Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman and member of the Los Angeles Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" who followed up football with a successful television career in "Little House on the Prairie," NFL broadcasts and commercials, has died. He was 69.

Utah State, Olsen's alma mater, said he died outside of Los Angeles early Thursday after battling cancer. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining, last year.

Olsen was a consensus All-American at Utah State and a first-round draft pick of the Los Angles Rams in 1962.

The giant from northern Utah joined Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier on the Rams' storied "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line known for either stopping or knocking backward whatever offenses it faced. The Rams set an NFL record for the fewest yards allowed during a 14-game season in 1968.

Olsen was rookie of the year for the Rams in 1962 and is still the Rams' all-time leader in career tackles with 915. He was named to 14 consecutive Pro Bowls, a string that started his rookie year.

Olsen was also an established television actor with a role on "Little House on the Prairie," then starring in his own series, "Father Murphy," from 1981 to 1983 and the short-lived "Aaron's Way" in 1988.

As a Utah State senior, Olsen won the 1961 Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman. The Rams drafted him third overall in 1962 and he spent the next 15 years with the team before retiring in 1976.

He was voted NFC defensive lineman of the year in 1973 and the NFL MVP in 1974, and was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

After his football career, he analyzed football games for NBC and CBS and sought acting advice from actor-producer Michael Landon, who cast him as Jonathan Garvey in NBC's "Little House on the Prairie" from 1977 to 1981. In the early 1980s, Mr. Olsen starred in NBC's "Father Murphy," as an Old West frontiersman who disguises himself as a priest to help orphans.

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