Jim Brown, the incomparable Cleveland Browns fullback who left the NFL at the peak of his abilities to become a Hollywood action star in movies like The dirty dozen, Ice station Zebra And 100 guns, has passed away. He turned 87.
Brown, a staunch civil rights advocate, died Thursday night at his home in Los Angeles with his wife Monique by his side, his family’s spokesperson told the Associated Press.
A synthesis of speed, strength, balance, determination and intelligence – a blend of skills never before or since seen in one player – the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Brown played nine seasons (1957-65) in the NFL, all with the Browns. He captured eight league titles and three Most Valuable Player awards and never missed a game due to injury.
Following his ninth season—leading the NFL in rushing with 1,544 yards, scoring 21 touchdowns, and winning the MVP trophy—Brown was cast in his second movie in The dirty dozen (1967), directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Lee Marvin.
He portrayed Robert Jefferson, one of 12 military thugs sent on a suicide mission during World War II to assassinate German officers before the D-Day invasion. University-educated Jefferson was sentenced to death for killing a racist white soldier who assaulted him.
When asked about his co-star’s acting abilities, Marvin replied, “Well, Brown is a better actor than Sir Laurence Olivier would be as a member of the Cleveland Browns.”
When the film’s production took a long time, Browns owner Art model told his star player that he would be fined $100 a day for being late to training camp. Brown, who had one year left on his contract, then opted to retire as the league’s all-time leading rusher. Dirty dozen is set in London while dressed in army clothes.
He was just 30 years old.
“My original intention was to try and compete in the 1966 NFL season, but circumstances have made this impossible,” he said.
Brown later signed on with MGM and portrayed a hard-nosed Marine Captain. Leslie Anders opposite Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine in the hit 1968 action-adventure film Ice station Zebra. And in the west 100 guns (1969) he broke taboos when he shared a smoldering love scene with a white actress (Raquel Welch).
The muscular Brown also played a mercenary in the Congo set Dark from the sun (1968), masterminded a robbery at the Los Angeles Coliseum during a Rams game in The divorce (1968) and portrayed a black sheriff in the south … tap… tap… tap… (1970). He sought revenge on the mob as a former Green Beret Slaughter (1972) and a 1973 sequel and as a nightclub owner in Black Gunn (1972).
Along the way, Brown opened doors for other black actors, and his Hollywood career spanned five decades, more than three dozen films, and numerous TV appearances. (He was played by Aldis Hodge in the 2020 Regina King-directed feature film One night in Miami.)
“I had a great appreciation for Harry Belafonte and Sydney (Poitier) and Sammy Davis (Jr.) They were all great in their own way,” he said A football life documentary from NFL Films that premiered in November 2016. “But I was a physical actor, I was a hero… We needed that as African Americans.”
Later, Brown worked in films like Three the hard way (1974), Fingers (1978), The running man (1987), I am Go Git you Succa (1988), Mars attacks! (1996), Original Gangstas (1996), He got game (1998), Little soldiers (1998), Any Sunday (1999) and draft day (2014).
He also served as a talent manager for groups including Earth, Wind.
James Nathanial Brown was born on February 17, 1936 on remote St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia. His father was a prizefighter and his mother a housewife. At age 7, he moved to live with his divorced mother on New York’s Long Island man hasset High School, where he played in five sports and earned 13 letters.
Brown received athletic scholarships from 42 schools and chose Syracuse University. There, he was a sensation on the football field and also excelled on the track and field, basketball, and lacrosse teams (he was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1984, 13 years after reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame.) .
Brown scored six touchdowns and kicked seven extra points in his last regular season game at Syracuse and was named a unanimous All-America. He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was selected sixth overall in the NFL Draft by the Browns.
In his ninth game as a pro, Brown broke the NFL record when he rushed for 237 yards against the Rams en route to being named Rookie of the Year. In 1964, he propelled the Browns to the NFL championship, Cleveland’s last in a major sport until LeBron James and the Cavaliers won the NBA crown in 2016.
Brown made his acting debut before the 1964 NFL season as a calvary soldier in the Western Rio Conchos. “Believe me, the action that thrills you on both the gridiron and the screen demands hard work and precise timing,” he said in a promotional piece for the 1964 Fox movie. “Here Richard Boone and I blow a wagonload gunpowder for the Apache native Americans.”
‘Have you ever been to a Negro theater where a movie is playing, with a Negro in it? Well, you just feel the thrill of that audience, which is making this guy do something right, something they’re going to be a little proud of, “Brown told Alex Haley in February 1968 Playboy interview. “That’s why I feel so good that niggers are finally starting to play roles that other niggers, watching, will be proud of, react to, identify with, and really feel, instead of getting crushed by some Uncle Tom fooling themselves on screen.”
Brown said one of his reasons for leaving the NFL was a desire “to have a hand in the fight that is happening in our country”. He organized the National Negro Industrial and Economic Union, and on June 4, 1967, participated in a press conference in Cleveland to support boxer Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be endorsed for service. In a now famous photo he can be seen with Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul Jabbar) from UCLA and NFL stars like Bobby Mitchell and Willie Davis.
“I’ve dealt with race since I was born,” Brown said in the Football life documentary. “In my inner self, my strength was unyielding when it came to accepting that bs, racial discrimination. I wouldn’t make anyone feel like I wasn’t top notch. That was a battle that raged and I could use a lot of that on the pitch.”
Brown had some run-ins with the law and was accused of violence against women on several occasions. In his 1989 memoir Outside the bordershe admitted to beating women, but wrote, “I don’t think a man should be beating anyone” and that he “should have been more in control of myself, stronger, more mature.”
In 1988, Brown founded the American program, working with gang members to empower them to “take charge of their lives and reach their full potential”. He drafted the organization’s handbook, which he said combined the self-determination of Malcolm X, the capitalism of Ronald Reagan, and the recovery plan of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Duaan Byrge contributed to this report.