Football

NFL great, actor Merlin Olsen dies

Merlin Olsen, an inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a former television actor, has died at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer.

Merlin Olsen, an inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a former television actor, has died at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer.

The six-foot-five defensive tackle was part of the "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line for the then Los Angeles Rams along with Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy. The line helped the Rams set an NFL record for the fewest yards allowed during a 14-game season in 1968.

Olsen played in an NFL record 14 all-star games and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. He later served on the hall's board of trustees.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement lauding Olsen as an "extraordinary person, friend and football player."

"He cared deeply about people, especially those that shared the game of football with him," Goodell said. "Merlin was a larger-than-life person, literally and figuratively, and leaves an enormously positive legacy."

Olsen was a staple on television for nearly 20 years after retiring from the game in 1976.

He began dabbling with acting before his playing career was over, and played a supporting role for several seasons as Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie.

He developed a gentle giant persona on the small screen and was later cast as the lead in two NBC series: Father Murphy, which ran from 1981 to 1983, and Aaron's Way, from 1988.

Olsen stayed in football as a commentator — most notably paired with play-by-play man Dick Enberg — and was a longtime television spokesperson for FTD Florists.

Last year, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer that attacks the lining of internal organs and is most commonly found in people who have been exposed to asbestos.

Olsen filed a lawsuit last year against NBC Universal and 20th Century Fox, alleging they negligently exposed him to asbestos.

Tributes began not long after the illness was announced.

At his alma mater, Utah State, the football field at Romney Stadium was named Merlin Olsen Field in December, while the St. Louis Rams in the same month honoured him during a game with a tribute narrated by Enberg.

"Merlin Olsen is one of the best players in the history of the NFL," Rams general manager Billy Devaney said in a statement released by the team Thursday afternoon. "His passing is a tremendous loss for the Rams. He will always be remembered as an ambassador for the organization as well as the National Football League."

Olsen was an All-American at Utah State. He was selected second overall in the AFL draft by the Denver Broncos in 1962.

"This was the voice of a man who not only became one of our country's most decorated athletes, but also one of the most accomplished and respected people ever to hail from the state of Utah," said Stan Albrecht, president of Utah State.

The Rams had two high picks in the NFL draft, taking Roman Gabriel second and Olsen third after Washington selected Ernie Davis, who would die of leukemia before playing an NFL game.

"He was ferocious and fearless on the football field and then the other probably more important aspect of his personality was he was a true gentleman," said fellow Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood, his teammate with the Rams in Los Angeles. "We all know what a wonderful, tremendous football player he was, but he was so much more than that."

Olsen was born on Sept. 5, 1940, in Logan, Utah, one of nine children in his family. His brother Phil was a Rams teammate in the early 1970s, and another brother, Orrin, also played in the NFL.

With files from CBCSports.ca

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