Jim Brown, legendary NFL running back and social activist, dies at 87

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Jim Brown honored with Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award 12:08

Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, the unstoppable running back who retired at the peak of his brilliant career to become an actor as well as a prominent civil rights advocate during the 1960s, has died. He was 87.

A spokeswoman for Brown’s family said he passed away peacefully in his Los Angeles home on Thursday night with his wife, Monique, by his side. His wife confirmed the news in an Instagram post.

“To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star,” she wrote. “To our family, he was a wonderful and loving husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts are broken.”

Obit Jim Brown Football
Jim Brown, who set the National Football League rushing record of 12,312 yards while playing for the Cleveland Browns, sits pensively in his home, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 1984, Los Angeles, Calif.  Lennox McLendon / AP

One of the greatest players in football history and one of the game’s first superstars, Brown was chosen the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1965 and shattered the league’s record books in a short career spanning 1957-65.

Brown led the Cleveland Browns to their last NFL title in 1964 before retiring in his prime after the ’65 season to become an actor. He appeared in more than 30 films, including “Any Given Sunday” and “The Dirty Dozen.”

An unstoppable runner with power, speed and endurance, Brown’s arrival sparked the game’s burgeoning popularity on television. When he finished playing, Brown became a prominent leader in the Black power movement during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.

Brown was arguably the best running back ever, CBS Sports noted in 2021. He was physically imposing and ground down his opponent’s will through the course of each game. The Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee went to nine Pro Bowls and helped bring a championship to Cleveland. He compiled 12,312 rushing yards, 2,499 receiving yards, 106 rushing touchdowns and 20 receiving touchdowns.

In later years, he worked to curb gang violence in LA and founded Amer-I-Can, a program to help disadvantaged inner-city youth and ex-convicts.

On the field, there was no one like Brown, who would blast through would-be tacklers, refusing to let one man take him down before sprinting away from linebackers and defensive backs. He was also famous for using a stiff arm to shed defenders in the open field or push them away like they were rag dolls.

“My arms were like my protectors and weapons,” Brown said during an interview with NFL Films.

Obit Jim Brown Football
Pro Football Hall of Fame football star Jim Brown talks to a reporter following a news conference at his home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 1999.  DAMIAN DOVARGANES / AP

Indeed, Brown was unlike any back before him, and some feel there has never been anyone better than Cleveland’s incomparable No. 32. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he was dominant, relentless and without mercy, his highlight reels featuring runs around and right through opponents, fighting for every yard, dragging multiple defenders along or finding holes where none seemed to exist.

After Brown was tackled, he’d slowly rise and walk even more slowly back to the huddle – then dominate the defense when he got the ball again.

In 2016, Brown joins CBS News to reflect on his career and social activism. (See the video in the player above).

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