Bubba Smith, the All-Pro defensive end in the NFL who went on to a second career as a movie actor, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma, when he died in 2011.
The findings were confirmed by researchers affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation, and released Tuesday with the permission of the executor of Smith's estate.
Smith is the 90th former NFL player found to have had CTE by the researchers at the Boston University brain bank; they have examined 94 former pro players. On a scale of 1 to 4 used by the neuropathologist who examined Smith's brain, Smith had Stage 3 CTE, with symptoms that included cognitive impairment and problems with judgment and planning.
Smith died at age 66 of an overdose of phentermine, a weight-loss drug.
At 6 feet 7 inches and nearly 300 pounds, Smith was a quick and powerful lineman chosen as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1967 draft by the Baltimore Colts. His career was derailed by a knee injury sustained during a 1972 preseason game in Tampa.
After football, Smith joined other former pro athletes who appeared as themselves in commercials for Miller Lite beer. As an actor his most memorable role was playing Moses Hightower, the soft-spoken officer in the Police Academy movie series. He also appeared in TV series.
In the Miller Lite spots, he and fellow NFL veteran Dick Butkus were cast as inept golfers and polo players. Mr. Smith was also featured solo in one commercial extolling the virtues of the beer, beaming into the camera, "I also love the easy-opening cans," while ripping off the top of the can.
In related news, Dave Mirra, the star BMX rider who killed himself in February, also had CTE. The condition was diagnosed by neuropathologists at the University of Toronto and the Canadian Concussion Center, where Mirra's brain was examined after his death. "It's assumed it is related to multiple concussions that happened years before," Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati told ESPN. Mirra won 14 gold medals at the X Games and helped popularize freestyle BMX.