Chicago Bears Icon and Former NFL Star Dick Butkus Dead at Age 80

Dick Butkus dead at 80 255
Dick Butkus.Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Chicago Bears legend and former player Dick Butkus died on Wednesday, October 4. He was 80.

Butkus’ family confirmed his passing on Thursday, October 5, sharing in a statement that he “died peacefully in his sleep overnight at home in Malibu, California.”

The statement continued: “The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife Helen. They appreciate your prayers and support.”

Butkus was a linebacker for the Bears from 1965 to 1978 after playing college football at University of Illinois. He was known as a hometown hero after growing up in Chicago.

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The late athlete’s jersey — No. 51 — was retired in 1994 by the team to honor his legacy. Butkus was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1979.

​​Throughout his time in the NFL, Butkus was a starter in 119 games for the Bears. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and was selected to eight Pro Bowls. Butkus was also named an All-Pro seven times in his nine seasons.

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Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

He was later named into the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team, 1970s All-Decade Team, 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, solidifying Butkus as one of the all-time greats in his position.

The Butkus Award was instituted in 1985. It is an honor given to the best high school, college and professional linebackers annually.

Following his football career, Butkus became a sports broadcaster and broke into Hollywood with roles in 1974’s The Longest Yard, 1991’s Necessary Roughness and 1999’s Any Given Sunday.

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“Dick Butkus wasn’t just one of the greatest football players to ever play the game, he was a remarkable man,” retired running back Jarrett Payton wrote via an X tribute on Thursday. “He was always there for me when I needed him. Now, these 3 #Bears legends are in heaven, sharing a drink, getting ready to watch the #TNF game from the best seats. Here’s to you, @thedickbutkus. Your spirit will live on forever. #RIPButkus 🙏🏽🐻⬇️ #NFL.”

Bears chairman George H. McCaskey also honored Butkus in a statement on Thursday, calling the late player “the ultimate Bear and one of the greatest players in NFL history.”

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McCaskey added: “He was Chicago’s son. He exuded what our great city is about. … His contributions to the game he loved will live forever and we are grateful he was able to be at our home opener this year to be celebrated one last time by his many fans.”

Butkus is survived by his wife, Helen Essenhart, whom he married in 1963. His legacy is also evident in his three children, Ricky, Matt, and Nikki Butkus, and grandchildren.

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