Chicago, IL – October 6, 2023 – The world of American football is mourning the loss of a true legend today as Dick Butkus, the iconic Chicago Bears Hall of Fame middle linebacker, passed away peacefully in his sleep overnight at his home in Malibu, California.
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He was 80 years old. The Butkus family released a statement confirming the news and expressed their gratitude for the support and prayers from fans worldwide.
The Ultimate Bear: Dick Butkus
Bears chairman George H. McCaskey paid tribute to Butkus, calling him “the ultimate Bear” and one of the NFL’s greatest players. McCaskey emphasized Butkus’s embodiment of Chicago’s values – toughness, intelligence, instincts, passion, and leadership. He also highlighted Butkus’s unwavering commitment to excellence, both for himself and his teammates.
A Chicago Native’s Rise to NFL Stardom
Born and raised in Chicago, Dick Butkus’ remarkable journey from the city’s South Side to NFL stardom began at Chicago Vocational High School and the University of Illinois. In the 1965 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears chose him as the third overall pick, launching a legendary career.
A Relentless Force on the Gridiron
During his eight seasons with the Bears from 1965 to 1973, Butkus established himself as one of the most formidable and unyielding defensive players in NFL history. His reputation for ferocity on the field was unmatched. He earned eight consecutive Pro Bowl selections and was named All-Pro seven times, marking his indelible impact on the game.
Accolades and Legacy
Butkus’s illustrious career included two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 (in his first year of eligibility), and recognition on the NFL All-Decade Teams for both the 1960s and 1970s. The Chicago Bears retired his No. 51 jersey, and he received the honor of being named to the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary Teams.
Beyond Defense: Exceptional Ball Skills
Dick Butkus was not just known for his fearsome defensive prowess but also for his exceptional ball skills. He set an NFL record with 26 fumble recoveries and recorded 22 career interceptions, showcasing his all-around abilities as a linebacker.
A Cherished Legacy
In a 2019 publication, the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook, Butkus was ranked as the second greatest player in franchise history, a testament to his enduring impact on the team.
From the Gridiron to Hollywood
Beyond football, Butkus ventured into acting and entertainment, appearing in numerous movies and television shows alongside fellow former football star Bubba Smith. His impressive acting credits included roles in “My Two Dads,” “Vega$,” “MacGyver,” “Hang Time,” and notable films like “Brian’s Song,” “The Longest Yard,” “Johnny Dangerously,” “Necessary Roughness,” and “Any Given Sunday.”
Championing Charitable Causes
Throughout his life, Butkus actively supported charitable causes. He founded The Butkus Foundation, which introduced the Butkus Award, recognizing the nation’s best linebackers in professional, college, and high school football. He also established the Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness, a nonprofit dedicated to cardiac health, and initiated the “I Play Clean Campaign” to educate high school athletes about the risks of illegal steroids and performance-enhancing substances.
A Lasting Legacy
Dick Butkus leaves behind a profound impact on the football world and his community. His legacy as a player, actor, and philanthropist will continue to inspire generations to come. He is survived by his loving wife of 60 years, Helen, and their family.
The passing of Dick Butkus leaves a void in the hearts of football fans, not only in Chicago but worldwide. His indomitable spirit and remarkable contributions to the game will forever be celebrated as a testament to his enduring greatness.