Bernie Casey, a professional football player turned poet, painter and actor known for parts in films such as Revenge of the Nerds and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, has died. He was 78.

Casey died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a brief illness, his talent agent Erin Connor said.

Born in West Virginia in 1939 and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Casey excelled in track and field and football and attended Bowling Green State University on an athletic scholarship.

He went on to play wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams before going back to his alma mater to get a master's degree in fine arts.

For Casey, the arts always came first. He painted and published books of poetry, but the football association that he viewed as a stepping stone followed him.

'People have tremendous combinations of talents'

"It was just a gig," he told the Washington Post in 1977 about football.

"But it limits the way people perceive you. That can be frustrating. People have tremendous combinations of talents. A man can be a deep-sea diver and also make china."

His art in particular captivated many famous minds, including Maya Angelou.

"His art makes my road less rocky, and my path less crooked," Angelou said of a 2003 exhibit of his works.

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Casey speaks with actress Sharon Stone during a 2007 celebration at the Artpeace Gallery in Burbank, Calif. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

"I was a big, agile, fast and a dedicated athlete," Casey said in 1999. "But I always wanted to be a painter."

Casey's professional acting career began with Guns of the Magnificent Seven, a sequel to The Magnificent Seven, in 1969. He appeared in some 35 films, including Boxcar BerthaThe Man Who Fell to EarthBrian's Song and Never Say Never Again.

Casey also starred opposite fellow NFL veteran Jim Brown in ...tick...tick...tick and Black Gunn.

He played Lambda Lambda Lambda head U.N. Jefferson in Revenge of the Nerds and John Slade in Keenan Ivory Wayans' Blaxploitation parody I'm Gonna Git You Sucka from 1988.

He also had a number of television credits including Star Trek: Deep Space NineMurder She Wrote and L.A. Law.