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Former Pro Football Lineman John Matuszak Dead at 38

June 19, 1989 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Former Oakland Raider John Matuszak, the hard-hitting, hard-living football player who played in two Super Bowls before becoming an actor, died at age 38 of unknown causes, officials said Sunday.

Matuszak was taken from his Los Angeles home to St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank on Saturday night suffering apparent massive heart failure, said Hospital spokeswoman Terri G. Digges. He died at 9:39 p.m.

An autopsy Sunday failed to determine the cause of death, and further tests will be conducted, said coroner supervisor Lilie Shelton. A preliminary police investigation found no signs of foul play, said Sgt. Tom Toutant.

Lyle Alzado, another former defensive lineman who played with the Los Angeles Raiders after Matuszak retired, said it was well known that Matuszak ″had a problem with drugs.″

″But I don’t know to what extent, what boundary he crossed over and what he decided to experiment with or how,″ Alzado told KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.

The 6-foot-9 Matuszak, who played with the Raiders from 1976 to 1981, was an imposing sight on the field, staring down opponents with a black-bearded scowl before shooting off the defensive line with great speed for his 280 pounds.

Nicknamed ″The Tooz,″ his aggressive play and tough attitude embodied the Oakland Raiders’ spirit in the years they were called the Evil Empire, and helped earn the team Super Bowl victories in the 1976 and 1980 seasons.

″I’m just overwhelmed, shocked,″ Al Davis, the Raiders’ managing general partner, who moved the team to Los Angles, said Sunday. ″We really loved the guy; he was our friend.″

After sitting out the 1982 season in Los Angeles with an injury, Matuszak retired to pursue full-time an acting career in which he had dabbled while a player.

″It was a very emotional moment when he retired because the team meant so much to him,″ recalled former Raiders coach Tom Flores. ″He identified with the Raiders more than anybody. He immediately became one of the guys. He was off-the-wall by nature, emotional and volatile. But a lot of that was just for effect.″

Matuszak generally played the tough guy in guest spots in film and television, with credits that included the movies ″North Dallas Forty,″ ″Caveman″ and ″Ice Pirates,″ and the television shows ″M-A-S-H,″ ″Trapper John, M.D.″ and ″The Fall Guy.″

He starred in a short-lived 1985 prime time television series, ″Hollywood Beat,″ playing George Grinsky, a huge gay informant whose business was used by undercover cops working in Hollywood.

Matuszak also wrote his autobiography, ″Cruisin’ With The Tooz.″

The Oak Creek, Wis., native was an all-state defensive end his senior year of high school. He started his college career at the University of Missouri, then transferred to the University of Tampa.

The Houston Oilers made Matuszak the No. 1 pick in the 1973 National Football League draft.

He played in 1975 for the Kansas City Chiefs. Before the 1976 season, he was traded to the Washington Redskins, then cut two weeks later. Matuszak joined the Raiders as a free agent just before the second game of the 1976 season.

Matuszak’s off-field antics often generated as much notoriety as his play. He made headlines when he violated team curfew by partying in New Orleans the night before the Raiders beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in the 1981 Super Bowl. The episode landed him in court.

In 1986, an Alameda County Superior Court jury ruled in favor of Matuszak in a $1.5 million lawsuit in which the retired defensive end was accused of beating up a male stripper and the master of ceremonies in a barroom brawl.

Matuszak is survived by his parents, Marvin and Audrey Matuszak of Oak Creek, Wis.; and three sisters - Karen Bohlman of Orlando, Fla., Christine Evancy of Franklin, Wis., and Dawn Baley of West Allis, Wis.

Ms. Bohlman said from the home of her parents that relatives were stunned by the death, which she said came with no warning whatsoever.

″I think he was very loved by his family and we will miss him very, very much,″ Ms. Bohlman said.