NFL great, actor Merlin Olsen dies

Merlin Olsen, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and 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.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of Merlin’s passing," Hall of Fame president and executive director Steve Perry said in a statement. "He was not only an extraordinary football player but just a superb human being."

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.

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

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.

With files from CBCSports.ca