Jim Brown Dies: NFL Great, ‘Dirty Dozen’ Actor & Civil Rights Activist Was 87

Jim Brown attends the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Ceremony 2016 at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on December 12, 2016 in New York City
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Athlete, actor, and activist Jim Brown has died at the age of 87. Considered one of the best football players of all time, Brown was also a civil rights activist and established himself as an action star, appearing in shows and films such as The Dirty Dozen, The A-Team, He Got Game, Mars Attacks!, I Spy, Any Given Sunday, The Running Man, and more. Monique Brown, his wife since 1997, announced his death on Instagram but did not share a cause of death.

“It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of my husband, Jim Brown. He passed peacefully last night at our LA home,” she wrote, sharing a photo of her and the late star. “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…”


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Brown was a running back for the Cleveland Browns for his entire football career, spanning from 1957 to 1965. He set several NFL records, and some of his athletic accolades include three MVP titles, a Rookie of the Year award, and 1964 NFL title champion (the first Super Bowl as we know it was played in 1967).

He was also an eight-time All-Pro and is the all-time rushing leader for the Browns to this day with 12,312 rushing yards and 106 touchdowns (11th and sixth most in NFL history overall, respectively). He was 30 years old when he retired. Prior to his pro career, he played football and lacrosse at Syracuse University.

The Cleveland Browns’ Twitter account released a statement paying tribute to the player that in part says, “His commitment to making a positive impact for all of humanity off the field is what he should also be known for… Jim broke down barriers just as he broke tackles.”

The NFL also issued a statement on Twitter that reads, “We are heartbroken by the passing of the legendary Jim Brown. One of the greatest players in NFL history, a true pioneer and activist. Jim Brown’s legacy will live on forever.”

Brown’s first acting credit came in during the final year of his football career. He appeared in the Rio Conchos western, next appearing in Valentine’s Day the same year and I Spy in 1967. He starred in The Dirty Dozen in 1967, with additional roles in Slaughter, 100 Rifles opposite Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch, The Split, The Slams, and more.

On TV, he appeared in episodes of CHiPs, Knight Rider, T.J. Hooker, and The A-Team in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he appeared in Living Single, Spike Lee’s He Got Game alongside Denzel Washington, Any Given Sunday, and more. He appeared in another Lee film in 2004, She Hate Me.

Lee made a documentary about Brown, Jim Brown: All-American, which was released in 2003. It was a look back on Brown’s careers in the NFL and Hollywood and his civil rights activism. Brown was friends with comedian Richard Pryor, who had a nearly five-minute bit about the athlete in his 1979 stand-up show, Wanted: Live in Concert.

Brown was an outspoken activist during the civil rights movement along with fellow athletes Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Muhammad Ali. In 1967, he brought leading Black athletes together in Cleveland for a meeting to support Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War. He founded the still-running Amer-I-Can Foundation for Social Change in 1988, which teaches its 15-chapter life skills curriculum to underserved schools and juvenile detention facilities. It also works with adult incarceration and reentry programs. Monique still serves as the President of the foundation and has been involved with it for 25 years.

Brown was a main character in Regina King’s 2020 directorial debut, One Night in Miami, along with Ali (under original name Cassius Clay, played by Eli Goree), Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). Aldis Hodge played Brown in the film.