dementia and stomach cancer, according to a family spokesman.
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CNN- Cafferty File article
Football Player, Actor Alex Karras Dies
Wall Street Journal - over 4 years
Alex Karras, the rugged lineman who anchored the Detroit Lions' defense in the 1960s and then went on to an acting career, died Wednesday at age 77.
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Wall Street Journal article
Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Alex Karras
    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 2012
    Age 76
    On October 8, 2012, it was revealed by friend Tom McInerney that Karras had been diagnosed with kidney failure.
    More Details Hide Details He was treated at the Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, before being released into hospice care. After returning to his Los Angeles home with family, Karras died in the morning hours of October 10 from complications caused by kidney failure.
    Karras was among 3,500 former NFL players to have filed lawsuits against the NFL in early 2012, over the long-term damage caused by concussions and repeated hits to the head.
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  • FIFTIES
  • 1989
    Age 53
    In conjunction with the 100 Years of Hawkeye Football celebration in 1989, Iowa Hawkeye fans selected an all-time team.
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  • FORTIES
  • 1980
    Age 44
    He married actress Susan Clark on March 21, 1980, and they had a daughter together.
    More Details Hide Details In his later years, Karras suffered several serious health problems, including dementia, heart disease, and cancer.
  • 1977
    Age 41
    Karras was elected to the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
    More Details Hide Details On December 12, 2014 the Big Ten Network included Karras on "The Mount Rushmore of Iowa Football", as chosen by online fan voting. Karras was joined in the honor by Nile Kinnick, Chuck Long and Tim Dwight. Karras also worked briefly as a football coach in 2007 and 2008. He worked for the SIL as an assistant coach to Bob Lombardi. He owned an ice cream parlor in Surfside Beach, South Carolina called The Cow.
    In 1977 he was cast in the lead of the TV movie Mad Bull.
    More Details Hide Details In 1979 he had the role of Hans "Potato" Brumbaugh, a potato farmer, on the TV miniseries Centennial. He was known for his humorous endorsement of La-Z-Boy recliners, in an ad campaign which also featured NFL greats such as Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula, and New York Jets legend Joe Namath. In the 1980s, Karras had memorable success in the TV sitcom Webster, playing George Papadapolis, the title character's adoptive father, in a role that showcased his softer side. His real-life wife, Susan Clark, played his fictional wife in the series; Karras and Clark produced the series through their Georgian Bay Entertainment production company. The two met in 1975 while filming the made-for-television biopic Babe for CBS. Besides being one of the subjects of George Plimpton's nonfiction book Paper Lion (published in 1966), he was one of the two principal subjects of Plimpton's follow-up book, Mad Ducks and Bears (1973) (fellow Detroit Lion John Gordy was the "bear" to Karras's "mad duck.") Karras named one of his sons after Plimpton. During his last years as a Detroit Lion, Karras wrote a journal of his experiences that was published in the Detroit Free Press. He subsequently wrote a memoir, Even Big Guys Cry (1978), and a novel, Tuesday Night Football (1991).
  • THIRTIES
  • 1975
    Age 39
    In 1975, Karras appeared on Howard Cosell's ill-fated variety show Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell wearing a wig (a la Mongo) and performing "Already Gone" on the beach with the Eagles who were dubbed the "Alex Karras Blues Band" due to tee-shirts the band members wore bearing that moniker.
    More Details Hide Details His television appearances included guest roles on Daniel Boone in the episode "The Cache", M*A*S*H in the episode "Springtime", The Odd Couple and a brief run on Match Game '75. He also signed on to play the character "Super Jock" in commercials for a line of sports action toys named Super Jock, produced by Schaper (1975).
    Karras' most memorable role was in the 1975 made-for-TV movie Babe, where he played the hulking ex-wrestler George Zaharias, loyally caring for his cancer-stricken wife, the legendary athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
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  • 1972
    Age 36
    In 1972, Karras hosted a local weekly football program for Windsor, Ontario CBC affiliate CKLW-TV, The Alex Karras Football Show; his program generally preceded the CBC's Wednesday night CFL telecasts.
    More Details Hide Details Karras returned to acting with roles that included playing Sheriff Wallace in Porky's (in which his wife, Susan Clark, also starred), and as western settler Hans Brumbaugh in Centennial. He played James Garner's closeted gay bodyguard in the 1982 Blake Edwards' film Victor Victoria. Karras played a darker role as Hank Sully, the right-hand-man of villain Jake Wise (played by James Woods) in the 1984 film, Against All Odds.
  • 1971
    Age 35
    Following his release by the Lions in 1971 he made several appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and also played a bit part in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, appearing in the farewell party scene where Rhoda moves back to New York (1972).
    More Details Hide Details Karras soon began acting on a full-time basis, playing a Tennessee boy turned Olympic weightlifter named Hugh Ray Feather in 1973's The 500 Pound Jerk. He played a hulking villain who menaced Clint Walker in the ABC TV film Hardcase. A minor but memorable role came one year later in the western parody Blazing Saddles (1974): the very strong and slow-witted thug Mongo, who rode into town on a huge brahman (marked with "yes" and "no" passing signals), knocked out a horse with one punch, and famously responded to a question from Sheriff Bart with, "Don't know " (looking straight into the camera) " Mongo only pawn in game of life." That same year, he was quickly brought in by ABC to replace Fred Williamson as a commentator for the network's Monday Night Football. He served three years in that role until leaving after the 1976 NFL season, with his most memorable comment coming in his first game, when he joked that bald Oakland Raiders' lineman Otis Sistrunk, who never attended college, was from "the University of Mars".
  • 1968
    Age 32
    In 1968, he made his film debut playing himself in the film adaptation of George Plimpton's nonfiction sports book Paper Lion.
    More Details Hide Details As in Plimpton's book, Karras delights his teammates with impromptu monologues about a fanciful past, including his marriage to Hitler.
  • 1967
    Age 31
    He was still an All-Pro selection in 1967 to 1969, but after sustaining a knee injury late in the 1970 season, reported to training camp in 1971 with his job in jeopardy.
    More Details Hide Details After unimpressive performances in the 1971 preseason, Karras was released, ending his playing career at age 35.
    On June 4, 1967, Karras once again hinted he would retire to work at a new business venture; once training camp began, though, Karras was back with the Lions.
    More Details Hide Details During that preseason, he jokingly commented that he would walk back from Denver if the AFL Broncos defeated the Lions. When that actually happened, Karras backtracked and flew home on the team plane.
  • 1966
    Age 30
    Instead, Karras signed a seven-year contract with the Lions on May 20, 1966, with Wilson stating that Karras had used the threat of signing with Miami to garner the large deal with Detroit.
    More Details Hide Details Despite the new contract, controversy remained, as Karras and Gilmer sparred in midseason, with the coach reportedly ready to release the veteran defensive tackle. As before, it would be the coach who would depart, with Karras's former teammate Joe Schmidt taking over.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1964
    Age 28
    Upon returning to action in 1964, Karras once refused when an official asked him to call the pregame coin toss. "I'm sorry, sir," Karras replied. "I'm not permitted to gamble."
    More Details Hide Details During his first year back, player discontent with head coach George Wilson resulted in Karras asking to be traded. However, the Lions settled the issue when they fired Wilson after the 1964 NFL season. After another season of controversy under new head coach Harry Gilmer, Karras was rumored to be ready to play out his option and sign with the expansion Miami Dolphins of the American Football League under his former coach Wilson.
    During his exile, Karras returned to pro wrestling, taking on such memorable characters as Dick the Bruiser, but was then reinstated, along with Hornung, on March 16, 1964 by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
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  • 1963
    Age 27
    On January 7, 1963, Karras's ownership in Detroit's Lindell AC Bar became a source of controversy when league officials urged him to sell his financial interests in the place because of reports of gambling and organized crime influence.
    More Details Hide Details After first threatening to retire rather than give it up, Karras admitted placing bets on NFL games and was suspended by the league, along with Green Bay Packers' running back Paul Hornung, for one season (1963).
  • 1958
    Age 22
    Karras was married twice. He married Joan Jurgensen in 1958, with whom he had five children. The marriage ended in divorce in 1975.
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    From 1958 to 1970, the Lions were over .500 six of the 13 years, making the playoffs only once, 1970, with a 10-4 win-loss record, Karras' final year.
    More Details Hide Details Aside from 1970, their best years were 1962 (11-3) and 1969 (9-4-1). In 1962, the Lion defense allowed 177 points (12.6 points/game), in 1969 188 points (13.4 points/game), and in 1970 202 points (14.4 points/game), for all three years the second-least in the NFL, thanks in large part to a tough and rugged defensive line led by Karras. Despite not allowing a touchdown in the divisional round of the 1970-71 NFL playoffs, the Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys 5-0, his first playoff game and his final game. Karras was called an "iron man", since he missed only one game due to injury in his 12 NFL seasons and his 161 games played are the 15th most in Lions history. He made the Pro Bowl four times, and the Hall of Fame named him a member of the 1960s All-Decade team.
    Karras was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions in 1958.
    More Details Hide Details He quickly became one of the dominant defensive tackles in the NFL, playing for 12 seasons (1958–1962, 1964–1970) with the same team, but missing the 1963 season for gambling activities. From 1960 to 1966, except for 1963, he played next to Roger Brown, a formidable pair of defensive tackles, until the latter was traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
  • 1957
    Age 21
    In addition, Karras was a consensus first team All-American in 1957.
    More Details Hide Details Hawkeye teammate Randy Duncan said,
    In his senior season, Alex Karras was the most dominant lineman in the nation, winning the 1957 Outland Trophy.
    More Details Hide Details He also was the runner-up in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. Karras and Ohio State tackle John Hicks (in 1973) are two of only three linemen ever finishing so high in the Heisman Trophy voting. In 1949, Leon Hart, a Notre Dame end became the only lineman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
    Karras spent the summer of 1957 with an American track team of Greek descent.
    More Details Hide Details He participated in the shot put, throwing a respectable 52 feet.
  • 1956
    Age 20
    He was a first team All-American in 1956.
    More Details Hide Details
    This time, he agreed to rejoin the team only after making Evashevski promise he would not talk to Karras other than in a purely coaching capacity. (Evashevski always denied any special agreement with Karras.) Iowa took the lead in the 1956 Big Ten title race with a 7-0 victory over Minnesota.
    More Details Hide Details The Hawkeyes then clinched the Big Ten title and Iowa's first ever Rose Bowl berth by defeating Ohio State, 6-0. Karras sealed the game with a quarterback sack on the game's final play. Iowa's final regular season game in 1956 was against Notre Dame, which Iowa won, 48-8. Karras called it his biggest college win, saying, "The Karrases have always had a rivalry with Notre Dame. The school was just 60 miles down the road from our home and we wanted to beat 'em at anything." However, after the game, Karras got into a physical battle with Evashevski. Karras did not enjoy his trip to the Rose Bowl, either. "Pasadena was the most boring town I’ve ever been in," said Karras. Karras helped the Hawkeyes win the 1957 Rose Bowl over Oregon State, 35-19.
    Karras went to summer classes and later rejoined the football team, but a strained relationship resurfaced. Evashevski promised to start Alex Karras in the 1956 season opener against Indiana, when Alex would square off against his brother, Ted.
    More Details Hide Details But Evy played Karras off the bench instead, and Karras quit the team again.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1955
    Age 19
    Karras did not earn a football letter for the 1955 season.
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    Karras' sophomore year with Iowa in 1955 got off to a rocky start when he showed up for practice twenty pounds overweight.
    More Details Hide Details Karras was also hampered that season by a cracked ankle bone. After being disappointed at not getting to play in the season finale, Karras threw a shoe at Evashevski and quit the team.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1935
    Born
    Born on July 15, 1935.
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