NFL Legend & ‘Brian’s Song’ Inspiration Gale Sayers Dies at 77

Gale Sayers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

NFL star and former Chicago Bears player Gale Sayers has died. The football legend was 77.

The Hall of Famer died at his home in Wakarusa, Indiana this week after a years-long battle with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Sayers, who was born in Wichita, Kansas, was nicknamed the “Kansas Comet” for his speed as he was considered among one of the best open-field runners in the league. The pro-baller’s story was famously depicted in the 1971 ABC television film Brian’s Song, which was based on Sayers’ autobiography, I Am Third.

The TV movie starred Billy Dee Williams as Sayers, and focused on his friendship with fellow player Brian Piccolo, portrayed by James Caan. Brian’s Song recounted Piccolo’s terminal cancer diagnosis that came shortly after he turned pro and highlighted the players’ lives together as the NFL’s first interracial roommates.

Brian's Song Billy Dee Williams James Caan

Billy Dee Williams and James Caan in Brian’s Song (Credit: Courtesy of the Everett Collection)

Sayers received a writing credit for the film which won a number of Emmys and earned a Golden Globe nomination.

Following his pro career with the Chicago Bears, which spanned from 1965-1971, Sayers worked with the teams at Tennessee State University and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Sayers’ battle with dementia was believed to have been caused by his years on the field, according to wife Ardythe Sayers, who spoke to The New York Times in 2017.

He had six children, one daughter, and five sons, and is survived by his wife Ardythe.