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Former Lions great Alex Karras dies at 77

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Former All-Pro Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras passed away Wednesday morning in Los Angeles at the age of 77.

Karras had been given just days to live after recently experiencing kidney failure. In recent years, Karras had been bravely battling kidney disease, heart disease, stomach cancer and dementia.

The Lions have released the following statement regarding Karras' passing.

"On behalf of the William Clay Ford family and the entire Detroit Lions organization, we extend our deepest sympathies to Susan, the Karras Family and to all of Alex's friends and fans across the country," Lions president Tom Lewand said. "While his legacy reached far beyond the gridiron, we always will fondly remember Alex as one of our own and also as one of the best to ever wear the Honolulu Blue and Silver."

"He was one of the guys that when I was growing up  -- one of the football cards that I had and played with," New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday morning. "He was a great player in a great era. Really, it was the growth period there when professional football started to catch up to and overtake college football, and he was a big part of it."

The Lions selected Karras, an Outland Trophy winner at the University of Iowa, in the first round (No. 10 overall) of the 1958 NFL draft. Karras played in 161 games with the Lions from 1958-70, missing the 1963 season due to a suspension tied to gambling. Karras was a four-time Pro Bowler (1959-61, 1965) and was voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Selection Committee to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1960s.

After appearing as himself in 1968's "Paper Lion," Karras pursued an acting career when his NFL career came to an end. Karras appeared in films such as "Blazing Saddles," "Victor Victoria" and "Porky's," while also co-starring in "Webster," playing the role of George Papadapolis alongside his real-life wife, actress Susan Clark, and star Emmanuel Lewis from 1983-89.

Karras' health has declined in recent years, which Clark attributed to her husband's football career. Karras was among the thousands of former players who have filed lawsuits against the National Football League.

''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.''

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