He might not have been a household name, but Alex Karras entertained us for so many years, and on a number of different stages. Sadly, he passed away on Wednesday in his Los Angeles home at the age of 77 after suffering kidney failure earlier in the week.
Still don’t remember Karras? Let me refresh your memory.
Karras began his career in entertainment with a short stint as a professional wrestler but he was soon selected 10th overall out of Iowa in the 1958 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, which ended his wrestling aspirations. He spent 12 seasons in the NFL, where he was a four-time Pro Bowler and he was even awarded a spot on the league’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s.
But football wasn’t enough for Karras, so he tried his luck at acting, first appearing as himself in the 1968 film Paper Lion, an adaptation of George Plimpton’s nonfiction sports book. Three years later, Karras took on a much bigger role in one of the most iconic movies ever made – The Godfather. Karras played the part of Carlo Rizzi, the brother-in-law of the Coreleone family.
Professional football and acting might have been a lot to juggle for Karras, but as his NFL career came to an end, his acting career would reach its pinnacle.
In 1974 Karras had a minor role in Mel Brooks’ western parody Blazing Saddles, where he played a gigantic, dim-witted thug by the name of Mongo. It was a small supporting role but it created some of the most memorable moments of the film, including the famous lines, “Candygram for Mongo” and “Mongo just a pawn in game of life.”
From those roles Karras developed numerous smaller roles, including the part of Sheriff Wallace in the 1983 cult-classic Porky’s. From that point he then decided to try another form of entertainment: television.
Karras started as George Papadapolis in the long running comedy Webster. The part might be what Karras is best known for over his career. Work slowed down for Karras in his later years, though he was among many NFL players involved in a lawsuit against the league over issues that their career had caused later illnesses.
He might not have been the best player to ever wear an NFL jersey, or even the most important, but there is no arguing that Karras entertained so many on a number of different outlets, leaving his mark on the NFL, as well as the film and TV industry.
As a guy that can quote every line to Blazing Saddles — and I’m not alone, I bet — I’d just like to say thanks for some of my favorite movie quotes in history.
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