Detroit Lions Standout and 'Webster' Star Has Died

PHOTO: Alex Karras and Emmanuel Lewis
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Former Detroit Lions standout and National Football League great, Alex Karras, who later became a TV star, has died, ABC News has learned.

The 77-year-old former defensive tackle died at his home in Los Angeles, surrounded by his family, following recent kidney failure.

"He was an amazing man in everything he did," Karras' lawyer, Craig Mitnick, told ABC News Radio. "He fought really, really hard through his dementia and cancer."

Karras was drafted by the Lions 10th overall in 1958, and he played for the team for his entire NFL career. Following his retirement from football in 1970 at the age of 35, Karras turned to acting, playing Mongo in the Mel Brooks movie "Blazing Saddles" and lovable dad George Papadapolis on the ABC series "Webster."

After the news broke Tuesday that Karras had only a few days to live, his former team extended its sympathies to the All-Pro defensive lineman. Lions President Tom Lewand said in a statement released late Monday night that the "entire Detroit Lions family is deeply saddened to learn of the news regarding one of our all-time greats.

"Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as Alex," the statement read. "We know Alex first and foremost as one of the cornerstones to our Fearsome Foursome defensive line of the 1960s. Many others across the country came to know Alex as an accomplished actor and as an announcer during the early years of Monday Night Football."

Karras quit acting in 1998, and in his later years, was plagued by numerous health problems. He was diagnosed with dementia, and is among the more than 3,000 players suing the NFL over the league's treatment of head injuries.

His wife, Susan Clark, who also played his wife on "Webster," told the Associated Press earlier this year that Karras had showed symptoms of dementia for years.

"This physical beating that he took as a football player has impacted his life, and therefore, it has impacted his family life," Clark said. "He is interested in making the game of football safer and hoping that other families of retired players will have a healthier and happier retirement."

Clark also said that Karras could no longer do some of the things he loved, including drive or remember how to prepare his favorite recipes. He joined the class action against the NFL six months ago.

Some of his former Lions teammates have shared their thoughts on Karras' state.

"If there's a miracle out there, you have to call upon it," Hall-of-Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt told the Detroit Free Press. "It's one of those things I've gone through with quite a few guys I played with have passed."

There have been a number of high-profile cases of former NFL players who have serious health problems stemming from the lingering effects of head trauma endured in their playing days, that is said to have played a part in the suicides of Ray Easterling, Junior Seau and Dave Duerson.

The NFL has said it never purposefully misled the athletes, as the players allege, and is working toward a better understanding of concussions and how to protect players.

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