Thursday, March 11, 2010

Merlin Olsen, 1940-2010. R.I.P.

NFL legend, broadcaster and actor Merlin Olsen died yesterday of mesothelioma. He was 69.

Olsen played his entire NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams. He was a defensive tackle comprising one quarter of the "Fearsome Foursome" which also included Rosie Grier, Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy. Olsen was NFL Rookie of the Year in 1962, named to 14 Pro Bowl teams and was the NFL MVP in 1974. He would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. Olsen also served as a color commentator alongside Dick Enberg for NFL telecasts on NBC from 1977 to 1988.

But perhaps Olsen is best known for his work as an actor. Olsen joined the cast of Little House on the Prairie in 1979 and would later star in Father Murphy, another NBC series produced by Michael Landon, which ran from 1981 to 1983. His Little House co-star Melissa Gilbert, writing on Twitter, described Olsen as "the personification of the Gentle Giant. Forever now, a guardian angel." This scene from Little House is how I remember Olsen best.

In recent years, Olsen had kept a lower profile. But last year after being diagnosed with mesothelioma he sued NBC, 20th Century Fox, Sherwin Williams and Lennox Industries for exposing him to asbestos. The lawsuit is still pending.

Olsen is the second Los Angeles sports legend to pass away within 24 hours. Willie Davis, a mainstay with the Dodgers in the 1960s and early 1970s, died on Tuesday.

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