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Football Hall of Famer, TV giant Merlin Olsen dies at 69

Merlin Olsen, second from left, was part of the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome of, from far left, Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier, and Deacon Jones.

Associated Press (1964)

Merlin Olsen, second from left, was part of the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome of, from far left, Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier, and Deacon Jones.

LOS ANGELES — Merlin Olsen, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman with the Los Angeles Rams who was a member of the famed Fearsome Foursome, then made a remarkably smooth transition into careers in broadcasting and acting, died early Thursday. He was 69.

Mr. Olsen died at City of Hope hospital in Duarte, Calif., while surrounded by his family, his brother Orrin said.

In December, Mr. Olsen sued NBC Studios and several other companies claiming that his exposure to asbestos since he was about 10 resulted in mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure he was diagnosed with last year.

After an All-America career at Utah State, Mr. Olsen played 15 seasons in the NFL (1962-76), all with the Rams. He was the league MVP in 1974 and appeared in 14 Pro Bowls. After retiring, he spent 15 seasons in broadcasting as an analyst for NBC and CBS, and acted in roles as a gentle giant in TV shows including Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy.

The foursome of Mr. Olsen, David "Deacon" Jones, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy used size, speed and skill to terrorize offenses.

"Our philosophy was that they can't double-team all of us," Mr. Olsen said in 1985, three years after his election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "Somebody would be one-on-one, and he'll get the quarterback."

After football he paired with Dick Enberg at NBC calling games. "He was so thoroughly prepared, he should have been a lawyer," Enberg said in 2006.

Mr. Olsen's contract with NBC included the chance to act. "Merlin's own character was such that you adapted it to his (TV) character," said Kent McCray, who was the producer of Little House. "In many instances, it was difficult for him to get mad. By nature, Merlin is not that way."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Football Hall of Famer, TV giant Merlin Olsen dies at 69 03/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 11, 2010 9:32pm]

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