Legendary American footballer Jim Brown, who went on to become a film star and civil rights activist, has died at the age of 87, his wife has confirmed.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles on Thursday (18 May). Brown, who was born and bred in Georgia, was renowned for being one of the all-time greatest players in the sport's history and was famously chosen as the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1965 after leading the Cleveland Browns to their last title the year before.
He then decided to retire in his prime and went on to become an actor, starring in over 30 films including The Dirty Dozen and Any Given Sunday. His wife Monique confirmed the star's death in an Instagram post, where she wrote: "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 are broken".
Brown's honours include being named American football's greatest player of the 20th century on two occasions by the Associate Press and Sporting News, as well as being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. On top of his NFL credentials, he also had the reputation of a great lacrosse player and was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1984.
He was also a social activist and a voice for black athletes on racial issues around the time of the civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s. Not only did Brown famously call a meeting of African-American sports stars to champion Muhammad Ali's opposition to the Vietnam War, but also found the Negro Industrial and Economic Union which gives loans to black entrepreneurs.
Though his personal life off the field was far more contentious having had several scrapes with the law and was arrested around half a dozen times. This includes one case when he was accused of throwing a model off a second-floor balcony, though she said she slipped.
Brown also served six-months in jail in 1999 after his wife dialled 911 accusing him of smashing her car windshield with a shovel and threatening to kill her, an accusation she later recanted. Even though Jim Brown was acquitted of the charges, he was convicted of misdemeanour vandalism that saw him serve prison time after refusing to attend domestic violence counselling.
Tributes paid to Jim Brown
Tributes have been pouring out to Jim Brown, including from the Cleveland Browns, who he played for between 1957-1965 and his statue can be seen outside their FirstEnergy Stadium after it was erected in 2016. The Browns tweeted that he was a "legend, leader, activist, visionary".
Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam wrote in an official statement: "Jim Brown is a true icon of not just the Cleveland Browns but the entire NFL. He was certainly the greatest to ever put on a Browns uniform and arguably one of the greatest players in NFL history. Jim was one of the reasons the Browns have such a tremendous fan base today.
“So many people grew up watching him just dominate every time he stepped onto the football field but his countless accolades on the field only tell a small part of his story. His commitment to making a positive impact for all of humanity off the field is what he should also be known for.”
While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also paid tribute to one of the greatest sportsmen in history, writing: "Jim Brown was a gifted athlete – one of the most dominant players to ever step on any athletic field – but also a cultural figure who helped promote change. During his nine-year NFL career, which coincided with the civil rights movement here at home, he became a forerunner and role model for athletes being involved in social initiatives outside their sport."