Pro Football Hall of Famer and legendary Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus has died at the age of 80.
The Bears issued a statement from the family on social media Thursday evening confirming that Butkus passed away “peacefully” at his home in California.
“The Butkus family confirms that football and entertainment legend Dick Butkus died peacefully in his sleep overnight at home in Malibu, California,” the statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, read. “The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife Helen. They appreciate your prayers and support.”
Butkus, considered one of the greatest defensive players of all time, spent all nine of his NFL seasons from 1965-1973 with the Bears, earning eight Pro Bowls and five first-team All-Pro selections.
Butkus was named to the Hall of Fame All-1960s and All-1970s teams as well.
“The Enforcer” was the third overall pick of the 1965 NFL Draft out of Illinois, and being a South Side Chicago native that shined at Chicago Vocational, Butkus was the perfect middle linebacker to lead the way at Wrigley and Soldier Field.
At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, he was feared by many that looked across the line of scrimmage while on offense.
“I think Dick put the fear of God into a lot of people,” legendary Bears coach Mike Ditka said about Butkus.
Butkus played with ferocity and speed, which the Chicago fans rallied behind.
“When I went out on the field to warm up, I would manufacture things to make me mad,” Butkus once said, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “If someone on the other team was laughing, I’d pretend he was laughing at me or the Bears. It always worked for me.”
During his days with the Bears, the organization hadn’t produced good enough records to warrant a playoff run. But that never thwarted Butkus from going out there each week like it was the last game he would ever play, and the tape showed it.
That style of play, though, would hurt Butkus in the end.
His career may have gone longer than nine seasons if it wasn’t for a serious knee injury in 1970 that didn’t respond properly to surgery. He would retire in 1973, and six years later, it was an easy decision to enshrine him in Canton, Ohio.
With his cleats hung up, Butkus became an actor. He appeared in films like “Cry, Onion!,” “Gus,” and a fan favorite, “The Longest Yard” with Bert Reynolds.
Butkus would later return to Soldier Field, but in a broadcast role as a color analyst for radio broadcasts in 1985. He would move on to CBS’s pregame show “The NFL Today” in 1998, where he served through 1989.
Butkus’s No. 51 is retired by the Bears.