ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images
Adam B. Vary
October 10, 2012 AT 03:04 PM EDT

Alex Karras, who starred on the long-running ’80s sitcom Webster after his successful NFL career with the Detroit Lions, died today. “After a heroic fight with kidney disease, heart disease, dementia and for the last two years, stomach cancer,” Karras died at his Los Angeles home, surrounded by family, a family spokesman told CNN. He was 77.

A star football player at the University of Iowa, Karras was signed by the Detroit Lions in 1958 and stayed with the team until he retired in 1970. He moved into acting, and soon landed the role of the dunderheaded lunk Mongo in Mel Brooks’ infamously politically incorrect 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles. He also played a closeted gay bodyguard in the 1982 Blake Edwards’ musical Victor Victoria.

Karras is likely best known, however, for Webster. Debuting on ABC in 1983, the show chronicled the lives of ex-NFL star George Papadapolis (Karras) and his wife (real-life spouse Susan Clark) after they take in the orphaned African-American son (Emmanuel Lewis) of one of George’s former teammates. The show was canceled by ABC in 1987, but ran for another two years in syndication.

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