Sadly, “Mongo” of Blazing Saddles fame is no longer “only pawn in game of life. Alex Karras, former professional football player and actor, has died at home of severe kidney failure. He was 77.
Once one of the most feared defensive players to put on the uniform, Karras was an All-Pro defensive tackle who played for 12 seasons in the NFL. He missed a season mid-career due to a controversy over his ownership of a bar that was known for gambling.
Karras, who had signed a professional wrestling contract before joining the NFL, went into acting after his football playing days ended. His first role in a film was portraying himself in the big screen adaptation of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion. He was very nearly cast as “Carlo Rizzi” in The Godfather and he made a number of appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Karras spent three years as a commentator on Monday Night Football and during those years made one of his most memorable big screen appearances, as “Mongo” in Blazing Saddles. “Mongo” was so tough that “The Frisco Kid” warned “Sheriff Bart “don’t shoot Mongo, you’ll only make him mad.” Other notable film roles for Karras included the gay bodyguard in Victor/Victoria, the crooked sheriff in Porky’s, and as the henchman of a villain in Against All Odds. In the 1980s, Karras took on a role in a TV sitcom, Webster, where he was acting with his real life wife, Susan Clark.
At the time of his death, Karras suffered from dementia and was a party to a lawsuit against the NFL filed by a number of players over issues involving head injuries.