“It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of my husband, Jim Brown,” she wrote. “He passed peacefully last night at our LA home. To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star. To our family, he was a loving and wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts our broken…”
Born in Georgia in 1936, Brown became an All-American football star playing for the Syracuse University Orangemen. In the 1957 NFL draft, he was chosen by the Cleveland Browns, and he soon became a record-breaking pro running back. He played for the Browns until 1965 — and helped lead the team to the NFL championship in 1964 — and is still considered one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Towards the end of his football career, Brown started appearing in movies, and then made headlines when he chose to retire from football in order to finish his work on The Dirty Dozen, a World War II action picture, rather than be fined by the Browns because he was missing training camp for the 1966 season.
After appearing in ensemble roles in films like The Dirty Dozen and Ice Station Zebra in the late 1960s, Brown soon moved up to leading man status in a series of popular thrillers. He starred in films like The Split, 100 Rifles, Slaughter (and its sequel Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off), The Slams, and Black Gunn. Brown became one of the biggest stars of the blaxploitation era; his titles of the period also included I Escaped From Devil’s Island and Three the Hard Way, which also starred Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly.
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Throughout his career, Brown was a prominent advocate for civil rights, speaking out about social inequality and other causes close to his heart. As noted by the Associated Press however, “while he had a soft spot for those in need, and his generosity changed lives, he also was arrested a half-dozen times, mostly on charges of hitting women.”
Still, Brown’s contributions as a football player, a movie star, and an activist will be remembered for a long time to come. And if you like action movies, you should check out Brown’s 1970s work. Black Gunn is a particular highlight — it counts Quentin Tarantino among its fans. It’s a good movie with one very special element: Jim Brown’s powerful performance at its center.
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