Merlin Olson, a fearsome Hall of Fame defensive end who later became famed for his gentle-giant roles on television, died Wednesday night from cancer. He was 69 years old. Olsen had been fighting mesothelioma since 2009 and had been undergoing chemotherapy.
A ferocious 6-foot-5 and 240-pound defensive tackle, Olsen was one-fourth of the famed "Fearsome Foursome" a famed defensive unit that consisted of he, Deacon Jones, Roosevelt Grier and Lamar Lundy. During his 15-year NFL career he was a 14-time Pro Bowler and missed only two games. Olsen retired from the NFL in 1976 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility.
• SI VAULT: Olsen tackles new career (01.19.81)
Olsen's post-football career including acting on TV's Little House on the Prairie and as the title role in "Father Murphy." He was also a longtime NFL broadcaster and served as a popular commercial spokesperson. As he headed into his second career, he was subject of a long profile in the Jan. 19, 1981 issue of SI . "Merlin's audition tape by NBC was terrific," the late actor Michael Landon told SI. "I talked to him and we hit it off right away. I wrote him into my Little House series as a new character -- Jonathan Garvey. Someone I could play off, like I did with Dan Blocker on Bonanza. But remember now, Merlin's actual, real-life character is what we're portraying here -- a sensitive man of great strength. I would say that there's no limit to his future."
A beloved figure in Utah and a native of Logan -- he was an All-American at Utah State in the 1960s who won the Outland Trophy in 1961 and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in finance -- his alma mater announced plans last December for the naming of Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium.