UPDATE (5:50 PM): We've just received an official statement from Emmanuel Lewis on the passing of his TV dad, Alex Karras. "My heartfelt condolences goes out to Susan, Katie, George, Renny, Peter and the entire Karras & Clark family. My prayers are forever with you guys. I had a very heavy heart this morning and I did not know why. I understand now. Rest In Peace my friend." Emmanuel Lewis will be appearing on the show tonight in an interview we taped last week, where George had the opportunity to ask him about his Webster family.
(1:57 PM): Over the years, a number of former NFL stars have managed to go from the gridiron to Tinseltown.
There's Michael Strahan ('Live! With Kelly & MIchael'), Terry Bradshaw ('The Cannonball Run,' 'Failure To Launch'), Dan Marino ('Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'), and, of course, that O.J. guy (until, well, you know...).
But for a while, one of the best known was Alex Karras.
As Tom Lewand, president of the Detroit Lions, wrote recently, "Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as did Alex."
Today, we heard the sad news that Karras has died of kidney failure. He was 77.
Karras also suffered from cancer and dementia -- the latter, he claimed, a result of the injuries he sustained during his years playing football.
This past April, he joined a lawsuit brought by former players against the NFL, claiming the league didn't do enough to protect them from brain injuries.
Tonight's guest on the show is Emmanuel Lewis, who played 'Webster' - arguably the show for which Karras was most famous. George's conversation with Lewis was taped recently, so Karras' passing isn't acknowledged.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Karras was drafted 10th overall by the Detroit Lions in 1958 and became one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL.
In 1963, he was suspended for gambling but came back the following year, and played until 1970 when he retired.
From there, he got into acting. One of his most memorable roles was as the put-upon, horse-punching Mongo in the Mel Brooks classic, 'Blazing Saddles.'
He appeared regularly on TV and in movies, usually in character, but often as himself: in the film 'Paper Lion,' as a commentator on 'Monday Night Football' with Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell, and as a regular on the talk show circuit.
Karras had a strong connection to Canada, as well. His father was a Greek immigrant who went to medical school here and married a Canadian woman. Karras also appeared in some Canadian productions, including his role as Sheriff Wallace in the notorious Canadian comedy 'Porky's.'
Before signing with the Lions, Karras was originally offered a spot with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Later, after retiring from the NFL, he was the colour man for Wednesday night CFL telecasts (paired with Don Chevrier on play-by-play) that aired in the U.S. and picked up by some Canadian stations, including CBC's Windsor affiliate, CKLW.
But probably his strongest connection to Canada came through his family. He married Sarnia-born, Toronto-raised actress Susan Clark in 1980, after they met on the set of an American TV movie five years earlier.
Clark and Karras formed their own production company, Georgian Bay Productions. They sold ABC on a sitcom which the couple would star in and produce.
But the network asked them to incorporate Emmanuel Lewis into the premise.
In the 1980s, 'Webster' became a hit, with Lewis playing a seven-year-old African American orphan adopted by a white power couple (an ex-football player and his yuppie wife)
Emmanuel Lewis sits down tonight with George, to talk about his career and his charity work to support a First Nation here in Canada.
The BIO: Emmanuel Lewis