LOS ANGELES – Funeral services were pending Friday for Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, the Cleveland Browns legend who went on to become a prolific actor and prominent civil-rights activist.
Brown died Thursday night at his home in Los Angeles at age 87, according to a family representative.
“It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of my husband, Jim Brown,” Monique Brown said in a statement Friday. “He passed peacefully last night at our L.A. home. To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star. To our family, he was a loving and wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts are broken.”
Considered by many one of the greatest football players of all time, Brown played for the Browns from 1957-65, averaging more than 5 yards per carry en route to becoming the league’s rushing leader in almost every year of his short but storied career. He was named the league MVP in 1965, and also led the Browns to an NFL championship in 1964.
He was named to the Pro Bowl every year of his career.
“Legend. Leader. Activist. Visionary,” the Cleveland Browns posted on the team’s Twitter page Friday. “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.”
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam issued a statement saying, “Jim Brown is a true icon of not just the Cleveland Browns but the entire NFL. He was certainly the greatest to ever put on a Browns uniform and arguably one of the greatest players in NFL history. Jim was one of the reasons the Browns have such a tremendous fan base today. So many people grew up watching him just dominate every time he stepped onto the football field but his countless accolades on the field only tell a small part of his story.”
Seemingly at the height of his playing career, Brown opted to retire in 1966, while he was in the midst of filming the classic war film “The Dirty Dozen,” featuring Lee Marvin and a host of other Hollywood dignitaries, including Telly Savalas and Charles Bronson.
He went on to appear in more than two dozen other films, including “The Running Man,” “Any Given Sunday” and “Mars Attacks.”
At the time of his retirement from the NFL, he was the league leader in total yards with 12,312 and 126 touchdowns. He rushed for 1,863 yards in the 1963, a team record that still stands in Cleveland. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. A statue of Brown stands outside the Cleveland Browns’ stadium.
Brown was destined for greatness out of college at Syracuse, where he was also a standout lacrosse player — he is a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame — and also lettered in basketball and track.
Brown also became a noted civil rights advocate and anti-gang activist. He founded the Amer-I-Can program in 1988, aimed at helping at-risk and high-risk youth at inner-city schools and juvenile detention facilities. It also offers reentry programs for adults exiting prison.
He also worked as a football analyst for CBS, where he counted Vin Scully among his colleagues.
“On behalf of the entire NFL family, we extend our condolences to Monique and their family,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “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.
“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.”
His life was not without difficulties, and he had numerous run-ins with the law, beginning in 1968 when he was charged with assault, a case that was dismissed when the alleged victim declined to cooperate with prosecutors. Brown was ordered to pay a fine, however, for striking a sheriff’s deputy involved in the investigation.
Brown was charged but later acquitted in a road-rage case in 1970. He was convicted of misdemeanor battery in 1975 for assaulting a golf partner. In 1999, he was arrested for allegedly threatening his wife and vandalizing her car with a shovel. He was sentenced to three years probation, domestic violence counseling and community service. But Brown failed to abide by any of those terms, and he spent three months behind bars.
Brown is survived by his wife, Monique, and children Karen, Kim, Kevin, Jim Jr. and Aris.