Alex Karras Biography

(American Football Player, Sportscaster, and Actor)

Birthday: July 15, 1935 (Cancer)

Born In: Gary, Indiana, United States

Alex Karras was an American football player, actor and sportscaster, best remembered for his performance in the comedy film ‘Blazing Saddles’. The Indiana-born athlete was also a four times pro-bowl player in the NFL where he represented Detroit Lions. By the age of 13, he started showing his athletic prowess at the sports ground of Emerson High School. After graduating from college, he signed up as a professional wrestler for some time, before joining the ‘National Football League’. After being signed by the Detroit Lions in the 1958 draft, he performed well throughout the 1960s and won several honours. Alex was roped in to play himself in the sports comedy film ‘Paper Lion’ in 1968. He followed it up with many supporting and small roles in films, such as ‘Blazing Saddles’, ‘Babe’, ‘FM’ and ‘Victor Victoria’. He also appeared on television, playing a supporting role in the mini-series ‘Centennial’. The late sportsperson has been inducted in the ‘Iowa Sports Hall of Fame’ and the ‘College Football Hall of Fame’.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Alexander George Karras

Died At Age: 77


Spouse/Ex-: Joan Jurgensen (m. 1958–1976), Susan Clark (m. 1980–2012)

father: George Karras

mother: Emmeline Karras

children: Alex Karras Jr., George Karras, Katie Karras, Peter Karras, Renald Karras

Born Country: United States

Sportscasters American Football Players

Height: 6'0" (183 cm), 6'0" Males

Died on: October 10, 2012

place of death: Los Angeles, California, United States

Diseases & Disabilities: Heart Disease, Dementia, Cancer, Dementia, Cancer

Cause of Death: Kidney Failure

Ancestry: Canadian American, Greek American

City: Gary, Indiana

U.S. State: Indiana

More Facts

education: University Of Iowa

Childhood & Early Life
Alex Karras was born as Alexander George Karras on July 15, 1935 in Gary, Indiana to Dr. George Karras and Emmeline Wilson. His father had Greek ancestry, while his mother was Canadian. Alex grew up in a middle-class house household with two older brothers, named Lou and Ted Karras.
His father practiced medicine in Gary. He passed away when Alex was 13, and it was a major blow to the family. But by then, his elder brothers were old enough to take care of him.
Alex learned to play football in a parking lot near his home. He slowly excelled at it and became a star in his school’s football team. He helped the Emerson High School’s football team win many tournaments. He made it to the Indiana All-State selection four times while still in school.
In order to play college football, he enrolled in the ‘University of Iowa,’ but his initial years playing college football did not go as planned. He had gained weight during his debut season in 1955. He was also struggling with injuries; therefore, he did not play much.
He had an ongoing feud with the team’s coach Forest Evashevski, which often came in the way of him playing to his full potential. During the 1956 season, he also had a physical altercation with the coach. He was not selected to play in the season’s finale, so he flung a shoe at the coach and quit the team.
However, his final year of college football was exceptional. He excelled as the strongest line-man throughout the season and won an ‘Outland Trophy’ and came very close to winning the ‘Heisman Trophy’.
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Athletic Career
Alex Karras left Iowa in 1957 to try his luck in professional wrestling. Within a few months, he earned more than $25,000, which was amazing by a beginner wrestler’s standards.
In the 1958 NFL Draft, he was signed as the 10th pick by the Detroit Lions. Slowly, he made a name for himself as one of the best defensive tackles in the team.
In 1960 and 1961, he was voted All-Pro but was suspended indefinitely by the NFL management for his alleged involvement in betting and association with criminals. He got involved in the controversy after purchasing shares in a bar with the money he had earned from wrestling. His bar had become a betting joint and a meeting place for criminals.
While Alex confessed to betting, he claimed that he never bet on his own games. During his exile, he returned to the pro wrestling circuit. After he agreed to sell off his shares in the bar, he was allowed to make a comeback in the NFL in 1964. He was made All-Pro immediately after his comeback.
In the 1966 season, it was rumored that the Miami Dolphins wanted Alex for a much higher price, but he surprised everybody by signing a seven years’ contract with the Lions again.
He was not on good terms with the Lions coach Harry Gilmer and sparred with him frequently. Gilmer had accused Alex of threatening to leave the team for a better deal.
Alex did not take his NFL career very seriously and threatened to leave again in 1967. By the next year, he had already found an alternative career.
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Acting Career
Alex Karras was offered to play himself in the 1968 film ‘Paper Lion’, which was based on a book of the same name, written by George Plimpton. The story was based on George’s experience with the Detroit Lions. The film received good reviews and was successful at the box office as well.
Since his retirement from the NFL in 1970, he was beginning to get a lot of film offers. His quirky character in ‘Paper Lions’ was well received by the audience and critics alike. He was invited as a guest on many TV shows, such as ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’ and ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’.
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In 1972, he appeared in the TV film ‘Hardcase’, in which he played the supporting role of Booker Llewellyn.
He starred in the 1974 satirical western film ‘Blazing Saddles’ as Mongo. The Mel Brooks-directed comedy film was an immediate commercial and critical success, earning the status of a cult film over time.
In the mid-1970s, Alex made several film appearances, including ‘The Great Lester Boggs’ (1974), ‘Win, Place or Steal’ (1974) and ‘Babe’ (1975).
Towards the late 1970s, he began to be offered leading roles in films, such as ‘FM’ (1978) and ‘Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang’ (1978). In 1978, he also played a key role in the television mini-series ‘Centennial’.
In the early 1980s, Alex was seen in supporting roles in films, such as ‘Porky’s’ (1981), ‘Victor Victoria’ (1982) and ‘Against All Odds’ (1984). He took permanent retirement from acting after starring in the film ‘Buffalo ‘66’ (1998).
Family & Personal Life
After taking retirement from the NFL and acting, Alex Karras opened an ice-cream parlour called ‘The Cow’ at the Surfside Beach, South Carolina. He also coached a few football teams briefly.
He married twice in his lifetime. He first married Joan Jurgensen in 1958 and had five children with her. The marriage ended in a divorce in 1975.
Alex married actress Susan Clark in March 1980, and the couple had a daughter.
He was one of the 3,500 former NFL players who had filed lawsuits against the NFL. They claimed that the repeated hits on their heads and concussions had significantly reduced their quality of life, and the career had long term side effects.
It was revealed on October 8, 2012 that Alex had suffered from kidney failure. On the morning of October 10, he passed away in his Los Angeles home. He was also suffering from dementia and stomach cancer at the time of his death.
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