[Updated at 11:32 a.m. ET] Alex Karras, the former Detroit Lions defensive tackle turned actor in the ABC sitcom "Webster," died Wednesday in his Los Angeles home following a battle with kidney disease, heart disease, dementia and stomach cancer, according to a family spokesman.
He was 77.
Karras, a Gary, Indiana native, was an All-American at the University of Iowa before becoming aÂ four-time Pro Bowl selection in the NFL, playing for the Detroit Lions from 1958 to 1970. He went on to star in the 1980s' sitcom âWebsterâ – he played George Papadapolis, the guardian of the newly orphaned Webster, played by actor Emmanuel Lewis – and also played the horse-punching Mongo in the 1974 movie âBlazing Saddles."
In April, he joined hundreds ofÂ former NFL players suing the league over concussion-related injuries, serving as lead plaintiff for what was then the 12th concussion-related complaint filed against the NFL by the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia.
Karras âsustained repetitive traumatic impacts to his head and/or concussions on multiple occasionsâ during his NFL career, and âsuffers from various neurological conditions and symptoms related to the multiple head traumas,â the lawsuit said.
His wife, "Websterâ co-star Susan Clark, said in April that Karras suffered from dementia.
The more than 2,000 NFL players who are suing the league claim the NFL misled players concerning the risks associated with concussions. The NFL has repeatedly said that player safety is a priority and that any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit.
According to his family, "Karras had always dreamed of being an actor," and got a boost when Lucille Ball "took him under her wing and allowed him to train in small parts."
Karras also co-wrote autobiographies called "Even Big Guys Cry" and "Alex Karras by Alex Karras."
"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," his family said.
Memorial services are being planned and will be announced soon, his family said.FULL STORY