"The entire Detroit Lions family is deeply saddened to learn of the news regarding the condition of one of our all-time greats, Alex Karras," Lions president Tom Lewand said in a statement released by the team late Monday night. "Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as did Alex.
The 77-year-old Karras has been suffering from dementia. He is among the many former NFL players suing the league regarding the treatment of head injuries. Detroit drafted him 10th overall out of Iowa in 1958 and he was a standout for 12 seasons.
Karras may be even better well known for his work as an actor, including being a lovable father in the 1980s sitcom "Webster." He also played the role of Mongo in the 1974 comedy classic "Blazing Saddles," in which he said, "Mongo only pawn in game of life," and punched out a horse.
Recently, his wife said his quality of life has been made worse because of head injuries sustained during his playing career.
Susan Clark said earlier this year that her husband couldn't drive after loving to get behind the wheel and he could no longer remember recipes for some of his favorite Italian and Greek dishes he used to cook.
Clark, who also played the wife of Karras' character on "Webster," has said he was formally diagnosed with dementia several years ago and has had symptoms for more than a dozen years. She and Karras were among those who filed suit nearly six months ago in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
"This physical beating that he took as a football player has impacted his life, and therefore it has impacted his family life," Clark said earlier this year. "He is interested in making the game of football safer and hoping that other families of retired players will have a healthier and happier retirement."
The NFL has said it did not intentionally seek to mislead players and has taken action to better protect players and to advance the science of concussion management and treatment.
Karras played his entire NFL career with the Lions before retiring in 1970 at age 35. He was a first-team All-Pro in 1960, 1961 and 1965, and he made the Pro Bowl four times. He missed the 1963 season when he was suspended by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in a gambling probe. Karras was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a defensive tackle on the All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
"We know Alex first and foremost as one of the cornerstones to our Fearsome Foursome defensive line of the 1960s and also as one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play in the NFL," Lewand said. "Many others across the country came to know Alex as an accomplished actor and as an announcer during the early years of 'Monday Night Football.'
"We join his legions of fans from both sports and entertainment in prayer and support for Alex, his wife Susan, and his entire family during this most difficult time."