During his 12-year career with the Detroit Lions, defensive tackle Alex Karras made All-Pro four times and earned a reputation for terrorizing quarterbacks. But he may have achieved even greater notoriety as a comic actor on television and in motion pictures.
Karras, who died today at age 77 in Los Angeles, appeared in scores of television shows, starting in 1969 with a role in an episode of Daniel Boone. He went on to act in TV series ranging from The Odd Couple to the 1980s sitcom Webster. He also made us laugh in this classic beer commercial:
But Karras’ movie roles are even more memorable.
- Blazing Saddles (1974). Karras played the simple-minded roughneck Mongo in Mel Brooks’ send-up of Hollywood westerns.
- Victor/Victoria (1982). Karras gave perhaps his most skillful performance as Squash Bernstein, a closeted gay gangster.
- Porky’s (1982). The classic adolescent gross-out comedy featured Karras in the role of Sheriff Wallace.
- Against All Odds (1984). One of the few bright spots in this mostly forgotten remake of Out of the Past, other than Phil Collins’ hit theme song, was Karras’ small role as Hank Sully.
- Buffalo 66 (1998). In his final film role, Karras played a sportscaster in actor-director Vincent Gallo’s dark exploration of a mentally disturbed football fan’s vendetta against an errant field-goal kicker.
Just last year, Karras, who suffered from dementia late in life, became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the National Football League on behalf of himself and 69 other former players, alleging that the NFL didn’t do enough to warn them that they risked permanent brain damage if they played too soon after a concussion.