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October 10, 2012 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Alex Karras, N.F.L. Lineman and Actor, Dies at 77 [NYTimes] "Alex Karras was one of the National Football League‘s most feared defensive tackles throughout the 1960s, a player who hounded quarterbacks and bulled past opposing linemen. And yet, to many people he will always be known as an actor — the lovable father from the 1980s sitcom “Webster” or the big cowboy named Mongo who famously punched out a horse in “Blazing Saddles.”
posted by Fizz (59 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:06 AM on October 10, 2012


He liked candy and he will be missed.

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posted by Fizz at 9:06 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:10 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by Smart Dalek at 9:11 AM on October 10, 2012


I didn't know he had joined the suit against the NFL over head injuries as well. "Mongo only pawn in game of life", indeed.

Also, if you like sports and have never read "Paper Lion", do it some day.

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posted by Curious Artificer at 9:12 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seeing him in Victor/Victoria not too long ago, having only hazy memories of Webster, and not realizing he was Mongo -- not a bad actor. Not bad at all. And a hell of a football player.

Safe journey, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:13 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now Mongo free from world him never made.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:13 AM on October 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


ESPN:
Through a friend, I got a note from one of his former teammates, Greg Barton. He played with Karras from 1968 to 1970, and Karras did the television commentary for Canadian Football League games for a couple of years when Barton played in the CFL.

"He is one of the funniest men I have ever been around,'' Barton said. "Again, he was good to me and a friend. I remember playing a TV game in Canada and Alex was doing the color. I had talked to him prior to the game and told him that my father was very ill. He 'talked' to my dad on national television telling him he did a great job in raising a son and lots of other nice things. Boy that meant a lot to me.''

posted by zarq at 9:15 AM on October 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Had no idea Webster's dad was anything other than Generic Old White Guy. His mom was Alex's real wife, too. Huh.
posted by DU at 9:16 AM on October 10, 2012


Don't be put off by the title, but when I was a kid I really liked him The 500 Pound Jerk.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:17 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


He also hosted SNL at one point. Here's the monologue.

It's sort of glossed over in the NYTimes obit, but he was suspended from the NFL for a season in 1963 for gambling, along with Paul Hornung. The following year, once he was reinstated, he refused to call a coin toss. Told the ref, "I'm sorry, sir, I'm not permitted to gamble."
posted by zarq at 9:21 AM on October 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


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posted by ariel_caliban at 9:22 AM on October 10, 2012


He was in an episode of M*A*S*H, too.

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posted by Melismata at 9:25 AM on October 10, 2012


Mongo now pawn in game of afterlife.
posted by delfin at 9:27 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hope that at the pearly gates, Paul announced him with "God-gram for Mongo".

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posted by deezil at 9:41 AM on October 10, 2012


Sorry for him and his family. I have memories of him as part of the Detroit Lions "Fearsome Foursome" and of course his role in Blazing Saddles. (Didn't have a clue about his stint on Webster though!)

Am I hallucinating? I can't seem to find confirmation on the web. Wasn't he into knitting at one point? And that was kind of a big deal that this big macho football player would be into something so feminine. If I'm making that up, I don't what that says about me.
posted by marxchivist at 9:42 AM on October 10, 2012


Wasn't he into knitting at one point?

You're thinking of Rosy Grier.
posted by cog_nate at 9:44 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you.
posted by marxchivist at 9:46 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by cashman at 9:47 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by eriko at 9:50 AM on October 10, 2012


I don't what that says about me.

Real Men Knit.
posted by Fizz at 9:55 AM on October 10, 2012


A big shout-out to the big man who played one of the earlier more notable non-stereotyped gay characters in Victor/Victoria.

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posted by Halloween Jack at 9:57 AM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


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posted by Ink-stained wretch at 9:59 AM on October 10, 2012


RIP to the Mad Duck.
posted by davelog at 10:01 AM on October 10, 2012


A good man gone over the rainbow bridge.
posted by rdone at 10:05 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by kinnakeet at 10:05 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by Lynsey at 10:09 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by Mojojojo at 10:13 AM on October 10, 2012


Also, if you like sports and have never read "Paper Lion", do it some day.

If you really want to read about Karras, get George Plimpton's sort of follow up to Paper Lion, Mad Ducks & Bears.
posted by NoMich at 10:14 AM on October 10, 2012


Wasn't a fan of Webster, but for me Alex Karras and his wife (Susan Clark) will always be Sherrif Wallace and Cherry Forever from "Porky's."
posted by ShutterBun at 10:20 AM on October 10, 2012


RIP, Mongo.

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posted by dbiedny at 10:21 AM on October 10, 2012


I grew up in downstate Illinois, but it was close enough to the Iowa border to have plenty of University of Iowa football fans. And Karras was still enough of a big deal because of his time there that I knew at least one family who tuned into Webster for that reason. Which even as an adult I find weird.

Watching a Webster re-run recently in a supposed-to-be-ironic way (Webster burnt down the apartment playing with his chemistry set -- how could I not rewind and see how that started!), I ended up surprisingly impressed with Karras's acting, which led me to Wikipedia, which reminded me of something I knew but had forgotten:

Alex Karras and Susan Clark were married in real life as well as in the show. After starting their own production company, Georgian Bay Ltd., ABC approached the couple about a sitcom development deal, which resulted in the proposed series titled Another Ballgame. In this, Karras was the ex-NFL player who quickly found true love on a cruise with socialite Katherine (Clark), and the premise was a raucous romantic comedy... At this time, Another Ballgame producer Stu Silver desired to create an original show based on the lead characters portrayed by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in the film Woman of the Year. Silver saw Alex Karras and Susan Clark's on-screen chemistry as being very reminiscent of this.

(And though that sounds far fetched, it's not like Cheers didn't prove that 'former jock finds love a different type of woman' might be something audiences in 1983 would find interesting.)

But, as the Webster theme song went, then came you...meaning Emmanuel Lewis. Or probably accurately, Gary Coleman. ABC wanted their own Diff'rent Strokes, and the show was seriously revised before hitting the air.

I really only mention this because, I did think the show as originally conceived could have work based on the bit of Webster I saw recently, but also because I was really glad to hear that he and Susan Clark were still married. I think it's weird that people get wrapped up in Hollywood couples (even if I do), but I'm definitely going to forgive myself for a bond formed as a kid.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:21 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by lordrunningclam at 10:24 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


A big shout-out to the big man who played one of the earlier more notable non-stereotyped gay characters in Victor/Victoria.

Indeed, but remember: Mungo straight.

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posted by Ber at 10:27 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by bjgeiger at 10:28 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by PHINC at 10:33 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by brundlefly at 10:34 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by drezdn at 10:40 AM on October 10, 2012


Alex Karras was my favorite retired-pro-athlete-actor. One hell of an obituary.
posted by bukvich at 11:04 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by MrBadExample at 11:11 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by AJaffe at 11:11 AM on October 10, 2012


In Victor/Victoria, he was one of the very first gay characters I'd ever seen that hadn't come straight from the central casting standardized faggot farm. A protobear, even. That was something.

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posted by sonascope at 11:12 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by koucha at 11:26 AM on October 10, 2012


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Like BozoBurger above, I remember watching The 500 Pound Jerk with my family on network TV back in the day. I wasn't particularly interested at first - my Dad and brothers were the football fans and we lived near Detroit, which is why we tuned in that night - but it turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable film. A few years later we all watched Babe together, which starred Susan Clark as Babe Didrickson and Alex Karras as George Zaharias. It was such a sweet movie, and they made such a great onscreen couple that I wasn't surprised to find out later that the two actors began dating after meeting on the set.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:40 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by tommasz at 11:50 AM on October 10, 2012


Some excellent backstory about Alex Karras and Susan Clark on Webster can be found in the Cracked.com list 6 Beloved TV Shows (That Traumatized Cast Members for Life).

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posted by jonp72 at 11:55 AM on October 10, 2012


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posted by ericb at 11:55 AM on October 10, 2012


I hope he was in reality just what he always seemed to be: one heck of a nice guy.

And for Mongo, for Babe, for Victor/Victoria: thanks.
posted by easily confused at 12:38 PM on October 10, 2012


Mongo has brought me endless joy since I first encountered him. Which is to say Alex Karras has brought me endless joy since I first encountered Mongo. Respect to you, sir, and RIP.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:42 PM on October 10, 2012


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posted by grubi at 12:50 PM on October 10, 2012


When I was a kid, I read that Karras came closer than anyone to blocking Tom Dempsey's record field goal.

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posted by 4ster at 1:14 PM on October 10, 2012


It's been a looong time since I read it, but I remember Even Big Guys Cry as a great book. Thanks Alex.
posted by qldaddy at 2:21 PM on October 10, 2012


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posted by Anitanola at 2:54 PM on October 10, 2012


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posted by lord_wolf at 3:32 PM on October 10, 2012


Fourthing Victor/Victoria. SPOILER ALERT I thought it was surprising and charming to see his character's arc from James Garner's tough-guy bodyguard to being discovered in Robert Preston's bed by Julie Andrews (?).

And Paper Lion is a great read. It, Ball Four and, for some reason, Connie Hawkins' bio were my three childhood sports books.

He seemed like a smart, talented guy whose war stories would be a hoot to hear.

aav.

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posted by the sobsister at 4:15 PM on October 10, 2012


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posted by SisterHavana at 5:24 PM on October 10, 2012


I have so much fondness for Alex Karras, from his turn in Victor/Victoria to being Mr. Papadopolis to other roles I definitely noticed him in. There was something about his size and moustache and the way he conducted himself which appealed greatly to me during my not-even-aware-I-am-gay days. Once I put all the pieces together for myself, my fandom finally made sense to me. (That is, from a "wow, I like looking at this guy" standpoint. My admiration for his acting career and his creation of Webster as a vehicle for him and his wife remained constant.)

I was really sad when I heard he had developed dementia, probably from his football days. And was glad when I heard he was one of those suing the NFL over it.

I'm sorry to hear about his passing, but I thank him for being someone who found a career after sports which helped, in some ways, to shape the man I am today.

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posted by hippybear at 6:16 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by converge at 11:33 PM on October 10, 2012


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posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 8:42 AM on October 16, 2012


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