Sun. May 26th, 2024

Dick Butkus Dies: Feared NFL Legend Who Had Busy Acting Career Was 80

Dick Butkus, a Hall of Famer who was among the greatest, most respected and most feared players in NFL history and also had a long acting career in TV, film and commercials, died overnight in his sleep at his Malibu home. He was 80.

His family confirmed the news on social media.

After back-to-back All-America seasons at the University of Illinois, Butkus was picked No. 3 overall by his hometown Chicago Bears in 1965. A fearsome force on the field and rather gentle giant off of it, he spent his entire injury-shortened nine-season career with the club, redefining the linebacker position in the process.

Active from 1965-73, Butkus was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for both the 1960s and ’70s and was selected for the All-Time NFL Team in 2000. A six-time All-NFL selection and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, he played in eight consecutive Pro Bowls and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 after retiring with 1,020 career tackles, 22 interceptions and 25 fumble recoveries.

He also was a color analyst for Bears radio and appeared on CBS pregame show The NFL Today in the late 1980s.

“Dick was the ultimate Bear, and one of the greatest players in NFL history. He was Chicago’s son,” Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said in a statement. “He exuded what our great city is about and, not conicidentally, what George Halas looked for in a player: toughness, smarts, instincts, passion and leadership. He refused to accept anything less than the best from himself, or from his teammates. … His contributions to the game he loved will live forever.”

Butkus later coached the Chicago Enforcers of the original XFL in 2001.

“There’s only one thing I’ve ever wanted to do: Play pro football,” he told the Hall of Fame. “Everyone seems to be made for something, and I’ve always felt that playing football was the thing I was supposed to do. I love the game.”

Butkus was also active in philanthropy, with the NFL’s Dick Butkus Award and his foundation honoring achievement on the field and service to the community among high school, college and NFL linebackers. He also spearheaded the “I Play Clean” campaign that helped raise awareness about the dangers of steroid use among high school athletes.

Born on December 9, 1942, in the Windy City, Butkus also has a long career onscreen that began during his playing days. He played himself in the memorable, multi-Emmy-winning 1971 telefilm Brian’s Song and later began to land guest spots on such TV series as McMillan & Wife, Police Story and Emergency!

By the mid-1970s, Butkus was appearing alongside other athletes and in several popular and enduring Miller Lite TV commercials — watch one of most famous ones below. With his hulking frame and winning smile, he continued to land roles through the 1970s and beyond on such popular TV shows as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Rockford Files, Wonder Woman, Taxi, Vega$, Magnum P.I., MacGyver, Simon & Simon, Matlock, Growing Pains, Kate & Allie and The Love Boat.


In 1984, Butkus was cast opposite his fellow Lite beer ads alum Bubba Smith in the ABC drama Blue Thunder, playing a cop who backed up the crew of the titular souped-up chopper. The series, which was based on the hit Roy Scheider movie, also starred a pre-SNL Dana Carvey and James Farentino. It lasted only 11 episodes.

Butkus would landed a second series-regular role in 1987 on the NBC sitcom My Two Dads, playing an ex-football player who ran a restaurant in the building where leads Paul Reiser and Greg Evigan lived. The show made the primetime Top 20 in its 1987-88 rookie year, and he stayed with the series for its first two seasons.

Butkus went on to co-star in the ’90s NBC Saturday morning series Hang Time, starting with its fourth season in 1998. Playing the coach of a high school basketball team, he appeared in more than 50 episodes over its final two seasons, wrapping in 2000.

He also played himself in episodes of the 2000s series The Bernie Mac Show, Inside Schwartz and I Didn’t Do It.

In 2005 he was featured in the ESPN docuseries Bound for Glory, coaching a losing high school football team in suburban Pittsburgh.

Dick Butkus and Peter Boyle in ‘Johnny Dangerously’

Butkus also made several big-screen appearances, including Disney’s 1976 football romp Gus; opposite Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel that same year in Mother, Jugs & Speed; with Michael Keaton in Johnny Dangerously (1984); Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990); and Oliver Stone’s 1999 pro football movie Any Given Sunday.

Charming and outgoing, Butkus also appeared on talk shows, game shows, pro wrestling events, celebrity roasts and myriad football-themed documentaries. He also was referenced often in Saturday Night Live‘spopular “Da Bears” sketches of the early 1990s.

Butkus is survived by his high school sweetheart and wife of more than 60 years, Helen; and their family. source