Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the unstoppable running back who retired at the peak of his brilliant career to become an actor as well as a prominent civil rights advocate during the 1960s, has died. He was 87.
A spokeswoman for Brown’s family said he passed away peacefully in his Los Angeles home on Thursday night with his wife, Monique, by his side. His wife confirmed the news in an Instagram post.
“To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star,” she wrote. “To our family, he was a wonderful and loving husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts are broken.”
His former team, the Cleveland Browns, posted a tribute saying: “It’s impossible to describe the profound love and gratitude we feel for having the opportunity to be a small piece of Jim’s incredible life and legacy. We mourn his passing, but celebrate the indelible light he brought to the world. Our hearts are with Jim’s family, loved ones, and all those he impacted along the way.”
One of the greatest players in football history and one of the game’s first superstars, Brown was chosen the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1965 and shattered the league’s record books in a short career spanning 1957-65.
Brown led the Cleveland Browns to their last NFL title in 1964 before retiring in his prime after the ’65 season to become an actor. He appeared in more than 30 films, including “Any Given Sunday” and “The Dirty Dozen.”
An unstoppable runner with power, speed and endurance, Brown’s arrival sparked the game’s burgeoning popularity on television. When he finished playing, Brown became a prominent leader in the Black power movement during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.
Brown is the only player in NFL history to average more than 100 yards rushing per game for his career, CBS Sports notes. When he retired, he held the record for carries (2,359), rushing yards (12,312) and touchdowns (106).
“Jim Brown was a gifted athlete — one of the most dominant players to ever step on any athletic field — but also a cultural figure who helped promote change,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Friday.
“During his nine-year NFL career, which coincided with the civil rights movement here at home, he became a forerunner and role model for athletes being involved in social initiatives outside their sport. He inspired fellow athletes to make a difference, especially in the communities in which they lived.”
In later years, he worked to curb gang violence in LA and founded Amer-I-Can, a program to help disadvantaged inner-city youth and ex-convicts.
On the field, there was no one like Brown, who would blast through would-be tacklers, refusing to let one man take him down before sprinting away from linebackers and defensive backs. He was also famous for using a stiff arm to shed defenders in the open field or push them away like they were rag dolls.
“My arms were like my protectors and weapons,” Brown said during an interview with NFL Films.
Indeed, Brown was unlike any back before him, and some feel there has never been anyone better than Cleveland’s incomparable No. 32. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he was dominant, relentless and without mercy, his highlight reels featuring runs around and right through opponents, fighting for every yard, dragging multiple defenders along or finding holes where none seemed to exist.
After Brown was tackled, he’d slowly rise and walk even more slowly back to the huddle — then dominate the defense when he got the ball again.
In 2016, Brown spoke with CBS News to reflect on his career and social activism. Watch the video in the player above.