Dick Butkus Chicago Bears and NFL icon dies at 80
Chicago Bears and all-around NFL legend Dick Butkus has died, the team confirmed Thursday.
“The Butkus family confirms that football and entertainment legend Dick Butkus died peacefully in his sleep overnight at home in Malibu, California.
“The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife Helen. They appreciate your prayers and support.
“Additional information will be provided when it is available.”
, a Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the Bears from 1965 until 1973 and was an iconic representative of the team for generations, was 80 years old. Known as the “Maestro of Mayhem,” Butkus was Chicago through-and-through, starring on and off the field.
Butkus was born Dec. 9, 1942, to a Lithuanian American family in the Fernwood neighborhood on Chicago’s Far South Side. He was the youngest of nine children.
Butkus’ website notes that he already knew he was going to be a professional football player by the time he was in fifth grade.
“I worked hard at becoming one, just like society says you should,” Butkus was quoted on its website. “It (society) said you had to be fierce. I was fierce. Tough. I was tough.”
Butkus became a star football player at Chicago Vocational High School, and at the University of Illinois – where he enrolled in 1961. By his junior year in 1963, he had already made 145 tackles and forced 10 fumbles, his website said.
He led the Fighting Illini to the Big Ten Championship that year – and they finished the season ranked third in the nation, his website said. The Illini beat Washington 17-7 in the Rose Bowl that year.
Butkus was unanimously named All-American in 1964 – playing both sides of the ball a center on offense and a linebacker on defense, his website said. He later had his University of Illinois jersey, No. 50, retired – and is only one of two players to have received such an honor there, his website said.
His impact was so great that the Dick Butkus Award is now annually given to the top college linebacker in the country.
Butkus was drafted into the NFL by the Bears in 1965 – wearing jersey No. 51. He had 11 solo tackles in his first game, his website reported.
Butkus was a top contender for NFL Rookie of the Year that year, but was edged out by his Bears teammate and fellow first-round draft pick Gale Sayers, his website noted.
Butkus’ website said the 6-foot 3-inch, 245-pound powerhouse “terrorized opposing ball carriers and quarterbacks. His mauling style of tackling was worthy of a grizzly bear.”
In his nine-year NFL career, his website said, Butkus recovered 27 fumbles and had 22 interceptions.
“When I went out on the field to warm up, I would manufacture things to make me mad,” he was quoted. “If someone on the other team was laughing, I’d pretend he was laughing at me or the Bears. It always worked for me.”
Injuries began to take a toll on Butkus’ knees by 1970, but he pressed on for three more years – with 117 tackles and 68 assists, three fumble recoveries, and four pass interceptions in 1971, his website said.
After retiring from the NFL, Butkus veered into acting – appearing in a well-known series of Miller Lite ads in which he played “a gentlemanly tennis player who cheerfully debates the beer’s merits with fellow ex-NFL defensive star Bubba Smith,” his website said.
Butkus appeared in the movies “Necessary Roughness” and “Any Given Sunday.” He also played Coach Mike Katowinski in the sitcom “Hang Time,” Ed Klawicki the sitcom “My Two Dads,” and “Ski” Butowski in the TV adaptation of the movie “Blue Thunder,” among many other roles.
Butkus also made numerous appearances in scripted TV shows as himself over the years.
In 1988 and 1989, Butkus also served as an analyst on CBS Sports’ “The NFL Today” pregame show, working alongside Irv Cross and former CBS 2 Chicago Sports Director Brent Musburger.