Dick Butkus, NFL Hall of Famer and former Bears linebacker, dies at 80

Former Chicago Bear and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, considered among the best linebackers to ever play the game, has died, the team said Thursday. He was 80.

His family confirmed Butkus died peacefully in his sleep overnight in Malibu, California, the Bears said in a statement.

“The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife Helen. They appreciate your prayers and support,” the Bears said in a statement.

Butkus, a graduate of the University of Illinois, where he helped lead his team to a Rose Bowl victory, was a first-round pick by the Chicago Bears in the 1965 NFL Draft.

Former Chicago Bears player Dick Butkus
Dick Butkus cheers before the NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field in Chicago on Jan. 6, 2019.Dylan Buell / Getty Images file

A native of Chicago, Butkus played for the Bears for nine seasons, from 1965 to 1973.

“I felt my goal and my dream was in sight when I entered professional football. Finally, after eight years of preparation, my opportunity was before me,” Butkus said in his enshrinement speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

While with the Bears, Butkus had 25 fumble recoveries and 22 interceptions.

“I think Dick put the fear of God into a lot of people,” Bears coach Mike Ditka once said, according to an NFL.com article that celebrated the “100 greatest characters” in football.

His nicknames included: the Enforcer, the Animal, the Maestro of Mayhem and the Robot of Destruction, according to NFL.com.

Butkus attended the University of Illinois and was a captain for the Illini football team when it won the 1964 Rose Bowl, played at the end of the 1963 season.

Dick Butkus in the 1960's
Chicago Bears’ Dick Butkus, wearing #51, against the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wisc. in the 1960s.Focus On Sport / Getty Images file

Butkus was picked by the Bears in the first round of the NFL Draft in 1965.

He called being inducted into the Hall “the top of my dream” and said he had a new goal: “simply to be a better husband and a better father and a better person.”

Butkus was named NFL defensive player of the year twice and was named first-team All-NFL six times. He was indicted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

Butkus retired in 1973 after suffering a right knee injury that didn’t completely respond to surgery in 1970, according to the Hall of Fame.

“Dick had a gruff manner, and maybe that kept some people from approaching him, but he actually had a soft touch,” Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey said.

Among his legacy of philanthropy was “a mission of ridding performance enhancing drugs from the sports and promoting heart heath,” McCaskey said.

The Bears called Butkus “a legend who embodied what it means to be a Chicago Bear,” and said the team’s hearts go out to his family and friends.

Butkus also appeared on television and the big screen. He played an opposing coach in the 1999 Oliver Stone film “Any Given Sunday” and himself in a cameo in “Gremlins 2: The New Batch,” which came out in 1990. He played Earl Dent in the MacGyver TV series.

Former NFL running back Jarrett Payton, who like Butkus is from Illinois, called Butkus more than a football player.

“Dick Butkus wasn’t just one of the greatest football players to ever play the game, he was a remarkable man. He was always there for me when I needed him,” Payton, who played with the Tennessee Titans, wrote on social media platform X.

The NFL also expressed its condolences, and called Butkus a legendary Hall of Famer. “Our thoughts are with his family and the Bears organization,” the league said.

Butkus is survived by his wife, Helen, and three children.

Dick Butkus with his family at their home in Chicago Heights, on Oct. 24, 1972.
Dick Butkus with his family at their home in Chicago Heights, on Oct. 24, 1972.Larry Stoddard / AP file

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