Jim Brown, widely regarded as pro football’s greatest running back who ended his career early to pursue acting and civil rights activism, has died, his family announced. 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.
“To the world, he was an activist, actor, and football star,” according to a statement by Monique Brown. “To our family, he was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts are broken.”
Brown played nine season for the Cleveland Browns and rushed for 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns, the 11th and sixth most in NFL history, respectively.
The Browns called him a legend, a leader, an activist and a visionary in a statement on Friday afternoon.
And the NFL added: “We are heartbroken by the passing of the legendary Jim Brown. One of the greatest players in NFL history, a true pioneer and activist. Jim Brown’s legacy will live on forever.”
His alma mater, Syracuse University, extended its condolences to loved ones of the all-time great football and lacrosse player.
“There will be only one Jim Brown. We’re saddened to have lost the greatest of all time today,” the school said.
Even Brown’s impressive lifetime numbers on the gridiron don’t fully reflect his magnificent NFL career, which he cut short to pursue a second career in Hollywood.
He rushed for 5.2 yards per carry, by far the most of any player for more than 10,000 career rushing yards.
He led the Browns to the 1964 NFL title and Cleveland lost the 1965 title game. Those were the final two NFL title games, before the the advent of the Super Bowl, pitting champions of the NFL and old AFL.
The first Super Bowl was played on Jan. 15, 1967 and Cleveland has never played in that championship game.
Brown was on the London set of “The Dirty Dozen” and was going to report late to training camp in late summer 1966 when team owner Art Modell publicly ordered his star running back to return to America and be on time for preseason drills.
If Modell was bluffing, Brown wasn’t playing that game. He announced his retirement from London.
“This decision is final,” Brown said. “I’m no longer preparing mentally for football. I’m committing myself to other things. I’m not going to play again.”
Brown has acting credits in more than 30 movies, including “Any Given Sunday,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “El Condor” and “Three the Hard Way.”
Brown was among the most outspoken Black athletes of his era, advocating for them to use their platforms and elevate important causes of the day.
He famously convened what’s come to be known as the “Cleveland Summit.” That’s when athletes like Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor —who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — and activists like Carl Stokes gathered to hear from Muhammed Ali and eventually rally to his cause.
While Ali was stripped of his championship belts and he was convicted of draft evasion, the U.S. Supreme Court would in 1971 throw out the conviction, ruling that the government had failed to properly consider Ali’s application as a conscientious objector.
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.
The Associated Press contributed.