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All-Pro DE was known just as well for acting

Bubba Smith, an NFL defensive star who found a successful second career as an actor, has died in Los Angeles at age 66. The circumstances and cause of death are unknown.

AP FILE PHOTO

In this 1980 photo, Bubba Smith appears in character as Sgt. Moses Hightower in the comedy "Police Academy 3: Back In Training."

AP FILE PHOTOS

Baltimore’s Bubba Smith (top left) wraps up the Dolphins’ Jim Kiick during the 1971 AFC championship game.

LOS ANGELES — Bubba Smith, a former All-Pro football player turned actor and commercial pitch man who delighted TV viewers by wrenching off the tops of “easy-opening cans” of beer, was found dead Wednesday at his Los Angeles home. He was 66.

The cause of death has not been determined, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said.

A caretaker found Smith at his home in Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills section, police said.

A 6-foot-7, 280-pound defensive end, Smith was the No. 1 NFL draft pick from Michigan State University when he joined the Baltimore Colts in 1967.

He played five seasons for the Colts, which included their upset loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III and a victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. He spent two seasons with the Oakland Raiders and two more with the Houston Oilers before a knee injury ended his career in 1976.

“He was simply a good guy,” former Michigan State teammate Robert Viney said in a statement released through the university. “His size made him an intimidating figure, but he was a real gentleman. He was a helluva player.”

After football, Smith was recruited to the ranks of former professional athletes who appeared as themselves in commercials for Miller Lite beer. He and fellow NFL veteran Dick Butkus were cast as inept golfers and polo players in the TV spots. Smith was also featured solo in one commercial extolling the virtues of the beer, beaming into the camera, “I also love the easy-opening cans,” while ripping off the top of the can.

Despite a lucrative contract and widespread popularity, Smith walked away from the job.

“I went back to Michigan State for the homecoming parade last year,” Smith told then-Los Angeles Times columnist Scott Ostler in 1986. “I was the grand marshal and I was riding in the back seat of this car. The people were yelling, but they weren’t saying, ‘Go, State, go!’ One side of the street was yelling, ‘Tastes great!’ and the other side was yelling ‘Less filling!’

“Then we go to the stadium. The older folks are yelling ‘Kill, Bubba, kill!’ But the students are yelling ’Tastes great! Less filling!’ Everyone in the stands is drunk. It was like I was contributing to alcohol, and I don’t drink. It made me realize I was doing something I didn’t want to do.”

So he turned to acting in movies and TV, notably playing Moses Hightower in six “Police Academy” movies. He also appeared in a number of TV series including “Half-Nelson,” “Blue Thunder” and “Good Times.”

Charles Aaron Smith was born Feb. 28, 1945, in Orange, Texas, and grew up in Beaumont, where his mother was a teacher and his father was his high school football coach.

At Michigan State, Smith became an All-America defensive end for the Spartans, who went 19-1-1 his last two seasons. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

“Bubba Smith was a great Spartan,” Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said in a statement. “As both a football player and later as an actor, ‘Bubba’ was a great ambassador for the University. It’s only fitting that beginning this fall the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Award bears his name.”

His brother Tody, a star at USC and in the NFL, later became Bubba’s agent. He died at 50 in 1999.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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