Known to a generation of children as Webster's adoptive father George Papadopoulos, former football player and actor Alexander George "Alex" Karras has passed away at the age of 77.
Nicknamed "The Mad Duck," Karras was a dominant defensive tackle for the NFL's Detroit Lions after being drafted in the first round. He played with the Lions for his entire career from 1958 until 1970, missing one season in 1963 when he was suspended for gambling on NFL games. 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 explained. "I'm not permitted to gamble."
During his exile from the gridiron, Karras returned to the world of professional wrestling, which he had started prior to joining the Lions and continued sporadically in the off-season. In his most famous incident as a wrestler, the Mad Duck was confronted by the legendary Dick The Bruiser in his own bar to drum up interest in their squared circle showdown in Detroit, drawing a great crowd when they finally locked horns.
In Detroit, Karras met sports writer George Plimpton, who went on to author the 1966 book Paper Lion: Confessions Of A Second-String Quarterback. When the book was turned into a film, Karras tried his hand at acting and played himself. His performance in Paper Lion earned him many other movie and television opportunities, including a small but memorable role in 1974's Blazing Saddles as the strong and slow-witted Mongo. He was also under consideration for a part in The Godfather as Carlo Rizzi, the duplicitous brother-in-law of the Corleone family, but the role went to Gianni Russo.
Alongside Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, Karras joined ABC's Monday Night Football broadcast team in 1974, but left after the 1976 season to return to acting. After several film roles and TV appearances—on shows such as M*A*S*H, The Odd Couple, and Match Game—Karras got to display his softer side on the popular ABC sitcom Webster, starring him and his real-life wife Susan Clark, from 1983 until 1989.
Suffering from dementia in recent years, Karras was a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that hundreds of former NFL players had filed against the league earlier this year over the treatment of head injuries. In addition to dementia, the former Pro Bowl lineman was also plagued by kidney disease, heart disease, and stomach cancer.
Earlier this week, Karras had been hospitalized for kidney failure and returned to his home in Los Angeles. He died earlier this morning while surrounded by family. Rest easy, Mr. Papadopoulos.